Motti Lerner’s The Admission:
Accounting and Atoning for the Past
by Michael Malek Najjar
Motti Lerner’s searing drama The Admission is the attempt by a playwright of conscience to both account, and atone, for the past. The occupation and evacuation of Palestinian villages in 1948 has been well documented with over 400 villages depopulated during the process.[i] For some, these expulsions were the aftermath of violent battles between Arab factions and the Haganah[ii] forces who began fighting one another shortly after the United Nations announced partition on November 29, 1947. Others believe Palestinians either left of their own volition or sold their lands to Jews. Still others believe this was a premeditated, Zionist strategy to rid the land of Palestinians. Regardless of these competing claims, the fact remains that during the 1948 War, up to ten thousand Palestinians and over six thousand Israelis were killed, eighty percent of Palestinians became refugees, and the bulk of these lands comprised the new Israeli state.[iii]
Lerner's play attempts to address one of the most contentious issues regarding the 1948 War of Independence: did Haganah and Irgun soldiers commit atrocities when overtaking Palestinian villages? Lerner, who was born in the village of Zichron Yaacov, near the historic village of Tantura, remembers growing up hearing stories about a massacre of Arabs that happened there during the 1948 War. He says he changed the name of the village in the play to Tantur because the play is fictitious, and he did not want to blur the line between history and fiction.[iv] The play revolves around the contested history of the Alexandroni Brigade that, during the battle of Tantura on May 23, 1948, was accused of massacring 250 Palestinians. A scholar, Teddy Katz, wrote a Masters of Arts thesis about this event claiming the massacre occurred; however, after Alexandroni veterans sued him for libel and, through pressure from family and friends, Katz signed a statement declaring there was no massacre. Lerner read Katz's thesis and, based on that study and stories he himself had heard, concluded that there are many narratives that differ from one another. His solution to untangle these conflicting accounts was to write a play.
As I said earlier, we, theater artists, cannot bring about a solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Our challenge is to create a public discourse that will lead to achieving it. How do we do it if the public discourse is so superficial and if our spectators are so deeply prejudiced, so deeply defensive, so deeply resistant to even hearing the narrative of the Palestinians? In other words, how do we transform our stubborn theater-goers into open-minded spectators who are capable of listening to the narrative of the "other"?[v]
Like other playwrights of conscience before him (such as Ibsen, Miller, and Soyinka), Lerner is attempting to dramatize historical events not for the purposes of historical accuracy, but rather to illuminate these events in a way that personalizes them, opening them up for reflection by contemporary audiences. This extraordinarily prescient play forces us to look back into the horrors of the past so we may, perhaps, turn to see the future more clearly.
[i] Davis, Rochelle. “Mapping the Past, Re-creating the Homeland” in Sa'di, Ahmad H., and Abu-Lughod, Lila. Nakba Palestine, 1948, and the Claims of Memory. New York: Columbia UP, 2007. Cultures of History. Web. 56. Also see Slyomovics, Susan. "The Memory of Place: Rebuilding the Pre-1948 Palestinian Village." Diaspora: A Journal of Transnational Studies 3.2 (1994): 157-68. Web.
[ii] The Jewish militia which was created to protect Jewish interests in Palestine in 1920. They were allied with the “Irgun” group in 1945. In 1948 the Haganah became Israel’s army. "Haganah." World Encyclopedia: Philip's. Oxford Reference. 2004. Date Accessed 25 Jan. 2017.
[iv] Holzel, Davod. "'A More Honest Discourse.'" Washingtonjewishweek.com. 19 March, 2014.
[v] Lerner, Motti. "The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict-The Challenge for the Israeli Theater." The writerintheworld.com/2016/04/13/motti-lerner-1/