Double Exposure: Plays of the Jewish and Palestinian Diasporas – Review

Double Exposure: Plays of the Jewish and Palestinian Diasporas edited by playwrights Steven Orlov and Samah Sabawi. (Photo: Supplied)
By Vacy Vlazna

“To them that walk in power; to exceed is madness, and not wisdom.” — Antigone

The creation and slow demise of the two state solution in the Palestinian tragedy of the 20th and 21st centuries has been brought about by the hubris of the main antagonist, Israel.

“Hubris, Ate, and Nemesis are three minor Greek deities, mostly remembered today for their function in ancient Greek drama. Hubris symbolizes arrogance, and deviation from virtue. Ate refers to an act of folly [moral blindness], a direct consequence of hubris, which provokes the wrath of gods and precipitates their intervention. Nemesis is the retribution of divine justice—painful, but necessary to restore world balance and order.”

Enter Trump right of stage to dispense a startling potential coup de grâce to the zionist project, “I’m looking at two-state and at one-state and I like the one that both parties like. I can live with either one.”

Here is the delicious irony; Israel’s monumental hubris- its greed and violent theft of Palestine- has created the basis for a one state, not within the present frame of apartheid, but a state of equality for all citizens.

Consequently, there is a long journey towards healing between Palestinians and Israelis and Double Exposure: Plays of the Jewish and Palestinian Diasporas edited by playwrights Steven Orlov and Samah Sabawi is a bold advance towards reconciliation.

Be aware that Israeli hubris is a seen and unseen dramatic presence in all the plays.

In Double Exposure, there are three plays by Palestinian  playwrights; Hannah Khalil, Ismail Khalidi, and Samah Sabawi, and three by Jewish playwrights; Arthur Milner,  Natasha Greenblatt, Steven Orlov and the final play Twenty One Positions: A Cartographic Dream of the Middle  East is a joint work of Abdelfattah AbuSrour, Lisa Schlesinger and Naomi Wallace.

I am purposely not going into great detail about Khalil’s Bitterenders as the play is so cleverly crafted that I don’t want to spoil the emotive power of the ending’s impact for readers. Suffice to say its simplicity is deceptive and the reader/audience is carefully deflected from, yet simultaneously steered directly into the full force of its coup de théâtre; the insanity beyond the edge of unbearable agony and the formidable resilience of the human heart and mind before its breaking point – the bitter end.

Bitterenders staged  would be a memorable experience keeping in mind the stage itself is both a Palestinian home and the Palestinian homeland under occupation. We don’t see the occupiers but their presence entirely saturates the characters’ lives with fear and oppression.

Contrasting the emotional gravity of Bitterenders, is the masterly intellectual gravitas of Milner’s unflinching Facts: a hard hitting discourse on and challenge to identity – Zionist and Jew, Palestine and Israel – carried by the momentum of an intriguing who-done-it; a police team investigation by a Palestinian  Inspector, Khalid and an Israeli detective, Yossi into the murder of an American  archeologist Gordon Philips based on the factual murder of Dr Albert Glock in 1992.

Facts’ thematic tension of the right to the land of Palestine lies in Biblical archeology as a tool of the Israeli occupation i.e. the Biblical claim of Jews to Palestine  and archeology as a “history of Palestine, a history derived from archaeological facts” *  which concludes that the Exodus never happened, and Moses, David, Solomon and the kingdom of Israel didn’t exist.  Yossi’s  question, “If there never was an Israeli kingdom, what is the justification for Zionism?” reveals the existential fallacy of Israel.

Milner presents the suspect Danny, a settler zealot, whose religious fanaticism acts as the determinant of Jewish identity and the antagonist to literal facts. Yet, ironically, it is Yossi, the ‘progressive’ Israeli for whom identity and justice is malleable, who emerges as the adversary to both the settlers and to the Palestinians.

Greenblatt tackles a major pitfall in reconciliation; the irony in the title of The Peacemaker and the protagonist’s name, Sophie is definitely not ‘wise,’ underscore this important dramatisation of a what-not-to-do to help Palestinians for all foreign activists. Sophie is an ingenue know-all relying on ‘research’ to deal with Palestine’s human and political complexities and possesses a sense of western superiority but without the belligerence of the Israeli characters.

Sophie is Jewish and comes to Palestine via Birthright – a propaganda trip that normalises zionism and the occupation. No-no number 1 is – she  hides that she is Jewish from the Palestinians. Honesty doesn’t come naturally to the well meaning Sophie, she tricks her students into playing to Holocaust survivors in Jerusalem, she sleeps with  the Palestinian enemy, Oran an Israeli soldier, then later denies knowing him, she dismisses his killing of a child as a mistake. Through Sophie’s dangerously not  at all funny comedy of errors, Greenblatt shows us for real peace to be made, first Palestinian dignity and narrative must be honoured.

Samah Sabawi’s Tales of a City by the Sea explores resistance within the  relationship between Palestinians “trapped in Gaza” and Palestinians in the diaspora who have “wings and the freedom to leave when things get tough”. Tales is is a love story between Jomama and Rami and their love for a cherished war-ravaged ‘God-forsaken earth’ that is Gaza. It is hard to believe that this is Sabawi’s first play. It is beautifully compact with a seamless symbiosis of dialogue, poetry and song articulating the immediacy of shared experiences of horror, fear, grief, guilt, between actors and audience trapped under a “sky that rains death” and also articulating the resilience and tenacity to life that “defy the universe”.

When Tales of a City by the Sea was included in an Australian senior school curriculum, it came under vicious attack for  nonexistent antisemitism.  When you read/see the play you’ll understand the threat to Israeli hubris- you leave the theatre with the sense of having met Gazans and know them for people who love each other, love life, love Palestine;  they are people like yourself, not death toll statistics or strangers on the news. Sabawi’s art brings their humanness to light which  heightens Israeli moral blindness, violence and the lie of Palestinians as terrorists. This insight starkly accentuates the inhumane face of the zionist.

