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Sunday, September 13, 2009

Christian Arabs Cancel Jesus Play

Right - An Amos Kenan sculpture titled "Messiah"

The performances of Amos Kenan's play "Friends Talk about Jesus," at the Arab-Hebrew Theater of Jaffa, were canceled due to opposition from Jaffa residents.

The play was rejected by the state censorship board in 1972, when it was written, but was staged in February by the Tel Aviv University Department of Theater Arts, under the direction of Ro'i Hertz Russo.

Some Christian Arabs living in Jaffa claim the play portrays Jesus in a negative light, as well as depicting Mary, the mother of Jesus, as a prostitute.

Kenan's satirical play deals with the nature of being Israeli and with the occupation. In it, Jesus dies, returns to life and dies again, and is shown in various ways: as a child whose home is destroyed by the army, as a young man who is concerned about the security situation and as a reserve duty soldier who is sent to war. After the play was banned by the censor it was also banned by the High Court of Justice.

Igal Ezrati, one of the Arab-Hebrew Theater's two artistic directors, related that when the news of the play's production became public, it set off protests, and he was asked not to stage it.

"I got phone calls saying, 'You should be ashamed of yourselves,' because the play hurts the feelings of Christians in Jaffa and throughout the world," the theater's head, Mohammed Desouki, related. "I talked to Igal Ezrati and together with the theater management we decided to cancel the show so as not to hurt anyone's feelings."

Friends Talk About Jesus was revoked by the Supreme Court of Israel in 1972. The court ruled that it was "a repulsive mix of desecration of the Christian faith". It also said that "a writer or playwright to lash out to his heart's content at fallen religious figures through the use of criticism or satire, but that portraying God himself on stage in a way that is contemptuous of believers' faith is beyond the bounds of what is legally permissible here".

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