A discussion of the social aspects of theater requires several theoretical and methodological assumptions, the most important of which refers to the theater as representing a social experience. It is accepted that while the theater does not strictly reflect any given social reality, it does fashion it to its own particular needs, and in doing so, enables the theatrical disclosure of both hidden conflicts and overt dissension1.
One important aspect of the theater's approach to "public thought" is that of "the public nature of drama", as George Lukacs terms the circumstances of staging a play and its means of reception by the audience2. Theater, after all, is carried out in a public place, much like a political performance. An additional factor is the number of addressees: the problem, dilemma or political argument is presented before audiences whose numbers, even for a mediocre performance, can reach tens of thousands. To this, we can add what John Fiske calls "vertical intertextuality": all the articles and other information that accompany the play and are served up by the media3. Consequently, plays taking a stand on a conflict central to Israeli society may have a powerful ideological effect. The combination of these components illustrates the importance of the debate being carried out on Israeli stages over such issues as the religious-secular divide or the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
Israeli culture has sought ways of presenting solutions to society's conflicts, particularly the rift between Jews and Arabs. This was carried out at first by carefully reproducing the hegemonic status of the secular-western sector of society, for whom the institution of theater served as a tool. Problems were raised and "solved" on the theatrical stage during the first years of the State of Israel's existence. From the 1980's onwards, especially during the war in Lebanon (1982-85), Hebrew theater began to feature biting revelations of hostilities, discord and contradictions, which it presented as insoluble. During the same period, "mainstream" Zionist culture progressively weakened, as evidenced in many literary, theatrical and cinematic texts.
The issue of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has slowly begun to occupy an important place in Hebrew theater, particularly within the past few decades. The process of the Arab's "absorption" into Hebrew drama and Jewish Israeli theater was slow and hesitant. Prior to 1985, no Arab characters were presented on the "main" stage and their theatrical existence was restricted to fringe theater. Between 1973 and 1982, Arab characters appeared in 29 plays staged in Israel. Most of these characters had focal roles, which turned them, and the problem they were representing, into the major theme of the play. The culmination of this process occurred between 1982 and 1995, when Arab characters could be found in over 100 of the plays staged in Israeli theaters, mainly representing the Palestinian side in the dispute.
At first glance, a gap seems to exist between actual Jewish-Arab relationships and their stage portrayal. Various studies examining the attitude of the Jewish majority to the Arab minority and to the Palestinians exposed alienation, and in recent years, hostility. I shall attempt to provide an explanation for this seeming discrepancy between the generally perceived image of the Arab in Israeli society and the increased presence of the Arab image in the Israeli theater over the last 20 years.
Most of the plays that present Arabs in the Israeli theater are political texts that use the characters to deliver ideological claims. Occasionally an Arab character is written into a text in which the playwright fails to relate to him/her, but deals instead with his own difficulties as a Jew in a society undergoing a process of change. In general, the development of the Arab character is subordinated to the ideological or political statement, while at most other times he is an icon on the map of Jewish Israeli ideological consciousness. The majority of plays do not reflect reality as it is but, rather, reflect the wish of their creators to take a stand and attempt to influence the situation. The repertoire of the Israeli theater, in this respect, is one of the components of this reality; a factor that determines and fashions a historical reality alongside other elements: political, social, economic, religious and ideological.
Although the Jewish attitude towards the Arabs underwent important changes from the end of the 1960s to the 1990s, the similarity between the characteristics of the Israeli theater-goer and that sector of the Jewish population whose declared attitude to the Arabs is a positive one is not coincidental: they are one and the same group or, at least, there is great overlap between them4.
The Israeli theater has employed several strategies to circumvent social obstacles in presenting its position with regard to the Arab theme; these have included the choice of a suitable genre, such as through the "back door" of satire. For several decades, the Arab was portrayed theatrically as a comic figure. This distancing from the "serious" genres led to his representation as a character of lesser importance, reflecting the secondary status given to the "Arab Question" by Israeli society in the 1950s and 1960s. Then in the 1970s and 1980s, the place of the Arab among the dramatis personae changed and he became a central figure in many plays. In recent years, the more realistic stage portrayal of the Arab reflects the change from an ethnocentric and stereotypical approach to one that is finally recognizing the "Other", and attempting to come to terms with his humanity.