This power of art to to expose both good and evil and thus become a potent agency for civilised change is a convenient segue to Khalidi’s Sabra Falling where the debate between art as resistance voiced by Sofyan and Eyad versus armed struggle represented by Hani and Dahlia. “The poetry of revolution – evolution unlike any accomplished with third-hand rifles”  is  further juxtaposed to Israeli warmongering.

As a Palestinian, Khalidi is bound to balance the heroism of freedom fighters of both the pen and the sword. Eyad, wrote ‘seditious books’ and like  novelist  Ghassan Kanafani, and poet  Kamal Nasser ( and Naji al Ali), was assassinated because, “He was eliminated to protect us [Israelis], to protect democracy. The unit that put bullets through his tongue did a sacred duty.”

The  character, Sofyan, a theatre director, in an act of grief and artistic imagination fuses his dead son Eyad  and the wounded Israeli pilot Eyal into one being. In a play within the play, the  dramatic tension within the Pilot is the struggle for the individual’s humanity versus  a lifetime’s  relentless brutal militant brainwashing  represented by The General. The reader /audience knows which will win out in the doomed setting of the Sabra and Shatila massacre.

Duality as dramatic conflict manifests in the tragicomic Twenty One Positions in the relationship of the two brothers, Fawaz, whose goal is the American dream of  success  and Rashid whose dream is flying a glider and Palestine’s freedom. Duality is also rendered in the ubiquitous two sides of the Wall and the glider that surmounts and erases divisions. In Fawaz’ search for his prodigal brother, he finds the Palestinian identity that he had lost and that Rashid had found and fought for.

I sense Twenty One Positions is powerful in performance but its unsatisfactory ending feels contrived; the hero Rashid is shot – killed on his wedding day in a glorious gesture of love – to bring Dahlia the orchid; something no Wall could prevent BUT it is the prosaic Fawaz who ends up getting the girl: his brother’s fiancé Dahlia while she’s still in mourning – she should know better. Go figure.

I have left Orlov’s Sperm Count  until last as I found its major flaw- the nazification of the one and only Palestinian character, Dr Hamid, offensive. Allusions to highly emotive Nazi experimentations  on Jews are linked to Said Hamid,  a fertility doctor and given visual emphasis in the dream image of  Said “wearing a traditional Arab robe with a swastika armband and a keffiyeh.’ then waves goodbye…with a Nazi salute…”

Added to this is the covert investigation into Said’s past in Kuwait.. which was not buying ‘more scuds to hit Israel” but genetic research which Jacob immediately associates with ‘Nazi madmen’ and a demographic threat, “With those Arab birth rates, what does that mean for Israel?”

In my view, Jewish maturity in the Palestinian cause is marked by the weaning from the sour blackmail of  the Holocaust which  then completely disassociates the Holocaust and Palestine because the  Holocaust is overloaded with victim connotations and is exploited by Israeli propaganda to reinforce the false victimhood that justifies the zionist colonisation by unfair and foul means.

This play would have been more powerful had the doctor been Canadian and the only allusion to Palestinians was Mrs Hassan’s lost egg with an exposition of HER life as a refugee.

Notwithstanding, the play is entertaining with Orlov’s wonderful flair for Jewish humor and the Woody Allenesque male ego of the anti-hero David. The provocative complication of abortion delivers the play’s moral denouement; sanctity of life sans predilection for religion ( Jewish) or ethnicity ( Palestinian). Abortion is explored from different moral points of view – abortion under the Nazi’s saved the life of Jacob’s wife, Rosie; Said suggests the abortion of one embryo to save two embryos and David’s trite ego-motive, his lineage. Lena easily supplants David as the hero of the play.

And Nemesis? Double Exposure’s playwrights are the agents of retribution of human justice. Like gods they strike and destroy, the monolith Israeli hasbara i.e false propaganda  regurgitated by western media and our governments, with the ultimate weapon – Empathy.

“All tremble at violence; life is dear to all. Putting oneself in the place of another, one should not kill nor cause another to kill.” — The Buddha

Theater is an empathy machine; its very intimacy, unlike film, triggers a visceral vicarious participation in the characters’ lives. Watching a theatrical performance, our  minds and hearts are active relating, actively feeling, morally judging at conscious and unconscious levels. The A-ha ! moments of profound insight into the Palestinian truth cause catharsis, or purification which occurs not only in the protagonist but in our deepest selves; we have connected person to person.

*Palestine Twilight: The Murder of Dr. Albert Glock and the Archaeology of the Holy Land by Edward L. Fox

– Dr. Vacy Vlazna is Coordinator of Justice for Palestine Matters and editor of a volume of Palestinian poetry, I remember my name. She is a regular contributor to  Palestine Intifada, Palestine Chronicle, Dissident Voice, Al Jazeera, Counterpunch, Countercurrents. She was Human Rights Advisor to the GAM team in the second round of the Acheh peace talks, Helsinki, February 2005 then withdrew on principle. Vacy was convenor of  Australia East Timor Association and coordinator of the East Timor Justice Lobby as well as serving in East Timor with UNAMET and UNTAET from 1999-2001. She contributed this article to 

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    • They can be ordered, and some libraries will have them. I would send you a digital copy of mine if you contact me on messenger/facebook. Arthur Milner

  1. The Israeli Jews put aside the Holocaust and have never espoused a victim culture based upon it. Jews in Israel got on with the job of building a nation predicated on democratic values and freedom. On the contrary the Palestinians buried themselves in a cult of hate and victimhood blaming the Jews for a demise of their own making.

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