American Jewish leaders are denouncing plans by a New York University (NYU)-affiliated theater to host a play that portrays Palestinian terrorists as heroes.
The NYU Skirball Center for the Performing Arts will host performances of “The Siege” from Oct. 12-22. The play focuses on the Palestinian terrorists who, in order to avoid capture by the Israeli army, seized Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity in the spring of 2002 and occupied it for 39 days.
“The Siege” was created by the Freedom Theater of Palestine, which is based in the Palestinian Authority-controlled city of Jenin. Among those promoting the play on YouTube is Ibrahim Abayat, one of the leaders of the church occupation. The Israeli government has identified him as the killer of New York City native Avi Boaz, in Bethlehem in early 2002.
The play was first performed overseas in England in 2015. The Board of Deputies of British Jews charged that it “promoted terrorism as positive and legitimate,” and the Zionist Federation of Great Britain and Ireland staged a protest rally outside the premiere.
American Jewish leaders now are similarly alarmed.
“Having witnessed firsthand the ‘siege,’ a blatant terrorist outrage, I am especially outraged at this presentation,” Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman and CEO of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, told JNS.org. “Diminishing the true nature of this brutal attack serves to whitewash terrorism at a time when this scourge is taking so many lives and threatening so many more.”
When it was performed in London, it was in Arabic with English subtitles. I couldn’t find the script but I did find a detailed scene-by-scene description that shows how pro-terrorist the play is.
Scene – Tourist guide
The play opens in the Church of the Nativity. It is 2015.A tourist guide, Issa, welcomes the audience. He is a bit surprised at the large amount of people; normally he takes groups of just a few, this time there is over a hundred.Issa introduces himself, then goes on to talk about the Church of the Nativity. He talks about his family’s history dating back to the time of Jesus and how his ancestors have always worked in the church. It is the most important place in the world to them.“Okay, now, before we begin, did we discuss money? No?… Okay this time it’s for free but please, if you would like to make a donation… Let’s go on the tour of the church.”Scene -‐ InterviewFive men sit. They are the exiled fighters from the siege of the Church of the Nativity. It is 2015 and they are being interviewed.Interviewer: “I need you to introduce yourselves, what was your role was and what can you remember from the siege?”Taking a moment, the fighters gather their thoughts. They begin to speak: words, thoughts, feelings…VideoThe Israeli invasion of the West Bank comes on screen. We see tanks, helicopters and shooting. We see the fighters running across Manger Square, into the Church of the Nativity.Scene – Refuge in The Church of the NativityThe men enter the church. It is mass and the prayer is taking place. They wait for the Father to finish. The men ask him if they can take refuge in the church. He is upset; why are they in the church? This is a Holy place and not for fighting. The fighters explain that the Israeli army is outside, there is nowhere else to go. The Father is concerned that they will bring the fighting inside the church but in the end decides that as long as the men show respect, they have the right to take refuge in the house of God.Scene – Fighter calls homeThe fighters organize themselves in the church. They bandage one man’s wound. He is bleeding heavily and is in much pain. He makes a phone call to his pregnant wife and tells her to look after herself.The Israeli army begins to surround the church. The fighters position themselves ready for an attack.Video
We see tanks, helicopters and snipers surround the church. The siege of the Church of the Nativity has begun.Scene – The bell ringer is shotSilence everywhere. The sound of speakers demanding the fighters to surrender. A quarrel begins between the men about what to do. Some want to take the injured out, others want to stay. One man wants to shoot back. During their discussion, the church bells begin to ring. Tension builds. One of the fighters goes out. Then a gun shot. Panic.The fighter enters. He tells the others that the bell ringer has been shot. Silence.Scene – Phone call from the generalA cell phone rings. It is a call from the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah telling the fighters to have patience and not to shoot back. The fighters are angry; should they just sit here and die, one by one?VideoThe Israeli army prepares for an attack on the church. We see tracer fire and an explosion.Scene – The attackThere is an explosion. The church is under attack. Israeli soldiers start to climb over the walls of the church. The fighters are in position, waiting. They open fire, killing four Israeli soldiers.Scene – CelebrationThe fighters celebrate their victory. They begin to get out of control. Eventually one of the men tells the others to control themselves and to behave with respect, not like animals. There is a fire in the church but everyone is so busy arguing they don’t notice it. Eventually the monk entersand asks them to calm down and remember to respect the church.Scene – Tourist guideIt is 2015. Issa the tourist guide enters. He tells the history of the Church of the Nativity, including the story of the Massacre of the innocents. The Massacre of the innocents is the biblical narrative of infanticide by Herod the Great. Herod ordered the execution of all young male children in the vicinity of Bethlehem, so as to avoid the loss of his throne to a newborn King. Issa shows the group where the bones of the children are buried and points out that this church has always been a place of refuge for the sons of Jesus.Scene -‐ InterviewIt is 2015. The exiled fighters are being interviewed.Interviewer: Tell me about the first few days of the siege. What did youdo? What did you see?
