Gush Katif Women Turn Their Trauma Into Drama

Standing near a clothesline hung with orange shirts and a police uniform, a girl in a Gush Katif T-shirt tells her mother that she and several of her friends have decided not to serve in the army or do National Service.

"We're not prepared to put on a uniform in order to uproot our parents from home," she says, to her mother's consternation. A neighbor scolds her, saying, "It's your army, it's your country."

The scene is part of "Al Ktzeh Hahevel," a play by women from Gush Katif that expresses their feelings about living in the Gaza settlement bloc and describes why they think they shouldn't have to leave. The women performed the Hebrew-language play, for female audiences only, at Heichal Shlomo in Jerusalem on Tuesday night and at Kibbutz Kvutzat Shiller near Rehovot last night. The title means "At the end of one's rope," with the Hebrew word for rope also referring to the Gaza region.

The 12 actresses participate in a Gush Katif community center drama club established 10 years ago. The acting is mostly amateurish, but audience members - many of whom describe the show as "moving" - seem more interested in showing solidarity than being entertained. In the approximately 13 performances between March and last week, many of which have been in settlements, the actresses have mainly attracted an audience much like themselves: religious women opposed to the disengagement.

"We come to give them encouragement, to give them strength," says Rachel Hershko, who traveled from Netanya to Jerusalem to see one of Tuesday's two performances.

Preaching to the converted wasn't exactly what the women involved in the play had in mind when they started.

"Originally, the play was geared toward people who aren't familiar with this population," says director Rivka Vitriol, who lives in the West Bank settlement of Beit El. "To reach out to people who aren't familiar with them and describe what's happening to them: `Get to know us, see what we're really going through.'"

But it's been difficult trying to attract a secular, left-wing audience, says Naomi Eldar, who runs the Gush Katif community center and is responsible for producing and marketing the play. She attributes part of the problem to the refusal of some theater halls, such as the one in Kibbutz Givat Brenner, to show the play. "They're afraid that it's political and they'll have a [protest] rally," says Eldar.

The manager of the 700-seat hall in Givat Brenner says her primary consideration in rejecting the show was business-related. "I'm not prepared to advertise a show and cancel it because there aren't enough people," she says. "In general I don't have a political policy; I have a policy regarding small shows that don't fill the hall."

The manager, who would not allow publication of her name, also defends the right of theater halls to decide not to allow "a show that is unsuitable from a political standpoint," saying: "I don't think that during the period of disengagement, I have to do a Gush Katif show here."

As of Tuesday, 400 tickets had been sold for the Kvutzat Shiller performance. The two performances in Jerusalem drew in a total of about 900 audience members.

The show itself is structured as a play within a play. When one of the characters is supposed to tell her friend that the friend's father has just been killed in a shooting attack, the scene shifts to meta-play format and the would-be bringer of bad news becomes too upset to perform the scene. At that point the audience becomes still and quiet, with the exception of subdued but audible sniffling, as powerful actress Zilla Yehuda (playing Tekuma) takes on the role of a woman pained by her father's murder.

At the end of the play, the women state their real names, how long they have lived in Gush Katif and how many children they have. One obviously pregnant woman says she is due "at any moment"; the actress next to her tells the audience that the woman's husband is under house arrest, presumably for opposing the pullout. Another woman says that just like the character she portrayed, she moved to Gush Katif after being evacuated from Yamit.

"It's hard to believe they aren't really those women," an audience member says after one of the Jerusalem shows. "But they are," her friend responds.