Soldiers of Tomorrow

Itai Erdal
The Elbow Theatre

Soldiers of Tomorrow

Itai Erdal, the writer of Soldiers of Tomorrow, was born in Jerusalem, was a member of the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) and is proud of being Jewish. But he insists there are things wrong with Israel, with the way it “oppresses Palestinians” and with the way it treats its citizens.

He draws on his own life to illustrate a situation that needs to change. As kids, he and his friend Rafael used to talk about avoiding compulsory military service. They were anti-war and hated the way Palestinians were treated.

Ultimately, they become members of the IDF, believing they would be fairer to Palestinians. They were even placed with an officer, Avi, who trained them on disobeying unlawful orders.

Yet Itai recalls a chilling memory of delaying an older woman arriving legally at a checkpoint because she carried her sick baby grandchild. Avi insists on further delays till the child stops moving. To this day, Itai doesn't know whether that child survived. The event illustrated the way individual human compassion and a sense of justice can be swamped by the organisational demands of the IDF.

He recalls, much later, his eight-year-old Israeli nephew arriving from school with a box they could fill with things for soldiers on the front lines. On the box, the teacher had written: "to the soldiers of today from the soldiers of tomorrow."

Complicity in the system is easy, especially when the system is supposedly protecting your family. Itai has moved to Canada, which gives him some sense of distance. But he reminds us that the land now designated as Israel for a historically short period was labelled otherwise for most of its existence. He sits with a box of flags, lifting each in turn, rolling off the names of each supposed ruling group or empire.

Itai Erdal is gentle, sensitive and engaging. He tells us, “I criticise Israel because I love it, not because I hate it.”

Hundreds of small toy soldiers stand on every side of the stage, symbolic of the unjust forces that hold us in place. Towards the end of the show, he takes a walk, crushing those figures underfoot, breaking the barrier of toy soldiers between the stage and the audience.

Reviewer: Keith Mckenna

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