An Artificial Night

What sort of society do we live in?

Good theater is meant to reveal what reality would whitewash, to give meaning to a text and to unleash deep currents. Taking this viewpoint, the letter of the "conscientious-objector performers" has the potential to be the best show in town, if we only decode the true meaning of the text. What follows is an attempt to do that: What does the present public furor really say about us? First, the casual way in which the "objecting actors" are marked as refusing to perform. In today's Israel there are draft refusers, there are those who refuse to serve in the territories and now also theater refusers. As though just as there is a duty to enlist at the age of 18, actors have a duty to serve - excuse me, to perform - in plays presented in the territories. One can support the actors' moral-political stance or fight it - both approaches are part of legitimate democratic discourse. However, the public's inherent perception of the actors' approach as "refusing an order," and the fact that this is taken as self-evident, says something far deeper and far more disturbing about the society in which we live. If the prevailing public conception is that there is a "duty" to serve, and to perform, in the territories - if everything is the same and there is no distinction between soldiers and civilians - then what sort of society do we live in? When exactly was the theater drafted into the army of occupation? In states where fascist worldviews reign all citizens are tools in the hands of the regime, everyone is always mobilized for "the national goals." In contrast, in states espousing a democratic worldview, civil protest is not only self-evident but essential. Performing in the territories is not a national duty, but a matter of great public debate.

Emil Salman

Here we come to the second element that was uncovered in the temple of culture in Ariel: the occupation. Uncovered? More accurately, what was again uncovered is the solidification of the occupation, its depth and the absolute silence concerning the situation of the Palestinians in the face of the Israelis' interests.

Certainly good theater on a good stage is important. After all, how can one conceive of a modern city without a university, a theater and hundreds of thousands of Palestinians living around it under a military regime?

It may be possible to understand the intensity of the feelings generated by the actors' refusal to perform in Ariel. What is impossible to accept is the flagrant hypocrisy of those who are capable of getting worked up over this issue but who remain utterly indifferent to the fate of the hundreds of thousands of people for whom good theater is not a top priority because they are bothered by prosaic matters such as checkpoints, home demolitions, arrests and various other aspects of the military rule they have lived under for more than 40 years.

This theater of the absurd, the total precedence of the settlers' interests over the rights of the Palestinians, has been running for many years. The new auditorium in Ariel is a largely marginal, though symbolic, episode in this tragedy.

Regrettably, it is a tragedy that will be with us for many years to come. In the meantime, there's hope that we will see increasing numbers of Israelis opposing the occupation. Shakespeare's words in "Romeo and Juliet" are apposite to the dominant public mood prevailing in Israel: "Shuts up his windows, locks far daylight out / And makes himself an artificial night." Until the curtain falls on the occupation we will know no light, not even at high noon. That's what happens when you create an artificial night for another nation. The writer is the executive director of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel