Dissertation: Harass, Reading the Israeli/Palestinian Conflict Through Theater

Harass, Azza. Reading the Israeli/Palestinian Conflict Through Theater: A Postcolonial Analysis, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis. University of Kent, 2015.

 

URL: https://kar.kent.ac.uk/47909/

 
Abstract
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict dates back to 1917, when British Prime Minister Balfour declared Britain’s support for the establishment of a homeland for Jews in the land of Palestine. The conflict has had many political, social, and artistic implications. On the political level, a struggle that has not been solved until this day has evolved. On a social level, many lives have been crushed: thousands of native citizens of the land became refugees, mainly in Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria, but also worldwide. Others, like the Arabs who stayed in what was in 1948 declared to be the state of Israel, have been suffering from an identity crisis; many of these Arabs face unlawful detention, demolition of houses, killing and racism. The Gaza strip has almost always been under siege by the Israeli military machine lately. Meanwhile, the Jewish society has never had a day of peace since the establishment of their state. On the artistic level, the conflict has always had implications for Arab/ Palestinian and Israeli writings., I seek to read the depiction of the conflict with its different violent confrontations from both Israeli and Palestinian perspectives starting with the Palestinian Nakba to the violent Israeli oppression of any Palestinian resistance in the Intifada. I also read literary texts about Palestinian resistance, actual material resistance of the first Palestinian Intifada as represented by both sides in postcolonial terms. In fact, I believe that both Palestinian and Israeli literature could be read in the context of postcolonial discourse. On the one hand, for Palestinian and Arab writers, Palestinian writing is and should be read as resistance literature, or ‘Adab al-muqawamah’, a term coined by Palestinian writer Ghassan Kanafani. Anna Ball’s study Palestinian Literature and Film in Postcolonial Feminist Perspective examines Palestinian literature and film in the light of postcolonial feminism. Ball places the conflict in the context of colonial/ postcolonial discourse and breaks the taboo against using the word colonialism when speaking about Zionism. In fact, the research problem is based on the idea of the inadequacy of ignoring Palestinian and Israeli literature as part of postcolonial studies simply for fear of revealing the colonial status quo of the land. According to Anna Bernard, who seeks to draw attention to what she calls ‘blind spots in postcolonial studies’, mainly Israel/ Palestine: ‘by dismissing a ‘postcolonial’ approach to Israel-Palestine studies outright, [critics like] Massad and Shohat overlook the value of a literary study that seeks to demonstrate the collective and cross-cultural impact of the various modern forms of colonialism and imperialism on artistic production across the globe’. Massad’s argument that there is difficulty in describing space, time and body in Israel/ Palestine as postcolonial is based on his interrogations: ‘Can one determine the coloniality of Palestine/ Israel without noting its ‘‘post-coloniality’’ for Ashkenazi Jews? Can one determine the post-coloniality of Palestine/Israel without noting its coloniality for Palestinians? Can one determine both or either without noting the simultaneous colonizer/colonized status of Mizrahi Jews? (Although one could debate the colonized status of Mizrahi Jews) How can all these people inhabit a colonial/postcolonial space in a world that declares itself living in a post-colonial time?’ Ella Shohat, likewise, is against what she calls the ‘ahistorical and universalizing deployments, and potentially [the] depoliticizing implications’ of the term ‘post-colonial,’ especially that, according to her, it is used instead of important terms like imperialism and neo-colonialism. In spite of the importance of paying attention to the correct description of states of imperialism and neo-colonialism, I still find it possible to read both Palestinian and Israeli texts in postcolonial perspective, agreeing with Bernard ‘that the tools that have been developed for reading these texts comparatively – including colonial discourse analysis, national allegory, minority discourse, and so on – can be usefully applied, tested, and revised in the analysis of Palestinian and Israeli literary and cultural production’. This view resonates with Ashcroft, Tiffin and Griffiths’s in their study The Postcolonial Studies Reader (1995), when they comment on this wide range of relevant fields that the term postcolonial suggests: ‘Postcolonial theory involves discussion about experience of various kinds: migration, slavery, suppression, resistance, representation, difference, race, gender, [and] place’ . In fact, the term ‘postcolonial’ is not necessarily restricted to a real colonial period; it could be used, according to Ashcroft, Tiffin and Griffiths in The Empire Writes Back: ‘to cover all the culture affected by the imperial process from the moment of colonization to the present day. This is because there is continuity of preoccupations throughout the historical process initiated by European imperial aggression’. Between the view of the land of Palestine as a lawful possession of the Jews and that which sees Jewish presence as a settler or colonial one, a debate about reading the conflict and literary production tackling the conflict within theories of colonial and postcolonial studies arises. What makes reading the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and its literature and literary production within the paradigm of postcolonialism problematic is worth some further investigation. First, the preference and focus on the discursive practices of colonialism over the material practices has resulted in excluding the Israeli/ Palestinian conflict from the field of postcolonial studies by a number of critics like Ella Shohat and Joseph Massad, which is more elaborated on later. Second, the debate about the Zionist project as a settler colonial one could also problematize analysing the conflict within postcolonial theories. The first chapter explores the Israeli/ Palestinian and Arab writing of the conflict from a colonizer/colonized perspective. I mainly focus on the representation of violence