Israel's Habima National Theater Performs in Kiryat Arba Settlement for First Time

Culture Minister Miri Regev, who attended the play, lashed out at anti-occupation NGO Breaking the Silence before the performance for trying to 'prevent actors for appearing here tonight.'

The community center in Kiryat Arba, November 10, 2016.
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The Habima national theater performed a play in the West Bank settlement of Kiryat Arba for the first time, on Thursday evening.

The play, “A Simple Story,” based on a Hebrew short novel by Nobel Prize winner S.Y. Agnon, was performed at a community center in Kiryat Arba, but without actor Shlomi Bertonov, who refused to perform in a settlement — and was replaced.

Actress Yevgenia Dodina, who has a major role in the troupe, participated in a tour of nearby Hebron with members of the anti-occupation NGO, Breaking the Silence, before the performance.

Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev, who attended the play, lashed out at Breaking the Silence before the performance. “I am always excited to come here to Kiryat Arba-Hebron, the city of the forefathers. I am happy that tonight actors who did not surrender to the pressure of the organization Breaking the Silence will appear on stage,” she said.“An organization tried up until the last moment to prevent actors from appearing here tonight, and they will perform this evening and we will all enjoy [their acting],” said Regev.

Earlier this year, Regev introduced new funding criteria, which includes a 10-percent bonus to cultural institutions that appear in settlements and a penalty of about 30 percent to those that refuse to perform in settlements.

Bertonov said he did not wish to play into Regev’s hands. “I don’t think I need to travel with the national theater to a new auditorium in Kiryat Arba, to a Jewish theater festival. There is too much fascism in that sentence,” Bertonov told Haaretz. “I don’t play this game.”

A performance by Habima of S.Y. Agnon's "A Simple Story," April 2016.
Gerard Allon

Bertonov said he fears he will pay a professional price for his decision not to perform in Kiryat Arba, saying he was sure it would come back to haunt him. It will be disguised in some other way, but it will certainly happen, he said. “But that’s okay, I really stand behind it,” said Bertonov. He also criticized Habima, saying the decision not to perform in a settlement should have been made at an institutional level, rather than left to individual actors.