West Bank settlement of Ariel
The settlement of Ariel in the West Bank. Photo by Tess Scheflan
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Indeed, artists, like any moral person and anyone who recognizes international law, need to stay away from the settlements. Yes, the financial aid the sovereign Israeli state provides does not require cultural institutions to perform in a region subject to military rule and which lies outside the country's recognized borders. No one should envy anyone who refuses to perform in the territories but must to put food on the table for his children. For that, he will have to sing in a hall funded by a fundamentalist Christian organization. With one stroke, they have restored some moral color to the bourgeois face of Israeli theater while shaking up "the consensus" regarding Ariel.

Instead of boycotting Ariel's new cultural center, the actors would be better off thanking their bosses for the unique opportunity to perform before settlers on their home turf, where they could talk to them about occupation and bereavement. What, was Gershon Mesika, the head of the Samaria regional council in the West Bank, suddenly overcome with the urge to see a performance of Ephraim Kishon's "The Policeman" close to home?

Then the Samaria regional council should pledge to buy tickets for the satirical play "Nifgaei Harada" ("Shell-shocked" ) by B. Michael and Ephraim Sidon. Those lovers of culture should enjoy the scene that depicts a settler rabbi ordering soldiers to abide by the principles stated in "Torat Hamelech" ("The King's Torah" ), the racist drivel by Rabbi Yitzhak Shapira. So Daniella Weiss, the former mayor of the West Bank settlement of Kedumim, wants to see a performance of Sholem Aleichem's "Fiddler on the Roof"? For the same price, the Cameri Theater should stage for her Bertolt Brecht's "Mother Courage and Her Children." Maybe this heartrending play about the horrors of war will make an impact on the mother of the hilltop youth.

If I were blessed with just a fraction of the talents possessed by actor Itay Tiran, the star of Yehoshua Sobol's play "Ghetto," I would go to Ariel with the Cameri. Before the curtain went up, I would step to the front of the stage in the new cultural center and deliver the following monologue:

"Dear guests, we have not made this long trip to entertain you. We wanted to show you what happens to people when they are condemned to live in a ghetto surrounded by walls of hate. You, the residents of Ariel, willfully chose to imprison your children behind barbed-wire fences and to grip the throats of tens of thousands of people who belong to another nation that is fighting for its freedom. By the way, I didn't realize that Ariel was so far from the Green Line, almost 20 kilometers. I also didn't know that no more than 17,000 people lived here. That's barely a medium-sized neighborhood.

"I heard my colleague, Oded Teomi, say that our letter undermines the consensus regarding your settlement and weakens the Israeli side in the negotiations with the Palestinians. Who determines the consensus? If Yitzhak Rabin, the late prime minister, defense minister and Israel Defense Forces chief of staff, is sufficiently within the consensus, I would refer you to his 1979 book 'The Rabin Memoirs' in which he wrote that the government had adopted a clear defense policy on where to settle and where not.

"The areas to be settled were the Golan Heights, the Jordan Valley, the Jerusalem area, Gush Etzion and the Rafah area. Not to be settled was Samaria. Israel, Rabin wrote, should not push Jewish settlers into the heart of the West Bank, which is densely populated by Arabs. Such a dramatic settlement drive, he wrote, would resemble an act of greed and provocation in the eyes of the Arabs and the United States, an unnecessary act that cannot be justified on security grounds.

"In his speech to the Knesset on October 5, 1995, just before the parliament's approval of the Oslo 2 agreement, Rabin mentioned the settlement blocs that would remain in Israel under a final-status agreement. Ariel and the rest of the settlements in Samaria were not on the list. Let's assume the Palestinians agreed to transfer Ariel to Israeli sovereignty. Which of you would choose to live in a secluded ghetto in the heart of a Palestinian state tied by a thread to the State of Israel?

"I was told that 45 percent of you voted for the three far-right parties and 40 percent of you voted for Likud. They threw you a bone when they put you on their list of national priority areas, but you know that just a small minority of the MKs who are now attacking us have made their homes in the settlements. Don't be their suckers. Come home. And enjoy the show."