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“Seven Jewish Children – A play for Gaza ” – by Caryl Churchill at the Royal Court

This is a guest post by Jonathan Hoffman

The eponymous children (all girls – whom we never meet) in Caryl Churchill’s 10 minute play are alive at various times in the 60 year history of Israel. The dialogue we hear belongs to their parents and grandparents who are trying to decide how best to explain to them the events going on in the world – first in Nazi Germany, then by stages in the aftermath of World War Two; on the way to live in Israel; in the civil strife before the War of Independence of 1948; after the Six Day War in 1967; probably around the first Intifada (1987-93); and finally today, after Operation Cast Lead.

The tone is set in the fourth scene:

Tell her this wasn’t their home

….

Don’t tell her she can’t play with the children

Don’t tell her she can have them in the house

….

Don’t tell her they said it was a land without people

Of course the antisemites queue up to attribute the quote “A land without a people for a people without a land” to Zionists, such as Ben Gurion. The truth is that it was first used by the Evangelist William Eugene Blackstone, shortly after returning from his trip to Israel in 1881. Moreover there is no evidence that Zionist leaders ever used the phrase (see the this Middle Eastern Quarterly article by Diana Muir).

The fifth scene is obvious triumphalism after 1967 – no mention of course that Israel had been forced to take preemptive action against Arab States dedicated to its eradication:

Tell her we won

Tell her her brother’s a hero

Tell her how the tanks rolled in

Tell her how big their armies are

Tell her we turned them back

Tell her we’re fighters

Tell her we’ve got new land

The truth is that far from the triumphalism with which Caryl Churchill imbues her Israeli characters, Israel never wanted the land gained in 1967 and offered to return it all in exchange for peace and normal relations. The offer was rejected in August 1967, when Arab leaders met in Khartoum and adopted a formula that became known as the “three noes”: no peace with Israel , no negotiation with Israel , and no recognition of Israel .

From here it is downhill all the way, heading fast for the pit of demonisation and falsification. In the sixth scene we get:

Tell her it’s our water, we have the right

Tell her it’s not the water for their fields

Don’t tell her not to look at the bulldozer

Don’t tell her it was knocking the house down

Tell her it’s a building site

Don’t tell her anything she doesn’t ask

Tell her we kill far more of them

Tell her we’re stronger

Tell her we’re entitled

Tell her they don’t understand anything except violence

And in the seventh (the final scene, supposed to be now):

Tell her the Hamas fighters have been killed

Tell her they’re terrorists

Tell her they’re filth

….

Tell her we killed the babies by mistake

Don’t tell her anything about the army

Tell her, tell her about the army, tell her to be proud of the army. Tell her about the family of dead girls, tell her their names why not, tell her the whole world knows, why shouldn’t she know? tell her there’s dead babies, did she see babies? Tell her she’s got nothing to be ashamed of. Tell her they did it to themselves. Tell her they want their children killed to make people sorry for them, tell her I’m not sorry for them, tell her not to be sorry for them, tell her we’re the ones to be sorry for, tell her they can’t talk suffering to us. Tell her we’re the iron fist now, tell her it’s the fog of war, tell her we won’t stop killing them till we’re safe, tell her I laughed when I saw the dead policeman, tell her I wouldn’t care if we wiped them out, the world would hate us is the only thing, tell her I don’t care if the world hates us, tell her we’re better haters, tell her we’re chosen people, tell her I look at one of their children covered in blood and what do I feel? Tell her all I feel is happy it’s not her.

If you should meet Caryl Churchill (maybe at meetings of the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign where she is a Patron) please tell her that she has written a play which reinforces false stereotypes and demonises Israelis. Tell her there is a vibrant press in Israel where all opinions can be found and freely expressed. Tell her that Israelis are not the heartless, murderous triumphalists that she portrays. Tell her that Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, removing military bases and its citizens from Gush Katif but nevertheless continuing to provide Gazans with electricity, water, and goods. Tell her how workers at the power plant in Ashdod risked injury or even death from the rockets which were being fired from Gaza — the place where they were supplying electricity. Tell her that Israeli parents tell their children the truth and therefore do not teach them that Palestinians are subhuman and to be hated. Tell her that it’s antisemitic to use the phrase “chosen people” to imply that Jews believe they are superior to non-Jews (tell her the phrase involves responsibilities as well as blessings).

But the trouble is, she probably knows all that.

So tell her then that there’s a nice job waiting for her at PressTV.

The full text can be downloaded from 10 February from www.royalcourttheatre.com