Friday, May 8, 2009

Seven Jewish Children - a play for Gaza

Dear friends,
in January, during Israel's assault on Gaza which resulted in 1417 Palestinians killed, including 926 civilians and 255 traffic police and 236 resistance fighters, English writer Caryl Churchill wrote Seven Jewish Children - a play for Gaza.

The play runs for less than 10 minutes and can be performed any number for performers.

As Churchill notes in her introduction to the play, no children appear in the play, instead the speakers are all adults - parent or relatives of the 7 children depicted by the seven short interludes presented. The play traverses the last 80 years looking at the horrors of the Holocaust, the Zionist colonisation of Palestine, to the establishment of Israel and the Palestinian Nakba, the 1967 war and the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, to the first Palestinan Intifada and to the recent Israeli war in Gaza.

The Zionist lobby has, of course, labelled the play anti-semitic because it addresses the issues of fear and hatred of Palestinians within Israeli society (this blind labelling of the play, includes in Australia, AIJAC's (Australia Israel and Jewish Affairs Council) Jeremy Jones - who supports the claim that the play is anti-semitic but admits he has never even read the play)

However, many others, including Israeli Jews and other supporters of Israel (and who have actually read the play) challenge the assertion of the Zionist lobby that Churchill's play is anti-semitic.

The play will be performed in Melbourne on May 18 at The State Library of Victoria at 6.30pm to mark the 61st anniversary of the Palestinian Nakba (catastrophe). It will be performed by Miriam Margoyles, the well known British character actor, who also happens to be Jewish. Also performing with her will be well known Australian character actor, Max Gilles.

Below is the review of Seven Jewish Children by Israel writer, Larry Derfner, which appeared in the (conservative) Jerusalem Post, as well as the Melbourne based Age newspaper on the Melbourne performance of the play.

Also below is a video production of the play by The Guardian, with Jennie Stoller performing the play in solo capacity.

in solidarity, Kim

Guardian production of Seven Jewish Children, starring Jennie Stoller.

Hearing echoes in 'Seven Jewish Children'
By Larry Derfner
Jerusalem Post, 22 April 2009

After reading a lot of the pro and (mainly) con about Seven Jewish Children - a play for Gaza, I prepared to write a column saying that while it took an excessively critical view of Israel, it was not anti-Semitic, and that there was a big difference between the two.

Being a responsible journalist, I then set aside 10 minutes to actually read the play, and I found that not only isn't it anti-Semitic, it isn't excessively critical of Israel, either. As far as I'm concerned, it's just critical enough - which is to say very, very critical. More precisely, this short play by Britain's Caryl Churchill expresses moral outrage at Israel - which is what I felt during the war in Gaza, and what lots of other Jews and gentiles who want the best for this country felt as well.

I don't know what Churchill thinks would be best for this country, or for the Jewish people, and I don't know if I'd agree with her if I knew. But what she seems to be saying in this play is that the trauma to the Jews during the Holocaust has, over the years, been twisted into the aggression of the Jews in today's Israel. She's saying that while Jews saw Israel as a sanctuary after the Holocaust, the building of this sanctuary also meant the displacement of a lot of natives, specifically Beduin. She's saying the Six Day War turned us into conquerors, made us callous toward the Palestinians, and that our callousness reached a shocking new extreme during our onslaught in Gaza.

She's saying Jewish victimhood has not been redemptive; that instead, it's fueled Israel's victimization of Palestinians and been used as an excuse for it. She doesn't portray Palestinians as pacifists, noting, in the words of her characters, that they're known to "set off bombs in cafes," that they include "Hamas fighters" and that "they're attacking with rockets." But her view in the play is that Israel exaggerates the Palestinian threat out of all proportion and gives many, many times better than it gets.

Seven Jewish Children says this country has become hysterical with fear and aggression, that the more hell we inflict on innocent Palestinians, the more desperate we are to deny any wrongdoing and the more medals we pin on our chests.

Churchill wrote the play in January, while the war was going on. It was a harsh portrayal of this nation, but, in my opinion, a true one.

