The first major theater hall in a West Bank settlement will open on November 8th. The Ariel Culture Hall, located in the settlement of Ariel (south of Nablus) will host major productions of leading Israeli theaters, including Habima, Israel’s national theater, and Tel Aviv’s city theater, The Cameri.
According to Haaretz, The Ariel Culture Hall will have 540 seats, and 40 million NIS (11 million USD) were spent on its construction. The Hall will open with the Israeli adaptation of Piaf, a play by British Pem Gems on the life of the famous singer, performed by the Beer Sheva Theatre. Later this year, Ariel will host the Cameri Theatre’s Caucasian Chalk Circle by Bertolt Brecht
Some Israelis noticed a cruel irony in hosting a play dealing with concept of justice and a fair trial in a place where the majority of the population have no rights, and is tried in military courts, without due process. Arab-Israeli actor Yousef Sweid, who plays in “A Railroad to Damascus”, also scheduled to show in Ariel, told Haaretz that “I’m opposed to it, but this is the first I heard about it and I’d like to investigate the matter further.”
Israeli journalist and blogger Ofri Ilani wrote in the leftwing group blog Eretz Haemori that this marks a new record in the whitewashing of the occupation’s crimes:
To what level of ridicule will the heads of the culture scene descend (…) we have had murderers who talk about spiritualism, arms dealers who play the piano and military radio stations that play protest songs (…) but to recruit Brecht to legitimize the colonial project of [Ariel’s mayor] Ron Nachman?
But those voices are an exception. Most Israelis are blind to the occupation, and Ariel – which sits literally in the heart of the West Bank – is by now an ordinary Israeli town, with a secular population, not that different from the Israelis living in Tel Aviv’s suburbs. The entire idea that one can separate “good” Israel west of the Green Line from “bad” Israel lying to its east is ridiculous. Every aspect of Israeli civilian life, from the economy through real estate to culture, has something to do with the occupation.
It seems that the heads of the major theaters in Israel were even surprised somebody made a deal out of their recent bookings. A Habima spokeswoman told Haaretz: “Habima is a national theater, and its repertoire is supposed to suit the entire population.” The chairman of Jerusalem’s Khan Theater said that “Everybody is invited to watch the shows. We don’t take sides in the political question.”
Bertolt Brecht, I think, would have loved that last comment.