The destruction of Gaza by Israel yet again last summer, as tragic as it was, has also galvanized many Americans into doing something about it. Even those who know little about the situation know that something is drastically wrong here, when a powerful military state declares a poor strip of land a danger to its existence, justifying an obliterating bombing campaign. Now is the chance to reach these people in a new way—with a play that describes the often invisible context of the ongoing Palestinian/Israeli conflict—the 47-year Israeli Occupation of Palestinian Territories. “It’s What We Do” unearths the true motives and policies of the Israeli occupation, in the words of those who are implementing it: Israeli soldiers.
The Project: The Israeli occupation of Palestine is a cancer in the lives of both Palestinians and Israelis. Some courageous Israeli soldiers from Breaking the Silence have dared to speak out against it. I am seeking funds for the production of my play, "It's What We Do," based on the testimonies of these soldiers. It is intended to reach new audiences relatively unfamiliar with the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. The performances will be followed by discussions that tie the voices of the soldiers to the members of the audience, their beliefs and their complicity, perhaps, as American citizens in what is happening in Israel. We would advertise to local universities, churches, mosques, synagogues and community centers, conferences and groups. With the funds from this campaign, we hope to go into production in winter, 2015, with performances in spring, 2015 in the Washington, DC area at universities, theatres, community centers, faith institutions and conferences.
Why this play? While I was writing this play, the bombs were dropping in Gaza, the children bleeding from shrapnel, as hundreds of thousands of refugees sought to escape the destruction. Let’s not delude ourselves into thinking that Hamas rockets started this conflagration: it is an organic, deadly outgrowth of the Israeli occupation of Palestine.
Gaza bombing, 2014
That occupation is an injustice that has imprinted itself on my life, my comfortable life in a privileged country. Brought up with the horrifying images of the Holocaust, having relatives who are Jewish, Jewish friends with emotional ties to Israel, it was only reluctantly that I confronted the reality of the occupation and my country’s—and my own-- complicity in it. My U.S. tax dollars contribute to the arsenal of weapons Israel has been using to maintain the occupation for 47 years. As I became immersed in Arab cultures, through my teaching and filmmaking, and as my circle of Arab and Muslim friends expanded, I was confronted again and again with the grave injustice that has been visited upon the Palestinians. At some point, it became clear to me that I must align myself with those who were articulating this reality and join the resistance against it. I could no longer maintain my own silence, my comfort in the face of the enormous injustice of the occupation and the deceptive motives of the Israeli government.
The West has too long maintained a hypocritical stance, wherein individual Jewish Israeli lives are highly valued, while thousands of Palestinians are subjected to arbitrary imprisonment, torture, extrajudicial executions and collective punishment at the hands of the Israeli government.
Checkpoint, West Bank
The play that I have written is an attempt to break out of my own silence by supporting young Israeli soldiers who have dared to expose the true nature of the Israeli occupation and its motives.
The Dramatic Text: I have been given permission by Breaking the Silence to create a theatrical production of Our Harsh Logic: Israeli Soldiers’ Testimonies from the Occupied Territories, 2000-2012, compiled by Breaking the Silence and published by Picador in 2012.
This book includes testimonies from Israel Defense Forces (IDF) veterans who were responsible for, or implemented, a variety of occupation tactics. These included (in their own words) intimidation of the Palestinian population; maintaining an apartheid structure through control, expropriation, annexation and a dual law enforcement system for territories and settlements; and controlling and disrupting Palestinian civilian life.
The stories easily lend themselves to dramatization because of the struggle between the individual soldiers and the Palestinians they are trying to control. The outcomes are often tragic for the Palestinians. For the soldiers, their own actions burn their consciences. Some of them are appalled by what they are asked to do, and even challenge their superiors; some follow orders in confusion, with feelings of guilt afterwards; others become seduced by the power they are given, committing acts they later despise.
Excerpts from play, illustrating 2 soldiers’ reflections:
Qalqilya District, Artillery Unit—bulldozing for the Wall; annexation
“I remember one incident in particular. It gives me goosebumps just thinking about it. Someone whose olive grove they’d uprooted came to me in tears and said to me, 'I planted this grove for ten years, I waited ten years for it to bear fruit. I enjoyed it for one year, and now they’re uprooting it.' . . . He’d only had a year to enjoy his trees, and then the IDF bulldozer comes and says: Forget about it. . . . Each time it’s just one person’s land. You’re not harming a single place full of people, each time you’re just seeing a single person. And then he has no power—he can only stand at the side and cry.“
Hebron, Nahal Brigade—defending settlers against Arabs
“The parents stand around and you see a little Jewish kid throwing stones and yelling something at the Arab kids, and it was just routine. . . . This is what causes the whole mess, these little fights, these things that the settlers start. I know their parents teach them to hate Arabs, and so they legitimize throwing rocks and cursing at them. It’s the kind of thing you see on TV. So it’s clear there’ll be a mess afterward. And you don’t understand which side you’re on. I’m a Jewish Israeli soldier, and I’m supposed to be against the Arabs because they’re my enemy, but I’m here, next to a settler’s house in the base, and I start thinking that I’m not on their side, that the Jews aren’t right. So wait, so no, I have to flip a switch in my brain so I can keep hating Arabs and justifying what the Jews do. But no, wait, I still can’t agree with the Jews, because they started it, it’s because of them that we’re here, and it’s because of them that all this is happening, because they disturb the Arabs and the Arabs are afraid.”
The Production--a Docudrama: The point of the theatrical production is to present these voices—raw and personal—and allow the reality they describe to speak for itself. The style of the production is monologues, dialogues and dramatized stories. This will allow the audience to both hear the personal reactions of the soldiers and see their actions against Palestinians—and to realize the frequent contradictions between the two.
The production will be no more than an hour. This is to keep the material powerful and focused. Production design is minimal to make the production easier to tour. It is written for 7 actors.
Budget: This campaign seeks funds toward production and performance expenses. We have received donations from the Washington Interfaith Alliance for Middle East Peace and other donors, but need the following amounts to reach specific goals:
• $10,000 Production expenses and 5 performances
• $13,000 Production expenses, 10 performances and video archive of production and performance process
• $15,000 Production expenses, 10 performances and film based on play, accessible through production website
Performances/Promotion: We will advertise the play to local universities, churches, mosques, synagogues and community centers, conferences and groups. The performances will be available for a small fee: $100.