Game Over

I won't appear at the Ariel cultural center either. And not just for political reasons.

As someone who's considered to be an expert by some in evidencing twisted irony, or what parents and teachers like to call "cynicism," it was natural that I'd express my solidarity with the theater folks who've announced their intention to boycott the cultural center in the settlement of Ariel. But also that I'd express some very unexpected opposition - at least, coming from a supposed post-Zionist leftist like myself - to this unequivocal stance against the occupation and in favor of halting all cooperation with the forces of evil. But this time it was really tough to do that.

Avi Ofer illustration
Avi Ofer

The thing is, I unequivocally support anyone who refuses to cooperate with the occupation and with the mighty illegal construction projects that continue to be carried out in the occupied areas. And I most certainly do not believe in building cultural centers that are meant one day to serve as proof of the normalcy and legality of life in those occupied territories. Or in the harnessing of theater people to create the illusion of a culturally rich civilian life in those places that to my mind should have been evacuated if not yesterday, then tomorrow.

And objections from enlightened circles to actors and playwrights suddenly taking a political stand seem like the height of hypocrisy. All these years we've been chiding artists for not expressing an opinion or taking part in political struggles and now, when they finally do so, we shout, "What are they getting worked up about all of a sudden?" and get angry at them for reminding us of what we'd forgotten.

Because we've forgotten and become so blase, we've almost grown accustomed to the idea that there is a whole city in the territories by the name of Ariel, that it has a college that somehow gained recognition as a university and is proud of not having a single post-Zionist faculty member (i.e., it is an overtly right-wing institution devoid of academic liberty and freedom of thought ), and that a lot of people who live there didn't choose that location because of ideology, but because of the inexpensive housing, the attractive school system there and the charismatic, long-serving mayor.

I have nothing against Ariel residents who saw a chance to upgrade their situation by taking advantage of an ideology to which they don't subscribe; but by the same token, I have nothing to say in their favor. In the same way, I have nothing good or bad to say about journalist Menachem Ben, who wrote a column about how he found a dream villa in the settlement, just 20 minutes from the center of the country, surrounded by fruit trees, at the price of a two-room rental in Tel Aviv's Shapira neighborhood. Like them, he is a real estate opportunist and I have a hard time deciding which I prefer: People who moved to the territories because they believe in the ideology of oppressing and dispossessing another people, or those who serve this ideology without believing in it.

I would like to take this opportunity to announce that I, too, refuse to appear in Ariel. For one thing, I wasn't invited. Aside from clear political reasons, though, there are historical reasons for my refusal.

Once, years ago, while working on an article for the now-defunct Hadashot, I ended up at a public sing-along in Ariel. This was shortly after the first intifada and it had taken me weeks to obtain the approval of my editor, the late Udi Asheri, for the subject of the article: the unchecked pace of construction in the territories and of infringement of the Palestinians' rights. Asheri claimed that "no one wants to read about that" and I argued that I hadn't read any impressions of a trip in the territories since David Grossman came out with "The Yellow Wind."

Yossi Zamir, the photographer, and I met the finest "products" of Hashomer Hatzair kibbutzim who built new settlements there, we met enthusiastic settlers at Rachel's Tomb, we saw multi-lane highways paved just so Jewish drivers could circumvent a Palestinian house or two in order to safely reach settlements that were home to maybe 60 families. But the highlight of the trip was a three-day visit to Ariel.

We talked with new residents, we saw the new houses and roads, and we ate lunch at the only hotel there. In the evening, Mayor Ron Nahman told us there would be a show by song leader Sarahle Sharon and we just had to stay for it.

Of course we stayed and of course it was perfectly awful. After a half-hour, we got up to go, but the security guards wouldn't let us leave. I told them my three small children were waiting for me at home, that I was a single mother, had a 10-percent disability from my army service and was half-Moroccan. Nothing helped. Yossi said that his wife was about to give birth.

We spent the remaining two hours of the show pleading before we were finally set free - to drive the dangerous roads of the occupied territories. For this was how the whole story of the settlements began: We built them out of misguided tactical and strategic considerations and found ourselves stuck with everything that came with it.

Which leads me to the conclusion that those cultural events should definitely be held in Ariel. The Channel 24 Open Studio could be brought there for months and it could broadcast all of its schlocky, low-budget programs from there (all of its programs in other words ). And here's another idea: The morning shows, like the one with Na'ama from "Survivor" about beauty and grooming, could be broadcast live with an audience from the cultural center there. And all the episodes of "A Star is Born" (the Israeli version of "American Idol" ) should certainly be moved there - the broadcasts from the recording studios, the rehearsals, the wild-card rounds, the final. And the Big Brother villa, especially the Big Brother VIP villa, should also be built there - then there'll be no danger that some celeb might refuse to stay in the settlement. On second thought, maybe I would agree to appear at the new cultural center, doing figure skating or performing tricks on a unicycle or giving a clarinet recital. My fondest desire would be to perform the Kurt Weill song cycle with the lyrics of Bertolt Brecht.