Hebron

Tamir Greenberg
A co-production between the Habima and Cameri Theatres, Tel Aviv
Habima and Cameri Theatres, Tel Aviv
(2007)

"Sarah …died in Kiryat-arba, which is Hebron, in Canaan. Abraham….said to the Hittites, 'I am an alien and a settler among you. Give me land enough for a burial-place, so that I can give my dead proper burial.'" [Genesis 23]

In today's political climate, mention Hebron, Israel or occupied territories and a vortex of views and emotions erupt. Staging a play entitled Hebron has the hallmark of a conflict written all over it. Habima, Israel's national theatre, and The Cameri, another leading Tel Aviv theatre, joined forces to stage Greenberg's début play Hebron. The play has already triggered angry demonstrations by Israelis who regard it as imbalanced and akin to anti-Israel propaganda.

This is a lavish production with an impressive cast of seventeen Jewish and Arab actors performing 38 characters. They are accompanied by three musicians playing work composed by Shosh Reisman. The director, Oded Kotler, is one of Israel's leading directors.

Greenberg's Hebron is a city where mother earth embraces the dead of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. There is a vicious circle of revenge and futile killing where innocent children pay the ultimate price. It is the story of two families living in Hebron: the Maimons, Jewish settlers, and the Cana'anis, a Palestinian family. The head of the Palestinian family, Hader Cana'ani (Makram Khuori), is ousted from his position as mayor of the city to be replaced by the religious settler, Boaz Maimon (Yigal Sadeh). Following the murder of his three year old son, Yotam, Boaz seeks to implement the harsh rule of law, applicable to the occupied territories.

Yotam's assassin is Khalil Cana'ani (Youssef Sweeid). He is unrepentant and rather pleased about killing a Jew. He admits that he intended to kill the Governor but as the bullet hit the child that must be God's will. He lives with his parents, his wife Rennya, superbly performed by Clara Khuori (Makram Khuori's daughter), their baby and Khalil's elder brother, mentally handicapped Mahdi.

Elihav (Ido Rosenberg), Boaz's eldest son, is as contemptuous of the Palestinians as Khalil is hostile to the Jews. Elihav, wishing to revenge his baby brother's death, storms into the Cana'ani's family home and pulls the baby from his mother's arms. His thoughtless aggressive act leads to baby's death. Revenge follows. Kahlil, after humiliating and taunting Elihav, murders him. When Israeli soldiers, led by the Israeli military governor Boaz, arrive at the Cana'ani's family home they are faced with Matriarch Samar's (Rahida Adoun) outrage. She makes a move to stab Boaz, who in self-defence shoots her dead.

At a checkpoint, we meet the sole Israeli solider, Private Shemulik, amusingly and effectively performed by Alon Dahan. He sits with the large military regulation book, which he religiously and blindly implements despite his admission that there is little sense in them. His humorous encounter with the stone merchant, Ahmed (Rasan Ahbas), highlights the absurdity of the occupation. That encounter ends tragically with Ahamad stabbing Shmulik to death.

An unusual innocent friendship of mutual trust develops between Mahdi, impressively acted by Hisham Suliman, and young Ayala Maimon (Efrat Aviv), a friendship that could be seen as the only glimmer of hope offered by the play.

The characters' names have an ironic edge with biblical innuendoes turned on their heads. Take for instance the name Yotam and the personification of the Olive trees. In the play he is the youngest son of a Military Governor and the first victim of bloodshed. In the Book of Judges (9), Yotam is the youngest son of a military leader who is the only one to survive a political bloodshed. The personification of trees in both the Biblical story of Yotam and in Hebron, are used to voice political messages.

Greenberg effectively uses poetic Hebrew throughout the play, creating an illusion of an epic with death as its hero. Spring, olive trees and mother-earth, air views which hang like a heavy cloud over the unfolding drama and provide a pseudo Greek Chorus that dissolves into thick and oppressive air.

The play is strong in rhetoric, but weak in character development, as the characters tend to be mostly mouthpieces for political positions, while nevertheless touching on some important moral, legal and political issues. The play fails to carry the audience beyond the threshold of what is already in the public domain.

Oded Kotler's direction of the play is impressive in parts. The backdrop, reminiscent of barbed wire and intertwined snakes to form a maze; reflects something of the complexity of the reality that he is seeking to expose. The Cana'ani and Maimon homes are interchangeable. There is no furniture or décor. The characters make the homes. There is an attempt to portray a balanced picture; however the scene where the olive trees are being cut down has greater dramatic and disturbing impact than the scene of Elihav's brutal murder. In such weighted details lies a certain imbalance in the perception of a reality where an even-handed picture is a rare commodity.

Rivka Jacobson