as an essential element in a colonized society and the decolonization process, drawing on Frantz Fanon’s theory that violence is inevitable in any colonized community as the backbone of the analysis. For this purpose, I have chosen Syrian playwright Saad-Allah Wanous’s play Rape (1990), to compare with Israeli playwright Hanoch Levin’s play Murder (1997), since both plays represent violence as a vicious circle that does not lead anywhere in the Palestinian/Israeli conflict, even though it is an everyday act that has become a way of life for both sides. Crucial terms in the field of postcolonial studies such as resistance/terrorism are examined. Some similarities between the ways the two playwrights write the conflict are also highlighted, which supports the idea that literature can always find shared ground between any two conflicting parties. In Chapters Two and Three I write about the history of the conflict as a chain of endless violent confrontations; violence in this case is on the national level when the two nations fight each other. Chapter Two addresses some of the landmark events in the history of the Jewish and Palestinian peoples, mainly the Israeli War of Independence/Nakba as the same historical event seen from the two extremely different colonizer/colonized perspectives. The chapter also addresses what the Holocaust has to do with the two events and how the Holocaust was exploited by the Israeli state to silence any condemnation of the Israeli/Zionist settler colonial project in Palestine and later on to silence any international condemnation of the Israeli 1967 occupation of more Palestinian and Arab lands. To serve this purpose, the chapter examines Palestinian poet and playwright Burhan Al-Din Al-Aboushi’s play The Phantom of Andalusia (1949) and Palestinian playwright Amir Nizar Zuabi’s play I Am Yusuf and This Is My Brother (2010) compared to each other as two different Palestinian representations of the Nakba and compared to the Israeli narrative of the ‘War of Independence’ by Israeli playwright Motti Lerner in his play The Admission (2010). In addition to this, Joshua Sobol’s play Ghetto is examined as one of the classical Holocaust plays and compared to a contemporary play called Go to Gaza, Drink the Sea (2009) by Palestinian playwright Ahmed Masoud (co-written with Justin Butcher, author of The Madness of George Dubya) to draw the analogy between the living conditions of Jews in ghettoes to that of Palestinians in Gaza as part of the on-going Palestinian Nakba. Chapter Three examines another landmark of the history of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict: the Palestinian Intifada, an event which changed the nature of the conflict and showed that the Palestinians can act to decolonize their country. The Intifada, mainly described as ‘non-violent’, has led to huge impacts on the lives of both Israelis and Palestinians and how they see each other, both in reality and in theatre; however, again, the colonizer and colonized parties see it differently. The chapter examines these different perspectives by analysing the Israeli plays Masked (1990) by Ilan Hatzor and Coming Home (2002) by Motti Lerner, compared with The Stone Revolution (1997) by Egyptian playwright Alfred Farag and Al-Huksh (1992) by Palestinian playwright Adnan Tarabshi. The four plays present the Intifada as either a barbaric or a heroic act, depending on the political ideologies of the playwrights. I read the plays within the context of pro or anti-resistance propaganda. Chapter four is an attempt to read the concepts of diaspora, exile and homeland in both Jewish/Israeli and Palestinian experiences in the postcolonial paradigm. Concepts of exodus and diaspora are found in both Jewish and Palestinian history, but in two very different ways. Throughout the chapter I attempt to examine the similarities and/or differences between these notions in the two people’s memories through reading Yiddish playwright David Pinski’s The Last Jew (1905) in comparison with Palestinian playwright Ismail Al-Dabbagh’s play The Painful Events of the Life of Abu-Halima (2008), as two plays reflecting the notions of Jewish and Palestinian diaspora respectively. In addition to these works, the chapter examines Exile in Jerusalem (1989) by Israeli playwright Motti Lerner alongside In Spitting Distance (2008) by Palestinian actor and playwright Taher Najib. Exile, diaspora and homeland have occupied a significant space in postcolonial theories as outcomes of colonialism, and the aim of my chapter is to read Israeli and Palestinian plays discussing those themes from a postcolonial perspective, pointing out the differences and similarities between the Jewish and the Palestinian experiences of diaspora. It is very important to note that the choice of the plays is ultimately based on the thematic approach I tend to adopt in my presentation of the conflict. In other words, I have attempted to introduce the Israeli versus Arab/ Palestinian theatrical presentation of the same subject matter or the landmark events related to the conflict, again the materialist practices of colonialism regardless of the dates of the plays. This is not because their specific historical contexts are unimportant, but rather because the Israeli/Palestine conflict remains ongoing, in what could be seen as a historical deadlock. Finally, Chapter Five aims at examining the influence of the Israeli/ Palestinian conflict on Western theatre, showing how the West, as an outsider, sees and portrays the conflicted parties. I have chosen the following plays to examine the different approaches to the conflict: Dario Fo and Franca Rame’s An Arab Woman Speaks (1972), Arthur Milner’s Masada (2006) and Facts (2010), John Patrick Shanley’s Dirty Story (2003), Naomi Wallace’s The Fever Chart , Robin Soans’ The Arab Israeli Cook Book (2004), Alan Rickman and Catharine Viner’s My Name is Rachel Corrie (2003), David Hare’s Via Dolorosa (1998) and Wall (2009), Douglas Watkinson’s The Wall (2011), Caryl Churchill’s Seven Jewish Children (2009) and Richard Stirling’s Seven Other Children (2009) to examine the different approaches towards the conflict. Again, I approach this literature as postcolonial literature affected by imperialism and Israeli colonial aggression or as justifying and propagating the Zionist colonial project in Palestine or sometimes as both at the same time, depending on the author’s beliefs and ideologies.

 

 

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