The Actors Will Pay the Price

Though the city acts normal, though its city leaders and inhabitants make peace-loving statements, and though it was built with public money and state support, Ariel is in occupied territory.

The battle for Ariel ended in a smashing victory for both sides. Yesterday was the first theater performance, the Be'er Sheva Theater's "Piaf," at the city's new cultural center. The directors of public theaters, who have been reminded by the prime minister, the finance minister and the culture minister that they are the recipients of government money - and that money that is given out can also be taken away - announced that they would perform in the West Bank settlement as they would in any suitable auditorium anywhere in the country. Ariel, which has put significant effort into looking like any other city in Israel, can now take pride in its cultural center, not only its college or the quality of life there.

But the artists who in August wrote a letter of protest against performances in Ariel, once it became known that an auditorium was to open there, were also victorious, more so than expected. They put an issue on the agenda that everyone - the government, the residents of Ariel, and even most of the public - tends to forget or cause others to forget: Though the city acts normal, though its city leaders and inhabitants make peace-loving statements, and though it was built with public money and state support, Ariel is in occupied territory.

How do I know? MK Tzipi Hotovely (Likud ) has called for Israeli sovereignty over Ariel. And on the day the cultural center was dedicated, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the United States, a new neighborhood began to be planned for private, Jewish-owned land in Ariel - and we were treated to a reminder that the issue of construction in Ariel is at the heart of tension between Israel and the United States.

A second protest letter, released early this week, was directed at the actors, to remind them that they are still free, thinking people. It reminds them of the facts with regard to Ariel, appeals to their conscience as political creatures and draws their attention to the legal situation (their contracts refer to performing in Israel, and though Ariel is de facto not in Israel, the legal aspects of the issue must be resolved in court ). What about this is "anti-democratic," as the culture minister claimed at the opening ceremony?

Few are the actors who can allow themselves the luxury of living by their political opinions. They also signed the letter. But even if there are more like them, the theaters will know how to deal with them so that everyone will be happy: national leaders, Ariel's leaders and leaders in the theater world. It will not be Ariel that gets hurt; it will be the livelihood of certain actors that gets curtailed. And when it comes to a choice between livelihood and politics, it is the democratic right of an actor, whose life is hard enough as it is, to choose livelihood.

According to the defenders of Ariel, the people who initiated and signed the letter, some of whom have made and are making Israeli theater what it is today, are a "marginal group," "extremists and loonies." That is both ignorant and rude.

But they are also depicted as people who are pressuring colleagues and other artists not to appear in Ariel. That is completely false. In Israel today, to issue a call not to appear in Ariel because it is not within Israel's sovereign territory, and is at the heart of the conflict between us and the Palestinians, is an act of public courage.

Those who issue that call have been maligned, reviled, condemned and pressured, both implicitly and openly, and threatened that their livelihood will be compromised, just for telling the truth. They do not have the power to force anything on theater managers. On the contrary, some of them will be forced to appear in Ariel. They, who have sacrificed for Israeli theater in body and soul much more than have those who rail against them, will have to lick the wounds of the new insults and threats that their second letter has engendered. In that letter, all they did was remind those who are trying to ignore the situation that although Israeli citizens live in Ariel, it is not part of the State of Israel. That is a fact.