The Protagonist of a New Israeli Play: The Hebron Shooter

A Greek tragedy-style play about Elor Azria, the IDF soldier who killed a wounded Palestinian terrorist, is to be read on stage at upcoming Haifa Theater festival

Hagit Ginzburg
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Soldier Elor Azaria is waiting outside Jaffa's military court together with his father Charlie, in 2016.
Soldier Elor Azaria is waiting outside Jaffa's military court together with his father Charlie, in 2016.Credit: Moti Milrod
Hagit Ginzburg

The Haifa Theater has announced that its staged reading festival later this year will feature a new play called "Shirat Elor" ("Song of Elor"), about an extremely controversial incident involving an Israeli soldier in 2016.

Written by Oded Lipshitz, the play, according to the theater's announcement, is “in the style of a Greek tragedy, telling the story of the Elor Azaria affair.” The affair centers around Azaria, an Israel Defense Forces soldier who killed a wounded and incapacitated Palestinian assailant in the West Bank city of Hebron; Azaria was convicted of manslaughter and was released after serving a nine-month term in jail in 2018.

Playwright Oded Lipshitz. 'I think that [the response] also surprised the theater.'Credit: David Bachar

Announcement of the staging of the play about the soldier, known by some as the "Hebron shooter," has unleashed a wave of criticism. For his part, playwright Lipshitz, concedes that he didn’t expect such a torrent of responses.

“First of all, I was surprised that there's a storm in the world of theater,” he said. “It’s gratifying, it means it’s interesting. I think that [the response] also surprised the theater. I don’t think they expected this and they still don’t know what steps to take and whether it’s good or bad.

"No one except those who have read the play know what it's about. The press release said exactly what it deals with – with a process, with Israeli society – but usually people look at the title, 'Song of Elor,' and that’s what jolts them into action. The title is interpreted as a song glorifying Elor although the meaning is a bit more than a song in the classical sense – it's a poetic work that tells a story.”

Lipshitz is a well-known playwright in the world of Israeli theater, with several fringe works to his credit and quite a few prizes. Among them are the Bernstein Prize for Hebrew plays, first place in Tel Aviv's Open Stage Festival and honorable mention in the Tzav Kriya staged reading festival. His work often deals with social and political issues of the day, as does "Song of Elor," which he says is a means of describing and portraying a complex picture of a certain period in Israeli society.

“The play talks about a very critical point in time, of extreme polarity in Israeli society,” he says. “Of two different societies, two different peoples. Of a struggle that reached an extreme in terms of defiance and recriminations. One can see the reverberations of this in social media responses, even now. It’s a bit like a meta-dramatic process in which it is art itself that has aroused what art wanted to talk about."

Haifa Theatre.Credit: Rami Shllush

How was the idea conceived to write a play about Azaria?

Lipshitz: “It came from a series of short texts that I had to write for an operatic project. I took the points that I thought were key in our society – extreme events, seminal events that shaped it and constituted points of transformation – and I realized that Elor’s story was very significant. I think that this story touches on many aspects of life in Israeli society that are explosive: morality, nationalism, patriotism, the extent to which morality and nationalism are codependent and what that makes possible. Is there a matter of crossing a boundary or can one do anything on behalf the nation? There’s also a very major question of ethnicity: Do we have a story here between Ashkenazim and Mizrahim? [Haifa Theater artistic director] Moshe Naor fought hard for this project and he’ll direct it.”

"Song of Elor" takes place in a courtroom, focusing on the evidence and proceedings involving Azaria, leading up to the verdict that was handed down in January 2017. “This is an attempt to understand the hegemony – who’s in charge here? The people in the field? The soldiers themselves? Or is there some kind of corrupt system that dictates the laws from above and crushes an innocent soldier for an action he took, which was justified? All these struggles exploded in this trial,” Lipshitz explains.

Among the characters are, of course, Elor Azaria and his parents, Charlie and Oshra Azaria, and a friend who gave conflicting testimonies. “You can say that this is a kind of mosaic of characters, each one having their own point of view and touching something else,” the playwright says.

Elor Azaria, outside Jaffa military court, in 2019.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

The main character in his play is actually the chorus, which, according to Greek tragedy tradition, represents the voice of the people. “This character experiences a kind of emotional and social process that I think many of us, looking on from the side, went through. It’s the most important character in the play,” he adds.

Some will say that the choice to write about this of all subjects is a gimmick.

“I feel that I have approached this from a sincere and balanced place, not out of defiance. Some of the role of creating is in my opinion to arouse complexity and to place it before an audience, at least in the theater. It’s true that it’s not always this way, but it’s worthwhile to arouse this complexity and to talk about it, about what it does to Israeli society. Like an anecdote or a test case that impacts many areas and many Israeli social sensitivities. This is a story through which we can view our society. The polarity, the extremism, the anger and the hatred that is sparked. I’m not afraid of it because I think it’s the purpose of creating. I didn't come to cause a provocation.

"There’s a kind of tendency or trend to avoid things that are uncomfortable or unpleasant, especially in Israeli theater. There are exceptions, of course, but this is obviously a political, very explosive event. We don’t know in which direction it’s explosive. I’m happy about that because it means that there’s a lively discussion. I thought that if there was any interest in it, the play would actually be considered to be leftist, because that’s what’s self-evident, that’s what usually happens. And suddenly it’s considered right wing. It’s very interesting.”

As of now there will be a staged reading of the play. Do you think it will it be performed as a play?

“As far as I know, the agenda is to stage the play. The Haifa Theater is a very profound place that isn’t afraid of sensitive processes, and that’s why they’re trying first to convey it gradually. It’s also possible that it won’t work, that it will fall apart – these are things that happen in the theater. But I understand that the theater is planning to stage it.”

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