Anger at Israel national theatre show in occupied West Bank
HEBRON - Israel's national theatre company is to perform for the first time in an illegal West Bank settlement with a hardline reputation, drawing praise from the extreme right-wing government and outrage from opponents.
The Habima national theatre will take to the stage in Kiryat Arba, adjacent to the flashpoint city of Hebron, next month, local media reported on Tuesday.
The company will perform Israeli Nobel laureate Shmuel Agnon's "A Simple Story," they said.
The theatre's spokeswoman could not be reached for comment.
The decision won a warm welcome from Culture Minister Miri Regev, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's right-wing Likud party and a former chief military censor.
"This is what a vision becoming reality looks like," she posted on her Twitter account on Tuesday. "This is how a national theatre should behave."
Since taking office in May last year, Regev has been battling cultural works critical of the Zionist state and its policies.
Cultural figures in Israel accuse her of seeking to muzzle them with the threat of cutting subsidies to cultural institutions deemed not "loyal".
More than 400,000 Israelis live in settlements in the illegally occupied West Bank, considered by the international community one of the largest obstacles to peace.
The US government has recently intensified its criticism of Israel's persistent expansion of the settlements, saying it is endangering the possibility of a two-state solution to the conflict.
Habima CEO Odelia Friedman told Israeli public radio that Jewish settlers had the same right to government-subsidised culture as any other Israeli citizen.
"We appear everywhere where we are required," she said.
Veteran actor-director Oded Kotler said the theatre was being disingenuous when it likened performance before Jewish audiences in the occupied West Bank to shows within Israel's borders.
"When we say, 'the nation, Israel or national,' that doesn't include the occupied territories," he told public radio.
"By carrying out some kind of so-called pure cultural activity in these places, we are reinforcing the suffering of others, which has been continuing for years and years and is in fact preventing us from making peace."
Habima has appeared before in settlements but Kiryat Arba has a particularly hardline reputation.
It was home to Baruch Goldstein, who massacred 29 Muslim worshippers in neighbouring Hebron in 1994.
Current residents include activist Baruch Marzel, a follower of the late racist rabbi Meir Kahane.
"When Habima... chooses to appear in the city which more than any other symbolises the violence and racism of the settlement enterprise, it is a symbolic move full of meaning," university lecturer Haim Weiss wrote on Facebook.
"Habima is giving validity, significance and legitimacy to the settlement enterprise in general and to its most extreme and violent representatives in particular."