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Masked: Israeli Play About Palestinian Intifada Opens in NYC Today

Today's NY Times notes that a controversial Israeli play, Masked, set during the first Palestinian Intifada will open today at the DR2 Theater in Union Square: “Masked” was something of a sensation when it opened in Israel 17 years ago. … Read More

By / August 2, 2007

Today's NY Times notes that a controversial Israeli play, Masked, set during the first Palestinian Intifada will open today at the DR2 Theater in Union Square:

“Masked” was something of a sensation when it opened in Israel 17 years ago. Mr. Hatsor’s first play, it won the top prize at the Acco fringe festival. His inspiration was both contemporary and ancient, specific and universal. The occupation was continuing, but there was “no reaction in the Israeli theater to the big drama happening 30 to 40 kilometers from our houses,” Mr. Hatsor, 42, said in a telephone interview from his home in Israel.

For this particular story line, however, he borrowed from the essence of Greek drama. “Conflicts between brothers are one of the oldest conflicts of all nations,” he said in a thick Israeli accent, noting that the same story has played out in Ireland, Bosnia and now Iraq.

Israelis as well as Palestinians embraced “Masked,” which was translated from the original Hebrew into Arabic and produced in Palestinian villages and cities, Mr. Hatsor said. His family comes from Iraq and Morocco, and he took it upon himself to learn Arabic, an unusual choice for a Jewish child in an Israeli school. But of his characters, he said: “I didn’t imagine them as Arabs or Palestinians, but brothers torn apart by larger forces. I asked myself, ‘What would happen if this was my brother?’ ”

As for the Jewish response, Mr. Hatsor said that at the time “many Israelis felt more and more sympathy for the Palestinian struggle,” and so were open to watching a depiction of the occupation’s awful toll on an Arab family.

Masked is a profound act of empathy by an Israeli playwright attempting to imagine the plight faced by a neighboring people with whom his own people is at war. Perhaps Ilan Hatzor is not his brother's keeper, but he definitely is his brother's witness.  Such acts of empathy in times of war can be profoundly subversive. They make you question the assumptions that led you to believe your neighbor was your enemy. They lead you to see potential bonds where only walls existed before. There is, of course, much that divides Israelis and Palestinians. Much bad blood lies between them. Plays like Masked cannot work miracles nor does anyone expect them to. But they plant seeds. They raise questions. They provoke emotions. All of which can lead to hope for a better future for the two peoples.

It is interesting to compare the theatrical response to Masked to that of another controversial play about the Occupation: My Name is Rachel Corrie. In that case, the New York Theater Workshop got a case of cold feet when it realized it might've taken on a dramatic hot potato in the Corrie play. While NYTW came out of it with a black eye for having betrayed a play they professed to like, no such thing has happened with Masked. Perhaps DR2 has learned a lesson from the Corrie imbroglio because it schedules post-performance discussions with panels including rabbis, imams, peace activists, the director and cast. These allow the audience to ask questions, argue and find catharsis after an emotional encounter.

 

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