The mayor of the Israeli Arab town of Jatt has canceled the performance of a play dealing with violence against women, saying it "is not suitable for the values of Islam and Arab society."
The performance of the play, "Voices," had been set for Tuesday. Mayor Khaled Jarra said he had agreed to allow the play to be staged under the auspices of the Na'amat NGO, but was then informed that it includes inappropriate scenes and portrays the role of women within a family in an “unseemly” manner.
The mayor argued that the women in the play undermine the status of marital relationships and urge rebellion in general. “No one pressured me,” Jarra said. "I made this decision because in my opinion, this is what is necessary for the good of the community."
“Voices,” which recounts stories by Arab women who have experienced domestic violence, was first staged last June in several Arab cities, including Nazareth, Umm al-Fahm and Tira. With the performance of Jatt being canceled, it will now be staged in the city of Baka al-Garbiyeh.
Actor Hisham Suliman, who wrote and directed the play, says the cancellation took him by surprise, especially coming from a leader in the Arab community. It took several months to write the play, says Suliman, and he consulted with domestic violence experts and meetings with women in shelters.
“The play is based on true stories, and brings to the surface a real point of view about oppression in Arab society and the way women experience violence, which sometimes even ends in murder,” says Suliman.
“This is a play that deals with one of the most painful topics, and it’s a challenge for us. I’m trying to start a discussion about femicide, but encounter attempts to silence me,” he added.
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Comments protesting the cancellation flooded the internet – from men and women in the Arab cultural scene to the Women Against Violence NGO. Social activist Samah Salaima says the mayor is hiding behind religion in order to cancel the play. “I’ve seen the play more than once," she says. “This is oppression, silencing, burying the voices of the murdered women.”
Lawmaker Aida Touma-Sliman also condemned the cancellation, referencing to the attempted murder of a young Arab woman, Lamis Abu-Laban, in Lod on Friday. “I’m surprised at the silence in Arab society about the fact that a mother of three is currently fighting for her life," the member of Knesset said. "Women are murdered because there are those who normalize the violence against them and ask them to shut up even when threatened.”
The mayor also slammed Na'amat, the women's rights NGO, saying there was no basis to statistics it published about crime in his town. “Jatt is a quiet municipality compare to all towns in the Triangle [an area of Arab towns adjacent to the Green Line] and Arab society," he said. "Naamat wants to foist an agenda on an entire town, and their entire conduct encourages violence.”