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Reading the Israeli/Palestinian Conflict Through Theater: A Postcolonial Analysis

Harass, Azza (2015) Reading the Israeli/Palestinian Conflict Through Theater: A Postcolonial Analysis. Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis, University of Kent,. (Access to this publication is currently restricted. You may be able to access a copy if URLs are provided)

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Abstract

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict dates back to 1917, when British Prime Minister Balfour declared Britain’s support for the establishment of a homeland for Jews in the land of Palestine. The conflict has had many political, social, and artistic implications. On the political level, a struggle that has not been solved until this day has evolved. On a social level, many lives have been crushed: thousands of native citizens of the land became refugees, mainly in Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria, but also worldwide. Others, like the Arabs who stayed in what was in 1948 declared to be the state of Israel, have been suffering from an identity crisis; many of these Arabs face unlawful detention, demolition of houses, killing and racism. The Gaza strip has almost always been under siege by the Israeli military machine lately. Meanwhile, the Jewish society has never had a day of peace since the establishment of their state.

In fact, I believe that both Palestinian and Israeli literature could be read in the context of postcolonial discourse. On the one hand, for Palestinian and Arab writers, Palestinian writing is and should be read as resistance literature, or ‘Adab al-muqawamah’, a term coined by Palestinian writer Ghassan Kanafani. Anna Ball’s study Palestinian Literature and Film in Postcolonial Feminist Perspective examines Palestinian literature and film in the light of postcolonial feminism. Ball places the conflict in the context of colonial/ postcolonial discourse and breaks the taboo against using the word colonialism when speaking about Zionism. In fact, the research problem is based on the idea of the inadequacy of ignoring Palestinian and Israeli literature as part of postcolonial studies simply for fear of revealing the colonial status quo of the land. According to Anna Bernard, who seeks to draw attention to what she calls ‘blind spots in postcolonial studies’, mainly Israel/ Palestine: ‘by dismissing a ‘postcolonial’ approach to Israel-Palestine studies outright, [critics like] Massad and Shohat overlook the value of a literary study that seeks to demonstrate the collective and cross-cultural impact of the various modern forms of colonialism and imperialism on artistic production across the globe’. Massad’s argument that there is difficulty in describing space, time and body in Israel/ Palestine as postcolonial is based on his interrogations: ‘Can one determine the coloniality of Palestine/ Israel without noting its ‘‘post-coloniality’’ for Ashkenazi Jews? Can one determine the post-coloniality of Palestine/Israel without noting its coloniality for Palestinians? Can one determine both or either without noting the simultaneous colonizer/colonized status of Mizrahi Jews? (Although one could debate the colonized status of Mizrahi Jews) How can all these people inhabit a colonial/postcolonial space in a world that declares itself living in a post-colonial time?’ Ella Shohat, likewise, is against what she calls the ‘ahistorical and universalizing deployments, and potentially [the] depoliticizing implications’ of the term ‘post-colonial,’ especially that, according to her, it is used instead of important terms like imperialism and neo-colonialism. In spite of the importance of paying attention to the correct description of states of imperialism and neo-colonialism, I still find it possible to read both Palestinian and Israeli texts in postcolonial perspective, agreeing with Bernard ‘that the tools that have been developed for reading these texts comparatively – including colonial discourse analysis, national allegory, minority discourse, and so on – can be usefully applied, tested, and revised in the analysis of Palestinian and Israeli literary and cultural production’. This view resonates with Ashcroft, Tiffin and Griffiths’s in their study The Postcolonial Studies Reader (1995), when they comment on this wide range of relevant fields that the term postcolonial suggests: ‘Postcolonial theory involves discussion about experience of various kinds: migration, slavery, suppression, resistance, representation, difference, race, gender, [and] place’ . In fact, the term ‘postcolonial’ is not necessarily restricted to a real colonial period; it could be used, according to Ashcroft, Tiffin and Griffiths in The Empire Writes Back: ‘to cover all the culture affected by the imperial process from the moment of colonization to the present day. This is because there is continuity of preoccupations throughout the historical process initiated by European imperial aggression’.

The first chapter explores the Israeli/ Palestinian and Arab writing of the conflict from a colonizer/colonized perspective. I mainly focus on the representation of violence as an essential element in a colonized society and the decolonization process, drawing on Frantz Fanon’s theory that violence is inevitable in any colonized community as the backbone of the analysis. For this purpose, I have chosen Syrian playwright Saad-Allah Wanous’s play Rape (1990), to compare with Israeli playwright Hanoch Levin’s play Murder (1997), since both plays represent violence as a vicious circle that does not lead anywhere in the Palestinian/Israeli conflict, even though it is an everyday act that has become a way of life for both sides. Crucial terms in the field of postcolonial studies such as resistance/terrorism are examined. Some similarities between the ways the two playwrights write the conflict are also highlighted, which supports the idea that literature can always find shared ground between any two conflicting parties.

Chapter Three examines another landmark of the history of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict: the Palestinian Intifada, an event which changed the nature of the conflict and showed that the Palestinians can act to decolonize their country. The Intifada, mainly described as ‘non-violent’, has led to huge impacts on the lives of both Israelis and Palestinians and how they see each other, both in reality and in theatre; however, again, the colonizer and colonized parties see it differently. The chapter examines these different perspectives by analysing the Israeli plays Masked (1990) by Ilan Hatzor and Coming Home (2002) by Motti Lerner, compared with The Stone Revolution (1997) by Egyptian playwright Alfred Farag and Al-Huksh (1992) by Palestinian playwright Adnan Tarabshi. The four plays present the Intifada as either a barbaric or a heroic act, depending on the political ideologies of the playwrights. I read the plays within the context of pro or anti-resistance propaganda.

Finally, Chapter Five aims at examining the influence of the Israeli/ Palestinian conflict on Western theatre, showing how the West, as an outsider, sees and portrays the conflicted parties. I have chosen the following plays to examine the different approaches to the conflict: Dario Fo and Franca Rame’s An Arab Woman Speaks (1972), Arthur Milner’s Masada (2006) and Facts (2010), John Patrick Shanley’s Dirty Story (2003), Naomi Wallace’s The Fever Chart , Robin Soans’ The Arab Israeli Cook Book (2004), Alan Rickman and Catharine Viner’s My Name is Rachel Corrie (2003), David Hare’s Via Dolorosa (1998) and Wall (2009), Douglas Watkinson’s The Wall (2011), Caryl Churchill’s Seven Jewish Children (2009) and Richard Stirling’s Seven Other Children (2009) to examine the different approaches towards the conflict. Again, I approach this literature as postcolonial literature affected by imperialism and Israeli colonial aggression or as justifying and propagating the Zionist colonial project in Palestine or sometimes as both at the same time, depending on the author’s beliefs and ideologies.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctor of Philosophy (PhD))
Thesis advisor: Rooney, Caroline
Thesis advisor: Landry, Donna
Uncontrolled keywords: Israel/Palestine-conflict-Zionism-settler colonialism-postcolonialism-theater-resistance-intifada-Nakba-Holocaust-diaspora-hybridity-assimilation-Judaism-political theatre-literature-memory-world theatre
Subjects: J Political Science > JV Colonies and colonization. Emigration and immigration. International migration
P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN2000 Dramatic representation. The theatre
Divisions: Faculties > Humanities > School of English
Depositing User: Users 1 not found.
Date Deposited: 09 Apr 2015 11:00 UTC
Last Modified: 11 Feb 2020 04:06 UTC
Resource URI: https://kar.kent.ac.uk/id/eprint/47909 (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)
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