‘The Siege’ gets US premiere at last, in blow to ‘Israeli propaganda machine’

US Politics
on 37 Comments

After the Jenin Freedom Theatre’s production of “The Siege” made its long-awaited American premiere at NYU last night, I slipped out of the obligatory post-production panel discussion on to Washington Square and saw the several actors standing on the sidewalk figuring out what they were going to do with the young night. I felt the disjunction that you feel when you see an actor after a show, but even more keenly than usual. These half dozen young men had just been playing Palestinian revolutionaries with guns, and stirringly, as if it were their own story, filled with anguish and defiance and rage and screams and smoke and violence. Now they looked like any actors I have seen outside so many American shows, young good looking people, their makeup stripped off, their hair wet and swept back, backpacks on one shoulder. I stood back trying to figure who was who. They looked different, and still the aura of the strong characters they had played hung about them but they were not claimed by the roles. They wore good jeans and boots and jackets, and there were a couple of women friends laughing alongside them. They were glamorous young people who felt very lucky, and they were about to go out and have more fun.

It brought home the sense of the play itself. Palestinians are as human as anyone you know. They do not want to kill you, or be killed, or threaten you. They only wish to take part, to be granted dignity, to participate freely in the world’s commons.

And: it never happens.

It never happens that Americans get to see them as normal players in the varied roles of modern life. They don’t get to tell their stories. They are censored and maligned and blockaded. This show was shut down for a year because of a fearful American board of directors. A lot of the company had to jump through hoops to get out of Palestine. Some didn’t get out.

The Siege is overwhelming, a scarring historical drama by Nabil Al-Raee about a group of militants holed up in the Nativity Church during the Second intifada with the Israeli army shooting at them and George W. Bush trying to make them disappear. The action is unrelenting and also utterly recognizable as human. Watching them you say, I would do the same if I had guts. I would tell my brother or son or sister they were doing the right thing. When the Israelis put the mother on the phone to talk to a militant leader played by Faisal Abualhayjaa and she says she will cut off the breast that fed him if he surrenders, I thought, There are American mothers who would say the same thing.

Those intimate moments are the best ones. When the big awkward quiet bearded militant played by Ghantus Wael breaks out of militant character and declares that all he has ever wanted is a normal life in this land, to marry his beloved and raise a family and hope that his children can dream of better things, we feel the simple poetics of his condition.. I wanted to leap to my feet and roar and clap for him. When the goofy and seemingly indifferent militant played by Rabee Hanani says his family were made refugees in 1948 and then he became a fugitive from his refugee camp when he joined the resistance, and now, by accepting a deal to leave the church, he will be exiled from his homeland and family indefinitely, we are forced to consider the Palestinian experience in all its bitter unending reality.

That is the historic achievement of this production, of the Friends of the Jenin Freedom Theatre, and of NYU’s Skirball Center; they have all worked hard to present a real picture of Palestine. For an hour and a half you are transported entirely inside the Palestinian narrative. There is no coerced attempt at balance, there are just Palestinians, joking, swearing, fearful, resisting, wondering at their fate. It’s all that anyone seeks to do in a work of art: to tell their truth. I have not seen this consciousness conveyed so genuinely before in a mainstream cultural space. No wonder that the Public Theater shut down this same production a year ago. No wonder that the Public’s artistic director Oskar Eustis seems to apologize for the censorship by writing a lovely statement promoting this “necessary” production.

“The very essence of the drama is empathy, the act of seeing through the eyes of someone different than yourself,” he begins.

As for the politics, my favorite part of the play is all the black humor about Israeli hasbara. The militants say that the oppressor is the oppressed in the eyes of the world, and the victim is the persecutor. How do we fight that propaganda machine? It is a running theme and a cruel joke.

We are all involved in that battle; and last night’s premiere was a shocking insult to that order. Please go to the Siege, please enter that world and applaud these messengers.

About Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is Founder and Co-Editor of Mondoweiss.net.

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37 Responses

  1. Citizen
    October 13, 2017, 12:39 pm

    Made my day.

