by Günther Baumann
Joshua Sobol on Israel, Palestine and his theater piece about Jägerstätter
Tel Aviv - "I believe that this piece could set off a heated discussion at a time in which there is hardly any political theater in Israel, said Joshua Sobol. In his new drama "iWitness," the Israeli star author treats the case of Franz Jägerstätter who was executed by the Nazis in 1943.
The material contains an explosive, real dimension of everyday life in Israel today. Sobol forms a bridge to the socalled "refuseniks"- Israeli soldiers who refuse to participate in the deployments in occupied areas. On June 23, 2003 "iWitness," staged by the Viennese Director, Paulus Manker, premiered at the New Cameri Theater in Tel Aviv.
Kurier: What caused you to take up the case of Jägerstätter for telling a story about Israel?
Sobol: For the past two years there has been controversy over the "refuseniks." These soldiers are not pacifists but they object to entering the territories. That is a difficult topic. On the one hand, I believe that we have to be able to rely on our army, but on the other hand, I stand in total opposition to oppressing the Palestinians. There is no justification for the terror used against the Israeli civilians. Nonetheless, many of the innocent lose their lives from the attacks directed by our army, and that is also a form of terrorism.
Kurier: But couldn’t it come across as being provocative that you selected a topic particularly from the times of Nazi dictatorship?
Sobol: During the previews to the premiere the echo was great. It is a fact that we are unaware of the resistance displayed against the Nazis. Over 10,000 German and Austrians refused to serve in the Wehrmacht. Half of them disappeared in concentration camps and 1,600 were executed.
Kurier: Franz Jägerstätter is hardly portrayed in "iWitness" as a silent martyr.
Sobol: I have read much about him and what called my attention to this man is the fact that he was quite a rowdy during his youth - a womanizer, a motorcyclist, and leader of a gang. He refused to serve in the army because he witnessed the mortal fear of handicapped children being transported away. During imprisonment he had acquired a high degree of theological thinking, higher than many philosophers who had formally studied philosophy and religion. Seen in this light of things, he appeared to me to be a very telling figure, somewhat perhaps today on the level of Eminem.
Kurier: After having written pieces such as "Weiningers Night" or "Alma," you selected once again an historical figure from Austria as main hero. Have you any special relationship to Austria?
Sobol: Vienna at the turn of the 19th century was a particularly interesting city because it was there that two movements came together which grew to be very significant for the 20th century: Zionism and political anti-Semitism. Because Zionism was born in Vienna, somehow Israel was also born in Vienna.
Kurier: Despite the difficult times, you live in Israel. Have you ever considered leaving the country?
Sobol: I remain in Israel because I belong here. I want to influence theater in Israel and resist special tendencies which may have dire effects. It might be much more comfortable for me to live in Europe but at the same time certainly not as meaningful.