The mayor of the Arab town of Jatt near Haifa canceled a play about violence against women in the Arab sector on the same day that a 26-year-old mother of three was seriously injured in a shooting in Lod, reportedly in connection to the divorce process she was in.
The show in question, called “Voices” (“Kolot”), documents a collection of stories and situations from the lives of women, girls, and youth in romantic relationships, describing the cycle of violence they experience, which culminates in murder.
The mayor, Khaled Jarrah, argued that the show essentially calls for a rebellion against the traditional family roles and violates Islamic law.
Directed by Hisham Suleiman (Fauda, Baghdad Central, Al Medinah), the artistic director of the Nazareth Fringe Theater, and promoted by women’s rights NGO Na’amat, the play premiered in June and has been performed over 70 times since, including in the November “IsraDrama” festival, held by the Hanoch Levin Institute of Israeli Drama in Tel Aviv.
The play became popular very quickly, Suleiman said in a conversation with The Jerusalem Post. It has been performed in dozens of Arab cities and towns that often appear in the news due to gun violence.
For Suleiman, however, the more interesting part of the play is the discussion panel that the cast decided to hold immediately after it.
“For me, the real play begins after the staged show ends,” he said to the Post. “Unfortunately, the media did not notice until the extreme scenario happened – which shows that in Israel the extremes take over the daily discourse.”
The idea that Suleiman is trying to push across is that the violence against women is something that is a part of society – and is part of what boys see and learn from a young age. He wishes to draw a distinction between tradition that safeguards and anchors society, versus tradition that serves part of society and is used a weapon – in this case, quite literally.
“We educate women to be weak from childhood, and men to take control of women,” he said. “My thesis is that the play can prevent a murder or prevent a woman from being drawn into a circle of violence.”
Politicians responded to the cancellation.
“Women are killed because there are those who normalize it and demand that they remain silent when they are threatened,” Joint List (Hadash) MK Aida Touma-Sliman said. She denounced Jarrah’s hypocrisy, saying that the cancellation is an example of this phenomenon. Suleiman agreed.“We need to help women, and not shut them up.”
The play begins with obsessive questioning about the woman’s whereabouts and morphs into violence and murder. Suleiman hopes that the play can also teach women to identify signs of abuse at an early stage, before it turns violent.
“Every word in the play is true, uttered by people who experienced real violent abuse. And if they are speaking, we should listen and give them a stage,” he said.
“Art is meant to rattle you, to make you reexamine the customs you adhere to and make you change the way you see something, not to reaffirm a prior belief,” he concluded. “We count the women who are killed – 21 in 2021 – but need to start treating each one as a person with feelings, dreams, family and a future.”