  2. hophmi
    October 13, 2017, 2:50 pm

    It’s exactly the opposite of what you say; it’s the Israelis who lack a fair hearing in places like NYU, not the Palestinians. You have never presented Israelis as human beings here.

    • amigo
      October 13, 2017, 3:50 pm

      Hopknee, you are aware that 20% of Israelis are non Jews.You speak as if all Israelis are Jews.Is the omission intentional.

    • Mooser
      October 13, 2017, 3:54 pm

      “It’s exactly the opposite of what you say; it’s the Israelis who lack a fair hearing in places like NYU, not the Palestinians.”

      Darn, and for a minute there, I almost thought Mondo might be right about something.

    • eljay
      October 13, 2017, 4:06 pm

      || hophmi: … You have never presented Israelis as human beings here. ||

      Jewish and non-Jewish Israelis have been presented as human beings here.

    • Emory Riddle
      October 13, 2017, 5:55 pm

      ” it’s the Israelis who lack a fair hearing in places like NYU, not the Palestinians.”

      Wow. The incredible delusion that hophmi suffers from? Or is he just dishonest?

    • Annie Robbins
      October 13, 2017, 6:59 pm

      oh wow, in new york israeli’s don’t get a fair hearing. who’da thunk. somebody should tell mario cuomo, chuck schumer and scores of others.

    • Danaa
      October 13, 2017, 6:59 pm

      hophmi, may I introduce to you a nice blog called Mondoweiss? talks a lot about israelis. Some even write there. Almost all are presented as human beings. Flawed ones, here and there, but quite human. You should really read it sometime.

      Also, do you accept invitations for guest appearance on comedy shows? can I contact your agent?

    • JWalters
      October 13, 2017, 8:31 pm

      hophmi, your comment is desperately delusional.

    • Marnie
      October 14, 2017, 5:57 am

      If you don’t like the presentation of some israelis here hophni you should bring it up to them. A mirror is sometimes hard to look into.

    • WTraveler
      October 14, 2017, 6:35 am

      To allege that Israelis don’t have a venue to be heard in the U.S. is ludicrous and absurd. The mainstream US media presents the far right Israeli narrative 99% of the time. AIPAC and the pro-apartheid Israeli apologists have tried and failed to censor this play- I guess they simply can’t handle the truth about the brutal occupation and systematic Israeli dehumanization of the Palestinian people.

    • ErsatzYisrael
      October 15, 2017, 9:28 am

      hophmi said on October 13, 2017, at 2:50 pm:

      It’s exactly the opposite of what you say; it’s the Israelis who lack a fair hearing in places like NYU, not the Palestinians. You have never presented Israelis as human beings here.

      Let’s parse out self-hating Zionist hopknee’s delusional zio madness:

      1. Black is white. Up is down. Left is right….
      2. Ta Nyoo Yawuk love the Palestinians and hate tEh Djooooooooooooos!!!
      3. Mondoweiss, Mondoweiss Is nYoo Yawk and hate tEH Djoooooooooos!!!
      4. About Philip Weiss, Philip Weiss: Is nYoo Yawuk and hate TeH Djoooooooooos!!!

    • Kathleen
      October 15, 2017, 2:44 pm

      Second comment Boom

      Hop: “It’s exactly the opposite of what you say; it’s the Israelis who lack a fair hearing in places like NYU, not the Palestinians. You have never presented Israelis as human beings here.”

      Phil “As for the politics, my favorite part of the play is all the black humor about Israeli hasbara. The militants say that the oppressor is the oppressed in the eyes of the world, and the victim is the persecutor. How do we fight that propaganda machine? It is a running theme and a cruel joke.”

    • Zara
      October 15, 2017, 7:32 pm

      Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf, is it really you? I have missed you so much!

    • Misterioso
      October 17, 2017, 8:15 pm

      @hophmi

      You live in a Hasbara induced fantasy land ignoring the fact that the entity known as “Israel” is fascistic and racist. It also a belligerent/illegal/brutal occupier of Palestinian and other Arab lands, an ethnic cleanser and a well documented serial/escalating violator of hard won international law, e.g., the UN Charter, The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, The Fourth Geneva Convention and the Rome Statue, which came about in large measure due to the horrors perpetrated by the Nazis and are binding on all UN members.

