'Seven British Children': An Israeli response

The JCC response to Churchill's play had all the power of an aspirin after someone tore your guts out.

By AMITAI ETZIONI
April 5, 2009 21:15
4 minute read.
'Seven British Children': An Israeli response

hamas police 248.88. (photo credit: AP [file])

 
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I had to cross demonstrations to enter the Jewish community center in Washington on a recent night. The demonstrators were protesting a play, Seven Jewish Children, that was opening at the center. The play, written by a rabidly anti-Israel author, Caryl Churchill, was condemned even in Britain, where criticism of Israel and anti-Semitism are more rampant than in the United States. The short play is built around short lines that attempt to capture what the author claims Jewish parents will or will not tell their children. It first seduces you, as Ari Roth, the artistic director of the JCC, put it, by showing the family trying to shield the children from the horrors of the Holocaust ("Tell her it is a game... Don't tell her they'll kill her."). The family then moves to Israel where the parents tell each other lines such as "tell her we killed the babies by mistake"; "tell her they [Arabs] are filth"; "tell her that we have a right to the water for our swimming pools but they do not for their fields"; "tell her the bulldozer is there to make room for a building, not to level their houses" and so on. To "balance" the Churchill play, which is widely embraced by many Jews and left-leaning others who are outraged by what they believe Israel did in Gaza, the JCC ran another short play. This one is about an Israeli child, who learned from tender age the difference between a Katyusha and a Kassam rocket and is afraid to enter a house because it does not have a bomb shelter. It has all the power of an aspirin after someone tore your guts out. I FEEL there is a need for a counterpunch of the kind that follows. Generally I much prefer, as I did in a joint statement with a leading Palestinian American, Shibley Telhami, to urge both Israelis and Palestinians not to dwell on the past and focus on where we go from here. However, when faced with such one-sided, maliciously distorting images, the other side must also be depicted with some force. Here is a preliminary attempt at such a reaction. Don't tell them that the Palestinian suicide bombers deliberately set out to kill civilians - people sitting at the Seder table in Netanya, students studying the Bible in Jerusalem, Arabs and Jews who live in peace together in Haifa - not as collateral damage, not as deeply regrettable civilians killed in crossfire among fighters, but as their main target, to terrorize a nation that bleeds with every casualty. Don't tell them that Hamas stores its arms and uses as its bases civilian homes, schools and even mosques, and uses women as human shields. Don't mention that when Ehud Barak offered the Palestinians - for starters - 95 percent of what reasonable people thinks may be due them, including a capital in Jerusalem, they gave him and Israel not a hand but the finger. Don't tell them that Hamas makes it clear that whatever Israel offers and gives, it still will seek to destroy the rest. That it wants to throw all Israelis into the sea if it cannot ship them back to where they came from. Be sure they do not find out that none of the more than one million Israeli-Palestinians is willing to live under the corrupt, abusive Palestinian Authority. They all prefer to live in the Jewish state, enjoy the freedoms it provides, including bitching about this or that additional privilege they would love to have. Don't tell him that there is room, between the Jordan and the sea, for both people to flourish together. Addition for Jewish-American children: Tell them to be careful not to support Israel too openly because some of their best friends are not going to like it, and Jews should not make waves when they live in someone else's country. Be sure they do not find out that it is five minutes to midnight, that Iran is setting out to destroy Israel, and that it needs all our support or we will be enablers if it goes down - just the way so many American Jews remained mum during the Holocaust. After the Seven Jewish Children play was read to a packed JCC, I was given the stage. During the discussion that followed, it became clear that most of the audience found much that spoke to them in the play. The fact that I failed to reach many of them is in part due to my shortcomings. However, I fear that these days pro-Israel arguments fall on deaf ears among many liberal Jews, including those who are still committed enough to Judaism to regularly attend meetings and performances at the JCC. I may have won a few more points by calling attention to the fact that it is close to midnight. The threat of Iran is truly existential and Jews, who often were mum during the Holocaust, should now find their voice, and support Israel. The writer is professor of international relations at George Washington University.

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