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Israeli actors to boycott West Bank theatre

    Threat: Culture Minister Livnat
    Threat: Culture Minister Livnat

    On November 11, a new cultural centre will open in Ariel, across the Green Line. For many actors and theatre-goers, it will be a moment of truth.

    Two weeks ago, 35 actors and dramatists signed an open letter telling the directors of their theatres that they would refuse to act on the stage of the largest Jewish town in Samaria. Since then, the Israeli drama scene has been up in arms, with season-ticket holders cancelling their subscriptions, counter-petitions flying around and politicians threatening to withhold funding.

    Ever since the actors' boycott became public, the directors of the theatres, based mainly in Tel-Aviv, have been under intense pressure. In public, they have all announced that they will take their shows on the road to Ariel, but they are worried of the damage this could cause their companies.

    "We are publicly funded organisations," said one of them, "and as long as the government builds cultural centres in Ariel and Israelis live there, we can't boycott them and I personally don't think we should. On the other hand, these are some of our best actors and directors, and if we force them to do something against their conscience, this could wreck us."

    Some of the original signatories have since asked to remove their names, claiming that they were unaware of the full implications. Other actors have signed a letter denouncing their colleagues while a group of professors and writers have signed their own letter supporting the boycotters. Dramaturgy Vardit Shalfi, who wrote the original letter, defended her group, saying that "since the settlements across the Green Line are illegal by international law, the actors don't want to be criminal by extension by playing there".

    Other actors have said that, while they are politically opposed to the settlements, they do not want to join a boycott and will play anywhere. Plays have already been booked for the first season in Ariel, some of them with actors who signed the letter. The theatres have said that they plan to go ahead and expect all the contracted actors to appear. Meanwhile, Culture Minister Limor Livnat has already threatened that any boycott of Ariel will result in cut funding.

    The only person who seems pleased with the furore is Ariel Turgeman, director of the new Ariel cultural centre. "Ever since the letter came out," he said this week, "we have been flooded with calls from people around the country asking us when we are opening and can they buy season tickets."

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