      That Israelis** are “human beings” is utterly irrelevant!!!

      **Let’s not forget that “Israeli” nationality does not exist, only Jews and non-Jews and each group carries appropriate identity cards. The racist implications are obvious and truly sickening.

  3. Maghlawatan
    October 13, 2017, 4:53 pm

    Great to see Palestinians presented as they are. Human.
    Israel demonises them.. Zionism is the anti Judaism. Will the Jewish Mensches ever regain control?

  4. Maghlawatan
    October 13, 2017, 4:57 pm

    Another great way to humanise the Palestinian people is through its music. Mr Assaf is a Zionist cauchemar.

    • Annie Robbins
      October 13, 2017, 7:12 pm

      have you heard this song? i was just listening to it the other night, following his twitter feed. he’s touring canada right now.

      • Susan A
        October 14, 2017, 6:05 pm

        Have you seen this one Annie, from 47Soul? It’s their latest video release. Four young men, one born in Jordan, one in the West Bank, one in ’48 and one in the US. I think two of them first met on You Tube and all four later connected.

        I saw the band on Monday evening and The Siege when it was on in London. I agree with everything Phil said. Very different from Assaf, but equally brilliant in their way `in my view:

      • Annie Robbins
        October 14, 2017, 8:32 pm

        !!!!!

      • Susan A
        October 15, 2017, 6:03 am

        Why the Exclamation marks Annie?!!!??? Was just wondering if you’d seen the most recent!!!

      • Annie Robbins
        October 15, 2017, 9:21 pm

        sorry for the no word answer susan, i wasn’t having any words come to mind that moment. the exclamation pts were expressing my thrill. and no i had not heard the latest. thanks for posting.

    • Marnie
      October 14, 2017, 5:56 am

      This brings tears to my eyes when I watch this. It makes me feel proud of this man and these people without understanding the language. It’s beautiful.

      • rosross
        October 14, 2017, 10:21 pm

        The term West Bank is an euphemism for Occupied Palestine. It should be avoided.

  5. Qualtrough
    October 13, 2017, 10:07 pm

    “The Siege is overwhelming, a scarring historical drama by Nabil Al-Raee about a group of militants holed up in the Nativity Church during the Second intifada with the Israeli army shooting at them and George W. Bush trying to make them disappear. The action is unrelenting and also utterly recognizable as human.”

    Sounds like the makings of a Hollywood blockbuster. Only that will never happen.

    Why that will never happen:

    http://articles.latimes.com/2008/dec/19/opinion/oe-stein19

    What we see over and over and over again instead:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Holocaust_films

  6. JWalters
    October 14, 2017, 1:39 am

    Thanks for the beautiful, moving article. I won’t be able to attend the play, but appreciate having even the small taste. It sounds excellent.

  7. mariapalestina
    October 14, 2017, 12:14 pm

    This is so powerful. Thank you, Phil. Just reading your words I am reduced to tears; I can only imagine my reaction if I saw the play.

    Fifteen years ago during the early months of the Second Intifada I made my very first journey to Palestine with an emergency delegation of Christian Peacemaker Teams. One morning in April 2002 we joined with Huwaida Arraf and Adam Shapiro and a small group from the International Solidarity Movement to somehow find our way to Bethlehem. We walked down eerily empty silent streets, destruction everywhere, buildings smashed by tanks, past bullet riddled ambulances and demolished cars. We saw no people, no dogs, no sign of life except Israeli tanks that ignored us as we walked toward the Church of the Nativity. We carried bread and other food we hoped to deliver to the people inside the church. A half dozen heavily armed soldiers blocked our way just feet from the church. The late Sister Anne Montgomery began singing, and we all knelt in the rubble and joined her in “We Shall Overcome.”

    Finally there was a temporary lifting of the curfew, and people began to emerge from their homes. We handed them the food we carried, and began to walk back the way we came. The narrow streets of Bethlehem were suddenly filled with people, children appeared, everyone let out of their cages for an hour. I picked up a tear gas canister and some empty shells as souvenirs. At the airport when I left they were taken from me as “terrorist propaganda” along with a poster of Marwan Barghouti I was given in Ramallah following his arrest.

