Puppet Theater

Provocation? God forbid. What do Israeli artists have to do with provocation? After all they're good children, submissive and obedient.

"The Burial of a Donkey" was supposed to be performed today in Crypt A; "In the Name of Zion" in Knights' Hall A; "Emergency" in The Orchard and "A Little Vacation" in Knights' Hall C. None of them will be performed. The mayor of Acre has decided on a donkey's burial for the Festival for Alternative Theater. Shimon Lankri is running in the coming elections, his Jewish voters sought to take revenge against the Arab residents of Acre's Old City, those who make a living from this festival, and therefore Lankri pulled out a red card. In his polished words of explanation for the scandalous act of punishment Lankri spoke of "soul-searching," but Lankri's only soul-searching is his calculation of his election chances, which pass through damage to the pocketbooks of his city's Arabs. The hundreds of artists involved in the festival accepted the decision with disgraceful obedience and submission. The Israeli theater, and the non-establishment one yet, the ostensibly subversive fringe, has never looked more like a puppet theater. One pull of the string by the mayor and there's no festival, not even a scandal. The artistic director, Daniela Michaeli, although she opposed the cancelation, as opposed to the obedient director, Albert Ben-Chalouche, uttered a weak protest about not being a partner to the decision, but hastened to emphasize: "We don't want to create a provocation."

Provocation? God forbid. What do Israeli artists have to do with provocation? After all they're good children, submissive and obedient. Marionettes. The protest of the artists therefore consisted only of a manifesto posted on the Internet at the initiative of Ati Citron, the previous artistic director of the festival, and a decision to perform a few selections in a closed forum of the artists. No demonstration, no strike, no festival in spite of the establishment.

That is Israeli theater, these are our artists, that is our public opinion: free of protest. If we knew that there was no chance of a genuine protest over social and political issues, of the type that requires courage and even a personal price; if we knew that there was no chance that the establishment theater would take too much of a risk, the events of Acre came and proved that the situation is much more depressing than that. Not even a protest over the cancelation of the festival; and not only did the established theater refrain from protest, but the same was true even of the theater that claims to be different. There is no avant-garde, only a cowardly trailing behind. What a disgrace.

The festival has been held for the past 29 years, attracting thousands to alternative theater and to the beautiful and neglected city. Even in the darkest days of the intifadas it was held, with armed Border Police on the sidelines; it was the only armed festival in the universe. We always knew that the "alternative" is not so alternative, that the people of Acre are alienated for the most part from the festival in their own city and that no "message of coexistence" wafts from Said's hummus stand. But when Juliano Mer stood years ago for days on end in the Knights' Hall, naked as a jaybird, and performed his improvised work, there was also a taste of protest and avant-garde in the air.

Nothing remains. The festival is dead, now we must also give a donkey's burial to its social, political and artistic pretense, and also that of Israeli artists, who remained silent, as usual, out of fear. You want a festival? You can ride a donkey at the date, tomato or olive festival.