Seven Jewish Children

Last Thursday  and Friday I went to see Mirrorball,  a drama group from Rathmelton, Donegal, perform Caryl Churchills controversial play "Seven Jewish Children". The play was perfomed by a cross border cast from L'Derry and Donegal and shown first in the Derry Playhouse followed by a panel discussion of which I was a part, and then in the An Grianan Theatre in Letterkenny.

 It wasn't the first time I had seen it or discussed it or debated its merit, I don't think its the best play I have ever seen, but I think that its a very interesting play with an important message. Its only 11 minutes long but it asks profound and difficult questions of the audience. I found the play extremely moving, I saw a terrified and vulnerable people, haunted by their past and ruled by fear of the present. What do we tell our children is the motif which runs throughout the piece,  a universal question which has to be grappled with by peoples throughout the world. The performace foregrounded the humanity of the community it profiled, and I felt profound sympathy for the characters grappling with what best to tell their children about the succession of wars upon which Israel has been founded.

The words of this play, some harsh and vindictive, some plaintive and conciliatory could, in my opinion,  have been spoken by characters from Northern Ireland during the troubles, by the Sinalese in Sri Lanka, South African whites during apartheid, Kosovans, Bosnians indeed almost anywhere were there is an ethnic conflict and a community feel vulnerable to attack and are trying to build a nation. When people feel cornered they do sometimes  respond in irrational ways, they do make prejudiced statements and as we have seen in the US and to some extent the UK may do feel that attack is the best form of defence. At the same time as the play shows we are all capable of thinking and even articulating bad thoughts about the "other" and then feeling profoundly guilty afterwards.

Thats why I don't think its anti-semitic. It was written in response to the the bombing of Gaza and was a direct response to the daily scenes of carnage and wanton destruction. It was an emotional response. I think its a shame that the very emotive term anti-semtism is used  and I think that it devalues the horrendous and very real experience of genocide and racism experienced by the Jewish people both in the last century and continuing now.

I hate to think that theatre, which to me is the perfect forum for teasing out complex and difficult ideas, should be diluted and become an anodyne mouthpiece for "safe" ideas. If so we would have no Othello, Merchant of Venice, Vagina Monologues, Look Back in Anger….I could continue. Freedom of expression also means the freedom to offend and be offended. Good art is just the start of a conversation.

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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