The play's spirit isn't filled with hatred; it's filled with moral outrage. There's a difference. You don't have to be an anti-Semite or even an anti-Zionist to be morally outraged at our treatment of Palestinians, especially during Operation Cast Lead.

The charge has been made that the play compares Israelis to Nazis. I never thought that for one moment while reading it, rereading it or watching a staging of it on YouTube. The American journalist James Kirchick wrote that by the end of the play, the Jewish child being raised in Israel is a "Baruch-Goldstein-in-training."

Not at all. None of the characters is a murderer or a proponent of murder. None is a sadist. What all of them are is callous about what Israel is doing to the Palestinians, and by turns worried or defiant about how to justify it. No Nazis here, no Baruch Goldsteins, but rather people who've suffered too much and caused too much suffering, and who have become severely coarsened in the process. Read the "worst" monologue, the climactic one:

"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 the 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 feel sorry for them, tell them I don't feel 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 I laughed when I saw the dead policemen, tell her they're animals living in rubble now, 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."

I heard comments similar to these from some of my relatives during the war. Going back through the 24 years I've lived here, I've heard comments like these from relatives, neighbors, fellow soldiers - I've heard it and read it all over the place. I've heard it from Diaspora Jews too.

Who are we kidding? Does that monologue represent the voice of every Israeli and "pro-Israeli" Diaspora Jew? Of course not. But is it an authentic voice, a view of Palestinians held by many, many Jews here and abroad even if they don't express it publicly? Has that voice not gotten louder? And when push comes to shove with the Palestinians, as it did in Operation Cast Lead, does Seven Jewish Children not echo the inner (and often outer) voice of Israel at war?

I think it does. And I agree - it's an awful echo to hear.


'Bollocks': Jewish actor defends contentious play

Karl Quinn, The Age
May 08 2009

British actor, Miriam Margoyles

A PLAY that has been condemned by Jewish groups and some theatre critics as anti-Semitic will this month be performed at the State Library of Victoria.

The cast of the eight-minute Seven Jewish Children, by English playwright Caryl Churchill, includes Sydney-based Anglo-Jewish actor Miriam Margolyes and Max Gillies, husband of high-profile Melbourne Jewish identity Louise Adler.

It will be presented in a rehearsed reading on Monday, May 18, at 6.30pm by the lobby group Australians for Palestine.

The play has garnered praise from theatre critics in Britain, but was condemned by Christopher Hart in The Sunday Times ("ludicrous") and the Spectator's Melanie Phillips ("an open vilification of the Jewish people … sickening and dreadful beyond measure").

Even before the play has had its Australian debut, that response has been echoed in Melbourne.

Jeremy Jones, of the Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council, said he had not read the play but was well aware of it. "Most of the people who you would take seriously on the question of racial vilification have labelled it anti-Semitic," he said.

"At the very least it is something that so greatly distorts the subject that it does the exact opposite of what great art does, which is to shed light on a topic." According to Dr Danny Lamm, president of the Zionist Council of Victoria, the play portrays "the complete antithesis of Israel".

"This play is simply another propaganda attempt to delegitimise the Jewish nation and to perpetuate the same lies that are continually played out in the media."

Seven Jewish Children consists of seven short movements about crucial stages in the history of Israel: the Holocaust, the aftermath of war, the settlement of Israel in 1948, the displacement of the Arabs, the Six-Day War, the Intifada and the war in Gaza, which began in December 2008.

The play unfolds in highly poetic form, with pairs of adults debating how to tell a child about the world. A typical exchange: "Tell her they want to drive us into the sea/Tell her they don't/Tell her they want to drive us into the sea./Tell her we kill far more of them/Don't tell her that."

Caryl Churchill wrote the work in January, during the war in Gaza. The text is freely available at

The local production was born about three weeks ago when Moammar Mashni, of Australians for Palestine met Margolyes in Melbourne. They decided to do a one-off reading.

Margolyes describes herself as an activist and visited Gaza with the UN 12 years ago. Yesterday she defended her part in the production.

"I think it's very important that Jewish people who think as I do… should say, 'Look, we're Jews, and we want Israel to survive, but not like this, not by killing other people.' " And what of the charges of anti-Semitism? "That's bollocks."