    I had gone to Palestine to see for myself what was happening there. Having lived through World War in England I figured nothing would surprise me. I was mistaken. My thought had been to go once, return home and continue as before. Never imagined how much my life would be changed by what I witnessed then. Five more trips to the occupied West Bank, and an unforgettable voyage across the Mediterranean from Cyprus to Gaza Port where we were greeted by forty thousand Palestinians who had not seen an international boat arriving for 41 years.

    The Israelis won’t let me go back to Palestine. I try to imagine being Palestinian and denied the right to go home, to imagine how I would feel if I wasn’t able to visit England. That’s the thing about Palestine. Once you go there, it grabs you and never lets you go.

    • DavidDaoud
      October 15, 2017, 7:11 am

      Maria, I absolutely know what you mean.
      I went middle of December 2000, staying at the Faisal Hostel in East Al Quds.
      I spent Christmas Eve in Bethlehem. Sweet memory. I slept that night with complete strangers who took me in.

      I never saw Bethlehem in ruins, but I did see Nablus in ruins. I lived there for over 2 years on a 3-month Israeli visa, while I worked as a volunteer at An-Najah National University. Caught and deported by Israel, end of June 2003. Banned from ever going back.
      Personal experience with Palestinians is everything!

  8. CitizenC
    October 14, 2017, 12:14 pm

    I saw it last night, and agree with Phil. Very engaging, with film excerpts used to frame the action in the church. I also found the actors on the street leaving the theater, chatted a bit with them.

    He didn’t miss anything from the post-talk, with the exception of some remarks by the director. The Euros had nothing to offer, except for one eloquent moment by the Murkin who chaired the panel, who at the start asked for a minute of silence in recognition of all that was portrayed

    I saw the film about the Kafr Kassem massacre in 1956, shown in a new print with subtitles 2 wks ago at Anthology Film on the lower east side. KK is a village in the “Triangle”, within the Green Line abutting the northern West Bank. A 5 PM curfew was imposed on the village, communicated to the mukhtar late afternoon by Israeli authorities, and troops given orders to fire on violators. As the villagers were working in the fields around town, and returning from jobs in Tel Aviv, they could not possibly have known. The orders were clearly a pretext for a massacre.

    The film is an excellent docudrama, by Euro-Syrian director Borhane Alaouié in 1974, and its style is compared to the Battle of Algiers.

    A descendant of one of the families from the village, whose father had been wounded but survived, spoke afterward. He was overwhelmed by seeing the film, and his account was very moving. “Not a chicken left the village. The women determined to have as many children as possible to prevent Israel from driving us off the land.”

    After the massacre Arab Jewish women from Iraq, members of the Haganah and then the IOF, came and taunted the villagers with songs sung in Arabic from a sound truck. The village women in turn went to Tel Aviv hospitals to give birth, to advertise their fecundity.

    Village life was deeply marked. Of his parents generation the survivor said, “they were wounded, and they wounded us. When we were growing up were were told to obey, if not ‘the Israeli soldiers might come to the village and kill you!’, smack!”

    The population of Kafr Kassem has increased 10-fold+ since 1956

    http://al-awdany.org/2017/09/october-1-u-s-premiere-kafr-kassem-film-screening-with-english-subtitles/

  9. Kathleen
    October 15, 2017, 2:31 pm

    So moving Phil I cried several times as I read your review. Even found myself holding my breath while reading such an articulate moving account of the play.

    This was the first simple description of any human, all humans, Palestinians desires that made me tear up.:

    ” It brought home the sense of the play itself. Palestinians are as human as anyone you know. They do not want to kill you, or be killed, or threaten you. They only wish to take part, to be granted dignity, to participate freely in the world’s commons.

    And: it never happens.”

    Then this:

    “When the Israelis put the mother on the phone to talk to a militant leader played by Faisal Abualhayjaa and she says she will cut off the breast that fed him if he surrenders, I thought, There are American mothers who would say the same thing.”

