Facing the Trauma of 1948

Motti Lerner on The Admission

The Admission was inspired by the Israeli Defense Forces’ May 23, 1948 occupation of the Palestinian village of Tantura during Israel’s War of Independence, and by the controversy between several Israeli historians who propose that, during the assault on the village and subsequent expulsion of its inhabitants, soldiers perpetrated a massacre on unarmed villagers. The play, however, is not a documentary. All characters and events are a fiction of the playwright’s imagination. The play doesn’t attempt to determine the historical validity of any one narrative of the Tantura occupation, nor does it present unequivocal facts with regard to what took place during the battle.

Set in Haifa in 1988, The Admission centers around two families, one Jewish, one Palestinian. Through their story we explore the suppression of the village’s occupation—a process that took place in both Jewish and Arab societies. We also examine the circumstances that led to the resurgence of this suppressed trauma in our consciousness 40 years later. This examination stems from the belief that coming to terms with the events of 1948 is imperative for all involved. Otherwise, the rectification so crucial to our continued existence will not be carried out on either the political, personal, or social level, and we will be unable to recover from the collective trauma we've undergone.

The Admission was written in the hopes that it might encourage more fair, open, and empathic discourse among us, and that it would generate honest, unifying, constructive dialogue between the different sects of Israeli society. Such dialogue about this shared trauma would accelerate the process of appeasement with the Palestinian people living with us and next to us. I hope that this dialogue promotes, even in a small way, the founding of a joint society in Israel whose sects live side by side, in mutual recognition and acceptance.

While writing was completed as early as 2006, all plans to produce The Admission were ultimately aborted in spite of the interest expressed by several theatres in Israel. These repeated cancellations likely had to do not only with the theatre managers’ fear of potential sanctions by the Ministry of Culture, but their concerns over an enraged public’s reaction to this “deviation” from consensus in showing the forbidden story of the 1948 war.

The Admission at last premiered in spring 2014 under the direction of Sinai Peter at Washington D.C.’s Theater J. Following rave reviews, one of the largest theatres in Israel made plans to produce it in the 2015-16 season. But then, on March 17, 2015, the election of the Knesset took place—a new government was formed, a new minister of culture was nominated, and the production was cancelled. However, in early 2016, the Jaffa Theater in Tel Aviv decided to produce the play (again with Sinai Peter directing) which premiered in September 2016 and has since been playing regularly and with great success, evoking intense public debates between Jews and Arabs striving to create a joint society in Israel.