Gaza doctor tragedy central in Israeli stage show

ACRE, Israel Tue Nov 8, 2011 9:58am EST

ACRE, Israel (Reuters) - An Israeli mother-and-daughter play performed at a recent theater festival climaxed with the tale of the killing of a Gaza doctor's family, a 2009 event that brought the Israeli-Palestinian conflict deep into Israeli living rooms.

"Explosive: War tourism" culminated with the sounds of an audio recording of Dr Izzeldin Abuelaish's cries, heard live at the time on Israeli TV, as he pleaded in a phone call to an Israeli reporter friend asking him to get the army to stop shooting at his house.

Three of Abuelaish's daughters and a niece were killed by a tank shell during Israel's December 2008-January 2009 offensive in the Gaza Strip.

The annual Acco (Acre) Festival of Alternative Israeli Theater held in the Mediterranean coastal town in northern Israel is a haven for unconventional shows, and the performance by Naomi Yoeli and her daughter, Galia, was no exception.

"It is a very painful performance about an impossible situation of violence," said Galia Yoeli, who with mother Naomi, provided a snapshot of how Israeli-Palestinian relations have evolved over decades of conflict.

Israel investigated the killings and acknowledged that two tank shells had hit Abuelaish's house in Jabalya refugee camp. But it said the action was "reasonable" because two suspected militants were spotted on the house's upper level.

About 1,400 Palestinians, including hundreds of civilians, and 13 Israelis were killed in the war Israel launched with the declared aim of curbing cross-border rocket fire from Palestinian militants.

Since the tragedy, Abuelaish, a gynecologist who had worked for years at some of Israel's top hospitals, moved to Canada with the surviving members of his family. He wrote a book "I shall not hate," about his story.

Play producer Revital Malka told Reuters the doctor had given his blessing to inclusion of the subject matter.

The outdoor show started with Naomi recounting to daughter Galia their family history and how previous generations, including Holocaust survivors, had settled in Israel.

MINIATURES

Naomi used miniature items such as porcelain dolls, building blocks and a toy bus to illustrate her story while Galia sat at a laptop, whose display was projected onto a giant screen, to research the Internet details of her mother's tale.

The miniatures forced each member of the audience to use binoculars handed out before the start of the show to be able to view the proceedings close up.

The turning point in the 75-minute performance came about two-thirds through when Naomi described the 1967 Middle East war, when Israel defeated its Arab neighbors and captured large tracts of territory from them.

She enacted scenes of a bus tour to the Gaza Strip, typical of the day, by triumphant Israeli civilians who visited areas of the "newly acquired" lands, and their disdainful treatment of the indigenous population.

Naomi explained the significance of the binoculars.

"We would like to touch the hearts and minds of the people and allow them to look at the issues with a magnifying glass and not be blind to events," she said.

Galia said the binoculars were also symbolic of the "war tourism" among some Israelis who during the Gaza offensive, took up vantage points along the border and watched the fighting from a safe distance.

"When you stand and look from the outside, it looks almost like a miniature and people were saying: 'Let's kill them all', but when you go into detail, you see a small child being killed and this is what we tried to share with our audience."

(Additional reporting by Rami Amichay, editing by Paul Casciato)