Three Cameri and Beit Lessin actors have been excused from performing in a play staged at a cultural center in the West Bank settlement of Ariel.

The cast members will be replaced by understudies for the performances of the play “Best Friends,” the theaters said in a statement.

The Cameri said in its statement that it respects the political views of its employees. “The theater does not force its actors to perform in Ariel. Those who are not interested are replaced by their colleagues. The Cameri Theater chose to allow its actors to exercise their freedom of expression and follow their conscience.”

One of the actresses, Sarit Vino-Elad, said she could not bring herself to step foot in a theater built on occupied land and which posed an obstacle to peace with Palestinians.

"This is not a boycott. It's my own little protest against a government policy that continues to build settlements," she told The Associated Press. "They are trying to make Ariel part of the consensus, but as far as I am concerned it is not legitimate. You want me to perform there? Solve the problem."

Culture Minister Limor Livnat criticized those artists that "boycott Israeli citizens because of where they live."

Ariel Turjeman, the director of the Ariel theater, played down the protest, saying the actors who refused to perform in the West Bank were a tiny number compared to the thousands who did. He said the theater purchased a play, not an actor, and that the move is little more than a publicity stunt.

"Those who don't want to come don't have to," he said. "If Ariel makes them uncomfortable, they can stay home. And to be honest, we don't want those who don't want to come here."

The cultural center in Ariel, which opened in November 2010, was built with public funds at a cost of more than 340 million shekels ($10 million.)

More than 50 theater professionals signed a petition in advance of its opening saying that they would not perform there. At least 150 Israeli academics and authors, and another 150 American and British television and film professionals, also backed the boycott.

Most major Israeli theaters have staged productions at the center of Ariel, which is one of the largest settlements in the West Bank.