Gillies also railed against charges of anti-Semitism: "That criticism is wilful misinterpretation of the piece," he said.



Stephen M. Flatow said...

Sorry, but the play is anti-Semitism masked by anti-Zionism. Anti-Zionism is used by anti-Semites when in polite company and you cannot very well say "I hate Jews" out loud. That anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism are the same was recognized as such by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr in the mid-1960s.
Pro-Palestinian supporters had a right to protest Israel's incursion into Gaza. But their true colors soon came out when they shouted "Jews to the ovens" as they did in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.

Kim said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kim said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kim said...

Dear Stephen,
thank you for your comment. Of course, however, I disagree with you, I do not believe that the play is anti-Semitic (if I thought that it was anti-Semitic, I would not have posted it to the blog).

Anti-Zionism is not anti-Semitism. Anti-Zionism is a political opposition to Zionism, which is a colonial-settler ideology. Anti-Semitism is a hatred, hostility or prejudice against Jews, simply because they are Jews. Opposing the Israeli Zionist policies of occupation, colonisation and ethnic cleansing does not make a person anti-Semitic, just as opposing the Australian government's imperialist policies in the Asia region doesn't make a person anti-Christian or "un-Australian".

In addition, many Jews as you will be aware both inside and outside of Israel oppose Israel's occupation policies, including those who support Israel existing as a Jewish state.

In relation to the play at no point in the play does Churchill come anywhere near saying or even implying "I hate Jews" or anything like it. Instead, as Derfner points out in his Jerusalem Post article, Churchill is expressing moral outrage. He notes that what she writes is confronting but "Who are we kidding? Does that monologue represent the voice of every Israeli and "pro-Israeli" Diaspora Jew? Of course not. But is it an authentic voice, a view of Palestinians held by many, many Jews here and abroad even if they don't express it publicly? Has that voice not gotten louder? And when push comes to shove with the Palestinians, as it did in Operation Cast Lead, does Seven Jewish Children not echo the inner (and often outer) voice of Israel at war? "

One just has to be a regular reader of the talk backs on articles which appear in the websites of Israeli publications such as Haaretz, YNet and Jerusalem Post (before, during and after the Gaza war) to see what Derfner wrote was not something he has imagined.

Similar, American Jewish writers, Tony Kushner and Alisa Solomon note in their article which appeared in The Nation and which dissects the play with in detail, note that "There's a vast difference between making your audience uncomfortable and being anti-Semitic".

Kushner and Solomon go onto write: "To see anti-Semitism here is to construe erroneously the words spoken by the worst of Churchill's characters as a statement from the playwright about all Jews as preternaturally filled with viciousness unique among humankind. But to do this is, again, to distort what Churchill wrote".


In relation to your final comment regarding the Ft Lauderdale demonstration, I cannot comment on whether what you say is true or not as I was not there. However, if this was said, it should be NOT condone.

However, even if such a thing was expressed, it is a crass generalisation to imply as you have done that all Pro-Palestinian supporters share the same sentiment.

I would doubt that you would imply that all supporters of Israel were anti-Arab racists or anti-Islamic or joyful at the bombing of the Palestinian people in Gaza based solely on the comments of some of those who attended the pro-Israel rally in New York during the war, who thought that ALL Palestinians (civilian men, women and children) should be "wiped out" -ie. murdered or cheered that Israel "rocks" because it was bombing civilians in Gaza (see )

I doubt that you would imply that all Israelis were anti-Islam or anti-Arab racists based on the comments of some Israeli soldiers who took part in the war in Gaza (see my earlier entry on this - where Israeli newspapers reported soldiers saying that soldiers under their command thought it was okay to kill Palestinian civilians).

If it is inappropriate and incorrect to make such gross generalisations about all Israelis or supporters of Israel (which I believe it would be based on the appalling comments of a few individuals), then I would argue it is just as incorrect to make such gross generalisations (as you have basically done) about pro-Palestinian supporters who opposed Israel's war

ps apols for any typos or grammatical mistakes, I am writing this at 3am.

Kim said...

Clarification: in relation to the Fort Lauderdale comment - it should have been "if this was said, it should NOT be condone" rather than "be NOT condone".