– Photo: Gadi Dagon
To stage a play in Israel about the Palestinian Nakba and the systemic destruction of Palestinian homes is to breech a taboo and challenge a deeply entrenched culture of repression and denial. It was no surprise then that news about the play “Palestine, Year Zero” was not well received by Israel’s cultural commissars.
The play follows an old building appraiser as he surveys the destruction of Palestinian houses. The stories of the houses and of the families who lived in them that he documents as he moves from city to city, and from neighbourhood to neighbourhood, reveal grim chapters in the history and ongoing reality of life in Palestine. The appraiser moves from houses in Silwan which are crumbling from the excavations of the City of David below them, to Jenin refugee camp where Israeli soldiers had wrecked houses by blasting a path through their walls, to houses in Gaza destroyed in aerial bombing, and those in Al-’Araqib that have been demolished more than 100 times as well as others destroyed for “administrative” or punitive reasons.
About two weeks before the play was scheduled to premiere at the Acco festival, a complaint was lodged with the Minister of Culture Miri Regev alleging that it contains messages of incitement that undermine the state and offend its symbols. These allegations were based only on the synopsis of the play and its list of supporters, which included the names of Israeli NGOs that assist Palestinians whose rights have been violated due to Israeli policies and practices. Following that, the Minister issued a statement saying that the play would be examined by her office and that a representative on her behalf would visit the rehearsals. Immediately after the minister’s statement was made public, all of the other festival participants announced, in an act of solidarity, that they would not perform their plays at the festival if “Palestine, Year Zero” would be prevented from performing. There was also an outright refusal to allow the ministry’s representatives to view rehearsals. However, the festival organizers did send a copy of the text of the play to the Minister’s office saying they had nothing to hide. This was an unfortunate decision as the Ministry in fact has no legal authority to demand to see plays in advance and an unfortunate precedent may have been set.
In any event, when the Minister was informed that she lacked the authority to cancel the play and that if she nevertheless attempted to do so all participants would withdraw and the entire festival would be cancelled, she retracted her objection noting that her office had found that the play does not in fact undermine the state or offend its symbols. Thus, Regev’s intervention ironically resulted in a heretofore unthinkable ministerial stamp of approval for a play unabashedly addressing the calamity that the Palestinian people have been enduring since 1948. This much repressed reality entailing the systematic destruction of thousands of Palestinian houses and of the entire Palestinian home was allowed to appear on the public stage with the official approval of Israel’s hawkish minister of culture.
The play was successfully staged to critical acclaim and its lead actor, George Ibrahim, director of the al Kasba theatre in Ramallah, was awarded first prize for exceptional performance.
Einat Weizman is an actress, director & human rights activist
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