The Guardian’s theatrical production of, Howard Brenton’s “Israel targets Palestinian thespians”

“It isn’t just the Israelis”, says Howard Brenton, but his blame is clearly heaped almost exclusively on Israel, in ‘Stand up for West Bank’s Freedom theatre, June 12, Guardian, Theater page

I am surprised to read that he produces drama.  

From his piece in the Guardian I would have guessed that it was melodrama that he specializes in.  You could have assumed that he was one of the trendy luvvies who objected to Israel’s participation in the Globe’s Shakespeare festival and, equally, you would have guessed that there is no evidence of his objection to the participation of other countries, far more malign than Israel but better backed and much less fashionable targets, which is apparently what counts.

However, he wrote“I am distressed to see British actors trying to stop Jewish actors perform on a London stage,” which made me expect better things of him than this monotonic production. 

Brenton’s frequent collaborator is (Hamas supporter and ‘Comment is Free’ contributor) Tariq Ali, an unabashed advocate of a one-state solution who doesn’t care whether Israelis want it (They never will)  or whether the Palestinians want it (Hamas certainly doesn’t want the Jews).

His piece has no light nor shade, and no chiaroscuro. It’s all blaring sound at full volume with accusation following accusation, dramatic moment following dramatic moment so closely that it all blurs into one single assault on the senses.

From his account the incidents plaguing the Freedom Theatre sound like an (Israeli) attack on the very concept of dramatic presentation and theatre.

He thunders:

“Or how about being picked up at a checkpoint because you’re an actor, or made to stand by a theatre wall in the middle of the night with your trousers down because you’re a theatre technician? Or being taken off to a detention centre and denied a lawyer or family visit ? Or being shot in the head with your baby son in your lap because you’re an artistic director?”

Having read that, one expects now to be offered proof that it is indeed because of their theatrical calling that they are picked up or shot at.  However he offers not a smidgen of proof.   There’s no accusation even of murdering sleep or murdering Shakespeare.  

After a paean of praise of the theatre’s artistic merit he returns to an account of further arrests and alarums and then, shocked, writes:

“Now the intimidation of the theatre’s staff and their families is ever more frequent – and it’s not just the Israeli army. The Palestinian Authority has also joined in the attacks.”

Brenton either never knew or wilfully disregarded the environment in which this Free Theatre has its being, the infamous city of Jenin, home of the Big Lie: the Jenin Massacre, that never happened.

He  neglects irresponsibly to remind his readers of Jenin’s reputation as a violent city of crime, murder, terrorism and rebellion, which was obscured for a short while (because the Dayton programme seemed to be bring peace and security) has returned with a fuller flavour than before and the techniques learned are now employed in anarchy.

It is in fact not only the theatre’s personnel that are being attacked.  He could have read more widely, looked for facts.  The New York Times reports how the Palestinian governor of the region was the target of a shooting attack and died of two heart attacks following the stress it caused him.  He had no discernible links with the theatre which is perhaps why Howard omitted to mention him.   

The NYT article (May 9, 2012) described the situation as follows.

“Gangs that threatened to bring chaos back to the streets of Jenin, a notorious hub of violent crime during the second intifada reborn in recent years as a model of Palestinian self-rule, cooperation with Israel and economic growth.”

Perhaps Brenton reads only the Guardian, which didn’t mention the death of Qaddura Musa, it seems.

Per a report in the Gatestone Institute:

“Radi Asideh, the security commander of the Jenin area, admitted that it was the Palestinian security establishment that was responsible for the anarchy and lawlessness. “There is a defect inside the security establishment and officers were responsible for this,” he revealed.”   

Brenton ends his piece as follows:

“The Freedom theatre began as a community project for young people of both sexes. It has expanded into an arts project for the West Bank that also entertains an enthusiastic adult audience; it has started an acting school, and recently launched a film school to train young people for the growing Palestinian film industry. It is a small pool of enlightenment and joy in a dark place.

Israel: many of us defended your National Theatre’s right to perform recently at the Globe in London. From the same argument, stop your attacks on the Freedom theatre and release its artists from your prisons.”

I would say to Brenton that all the world might be a stage but he is not its author.  

It is well to find out the truth of a situation before accusing a whole nation of ill-intent when two minutes with Google will show the truth of the matter.  Actors have other roles in life besides the tinsel one on the stage and they might well be bloody-handed murderers or assassins in reality.

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