The men explain that the first few days were the hardest. They had very little food and water and didn’t know if and when the Israelis would attack. “Despite all the difficulties, we were still able to sing, tell jokes and laugh. We had hope that the problem would be solved.”Scene – TortureIntense noise. The Israeli army are playing strange sounds as a means of psychological torture. It has been going on for hours. The fighters are going crazy. They begin to dance in resistance. Eventually silence. Relief.A voice. It is the mother of one of the fighters. She has been brought to the church and is forced to speak at gunpoint. She tells her son that the whole family has been arrested. The Israelis want her to ask her son to leave the church. Instead she tells him that she will rip off the breast that fed him if he surrenders. The man is in shock. He grabs his gun and tries to exit the church. The others stop him.Scene – LeadershipThe man whose mother was brought to the church sits and talks with another man, who tells him about leadership and the importance of wisdom, endurance, mercy and understanding. He tells him to stay strong because the Israelis are trying to emotionally and psychologically break them. They must act with their minds, not their emotions.VideoNegotiations. Internationals are arriving. Sharon, Israeli prime minister, speaks. Yasser Arafat, Palestinian leader, speaks.Scene – EscapeOne of the fighters enters. He had fallen asleep on guard and now there are people from the church missing. He goes to tell the others. They don’t understand how these people could have left the church unless they were collaborators. They accuse the man on guard of also being a collaborator. They go to take his gun but at that moment another man enters and tells the others not to punish him, it was not difficult to escape the church.Scene – Injured fighterThe man whose leg is wounded is in immense pain. The designated medic among the fighters goes to check the wound and finds that it has become infected. The men decide that he must get out of the church even if it means he will spend the rest of his life in prison. Otherwise he will die. They begin to lift him up but the man grabs his gun and threatens to kill himself if they take him out. He begs the others to amputate the leg. The medic manages to speak to a doctor on the phone who recommends that they cut the gangrene off. They proceed to do so.Scene – FoodAs the wounded man sleeps someone suggests they must get him food to strengthen him. They start to imagine eating the perfect maklube and chocolate cake. One fighter tells a story of a time when he was lost in the mountains with his friends and they began eating leaves for survival. The men realize they can do the same; they can pick leaves from the courtyard to eat.Scene – Picking leavesTwo men go outside. Drone footage on screen: the fighters going out to pick leaves.The men cook and eat the leaves.Scene – A fighter’s deathThe man on guard receives a call from the father of another man. The father says he saw two white doves and his son coming home dressed in white.The man whose father called wakes up and is angry with the guard for not waking him to watch the sunrise, a tradition they have created. The man takes over the guarding post.Moments later there is a gunshot. The fighter has been hit by a sniper. The others try to save him but he is bleeding heavily. They shout at the Israeli soldiers to get him out but there is no answer. He bleeds to death.Scene – Tourist guideIt is 2015. Issa tells his personal story and his connection to the church. He believes that the siege was a test from god. He shares an experience of seeing an icon in the church cry tears of blood.Scene – PrayerThe fighters pray – we see both Christian and Muslim prayer.Scene – A negotiationThe monk brings news of a deal by the international delegation, the Israelis and the Palestinian Authority. According to the deal, 26 people will be exiled to Gaza and 13 to Europe. There is no further information. The fighters are told to sign the paper if they agree. The men have a long discussion and eventually decide to reject the deal.VideoWe see images of Bethlehem under siege. Heavy military occupation, empty streets, curfew.Scene – A young woman callsThere is a phone call from a young woman. Her baby is sick and because of the siege she cannot take him to hospital. She asks the fighters to leave the church so that the siege will be over and her baby can live.The fighters are in a very difficult situation. One of them makes a speech:“We have a siege. We have martyrs, we have injured people, we have thirst, we have hunger-‐ we have all these things. But we have to take into account all the givens of the situation, inside the church and outside. There is a collective suffering and we have to take responsibility for this. Yes, we are fighting for the freedom of our people against the Israeli occupation but the facts of the situation have changed. If they are accusing me of being responsible then I must make a sacrifice. We are faced with the Israeli information machine, which is in many languages, and this machine reverses the facts, makes black white and white black, makes the oppressed the oppressor and the oppressor the oppressed.All truths are reversed. We are standing in front of our people, and our names are being repeated for forty days as the reason for the siege. And our people are protecting us, because without our people we are nothing.The alphabet of the Revolution tells youthat the Revolution is a fish and the people are the sea. And if you come out of the sea, you are dead. You are nothing. So you have to take into account a number of factors, not only military but also human ones. You have moral obligations toward your people. If we know that a pregnant woman is going to deliver and she can’t get to the hospital because of the siege, we must ask, why? If they are saying that we are the reason, and the opportunity arises for an honorable solution, we must cooperate.”The men decide to take the deal.Video footage: The fighters exit the church; kiss the ground of their homeland and wave goodbye to their families. They drive off on a bus.Scene – InterviewIt is 2015. The men tell of their life in exile and how they long toreturn to Palestine.Scene – Tourist guideIt is 2015. Issa enters. “The Church is the place of our eternal light. The light that gives us the beginning and the end. Without this light we cannot walk on this earth. This church is the heart of our land. Our holy land. We are born in this land and we have to live here even if we face difficulties. We are the sons of this land. This is why we take the strength and the power from our Lord Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary and we continue on our path. I hope tha God will bless us and show us the way to the real peace that we are looking for.”
Most of these incidents never happened, of course. The monks were hostages. The church was desecrated. Nuns took care of the wounded, not the terrorists. They never killed four Israeli soldiers. The idea that no one in Bethlehem could go to the hospital for weeks is ludicrous. The story of the mother being forced to speak at gunpoint is fiction.
To have such a play glorifying terror to be performed at NYU is outrageous.
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