    Not sure if I would have the nerves of steel to say such a thing to one of my kids. Although could certainly imagine feeling that given the persistent humiliation Palestinians are subjected to daily as well as the death and destruction they have witnessed. The anger, the commitment to justice builds up over decades of injustice…

    Would so love to see “The Siege” Video ?

  10. CigarGod
    October 15, 2017, 8:29 pm

    Loved the photograph of the men on stage.
    Don’t see a photo credit.

  11. Kathleen
    October 15, 2017, 9:53 pm

    Phil so hoping you or someone on Mondo team write something about BB and his influence on Trump’s Iran decision.

    2 years ago Netanyahu was allowed to speak in front of congress publicly undermining the Iran deal, He tried like hell to convince our Reps to vote against supporting the Iran deal. Israel and the I lobby (Aipac, Jinsa) have never stopped trying to undermine the P5+1. BB just came out and praised Trump’s recent efforts to undermine the deal. If you have ever wondered how other nations( Russia) interfere in our National Security and our elections take a close look at Israel and the I lobbies activities over the last 50 years in the U,S,

    MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell, Andrea Mitchell and Joy Reid regularly have proven and deadly Iraq/Iran war hawks Max Boot, David Frum and Bill Kristol on their programs to discuss foreign policy. This cast of characters were instrumental in promoting the Bush administrations false WMD’s in Iraq lies, So now they are set in place on some of MSNBC’s programs ready to promote a military altercation with Iran, On an upbeat note Chris Matthews, Chris Hayes, Ari Melber, and Rachel Maddow do not seem to be promoting these deadly war hawks views

    These characters should be on trial at the Hague for complicity in crimes against humanity, not on MSNBC setting the stage for a potentially devastating interaction with Iran http://www.jpost.com/…/Netanyahu-congratulates-Trump-on…

    • Annie Robbins
      October 15, 2017, 11:16 pm

      kathleen, have you read Trump’s speech on Iran deal is an orgy for Israel and its US friends http://mondoweiss.net/2017/10/trumps-stance-friends/

      • Kathleen
        October 16, 2017, 6:20 am

        Thanks. Just read. Trying to get Glenn Greenwald or another journalist at Intercept to write a specific piece focused O’Donnell, Andrea Mitchell and Joy Reid who have been supplying plenty of air time to Max Boot, David Friun and Bill Kristol to sow plenty of doubt about the Iran deal and ultimately with the goal of a military confrontation I

  12. Maghlawatan
    October 17, 2017, 5:59 am

    https://www.theguardian.com/news/2017/oct/17/centenary-britains-calamitous-promise-balfour-declaration-israel-palestine

    “The Balfour Apology Campaign is demanding Britain make amends for “colonial crimes” in Palestine. It is promoting a short film, 100 Balfour Road,

    https://youtu.be/a2Y3Pllutjo

    which tries to explain the long-term effect of the declaration by showing the Joneses, an ordinary family in suburban London who are evicted from their home by soldiers and forced to live in appalling conditions in their back yard. Another family, the Smiths, take over their house and, supported by the soldiers, mistreat the Joneses and deprive them of food, medicine and their basic rights. The dissident group Independent Jewish Voices has produced a critical talking-heads documentary about Balfour – being circulated under the Twitter hashtag #NoCelebration.”

  13. Maghlawatan
    October 17, 2017, 6:35 am

    https://www.theguardian.com/news/2017/oct/17/centenary-britains-calamitous-promise-balfour-declaration-israel-palestine

    “The Balfour Apology Campaign is demanding Britain make amends for “colonial crimes” in Palestine. It is promoting a short film, 100 Balfour Road, which tries to explain the long-term effect of the declaration by showing the Joneses, an ordinary family in suburban London who are evicted from their home by soldiers and forced to live in appalling conditions in their back yard. Another family, the Smiths, take over their house and, supported by the soldiers, mistreat the Joneses and deprive them of food, medicine and their basic rights. The dissident group Independent Jewish Voices has produced a critical talking-heads documentary about Balfour – being circulated under the Twitter hashtag #NoCelebration.”

    Trailer for 100 balfour road

    https://youtu.be/pz5acx_t-0c

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