These changes were aided by another strategy, that of casting Arab actors in plays by Chekhov, Strindberg, Beckett or Fugard which relocated the plot in the Jewish-Arab conflict. Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot, staged by the Haifa Municipal Theater (1985, 1994) became one of the most important plays on the Jewish-Arab theme. It was adapted/translated into Hebrew and Arabic by Anton Shamas who located it firmly in the Israeli-Arab dispute. Its director, Ilan Ronan, gave a uniquely Israeli-Palestinian interpretation to the play, with the role of the master taken by a Jewish Israeli actor while those of the tramps went to Arab Israeli actors. The set became an Israeli building site. The choice of stage location was politically significant - Wadi Salib, in the heart of the Arab neighborhood in Haifa.
Performances with these elements of adaptation, casting, theatrical space, set design, props, costumes or music - all together or in combination - have commanded an important place in the Israeli theater repertoire.
Despite these changes in both the Arab image and the frequency of its appearance in the theater, no real change appears to have taken place in its actual function within the Hebrew dramatic narrative over the last 90 years. In most of the texts from 1912 to 2002, the same dualism can be found, whose source lies in the attraction/repulsion of the Jews towards the "otherness" of the Arab: an image that is perceived on the one hand as noble and generous, and on the other as savage and violent. Such Arab characters first appeared in 1912, in Alla Karim, by L.A. Arieli.
A clear expression of how the Arabs were perceived in the period of settlement, as culturally inferior, can be found in the stuttering Hebrew they are made to speak in the plays. Only those positive figures who support the Zionist enterprise speak correct, or at least intelligible, Hebrew.
Violence, lies, deceit and servility characterize the traits displayed by Arabs, both individually and as a group, in the plays of the 1912-1948 period. These reflect the stereotypes that, according to a study by Anita Shapira, were already common among the Jewish community from the end of the 19th century5. The Arabs were depicted as violent and aggressive towards their own people and as a threat to the existence of the Jews. Blood feuds were offered by the playwrights as a clear example of their violent nature. Ali in Alla Karim is a savage, thirsting for revenge, and at the end of the play, he kills one of the pioneers. This violence is generally one-sided: there are very few instances in which Jews demonstrate violence towards Arabs. When a Jew does use violence against an Arab, he bewails his guilt and hastens to excuse his behavior as unavoidable.
Plays from the settlement period that featured Arab figures were written by peace-oriented playwrights, and this remains the situation today. Arabs appear only among those plays written by the liberal intelligentsia who are attempting to reach an understanding with them - at least on stage. Conciliation is generally seen as imperative, both for mutual interests and to maintain the progress introduced by the Jews, as they see it, for the benefit of all - albeit in two separate communities.
The discrepancy I mentioned between the disputed and hostile reality and the ways in which this has been presented in the Israeli theater, with its profusion of texts dealing with the subject, is not as great as it would appear from repertoire statistics. Outwardly, the more recent theatrical texts attempt to allay fears through a generally sympathetic depiction of Arab characters and the casting of their roles with well-known and respected Arab actors. However, reading the texts, or watching their performance, will often reveal barely concealed expressions of fear and pessimism. The most common "contradiction" is that between the spirit of conciliation in the text and its almost always pessimistic ending. This pattern is repeated too many times to be merely coincidental. Despite a desire for a peaceful situation, few of the plays see this as possible and their endings waver between the open-ended, the blocked and the pessimistic.
This is particularly prominent in love stories, which always end in either forced or voluntary separation. Forty Israeli plays staged in the last 30 years feature love stories between Arab characters and their Jewish counterparts. There does not appear to be anything particularly unusual in this fact, for many dramas are "love stories" which deal with the attempt to overcome barriers of race, creed and religion. The Jewish Israeli playwright generally treats the subject of intimate Jewish-Arab relationships with understanding and even a certain sympathy; despite such relations between Jews and Arabs, male or female, having been considered against the norm by both peoples since the beginning of the Jewish settlement in Israel and up to the present time. The explanation for the frequent occurrence of this theme in Israeli theater should therefore be sought in the world of the Israeli playwright and perhaps perceived as a metaphor for the desire for conciliation - for there is nothing like a "love story" to represent a yearned-for peace.
An interesting example of this is The Return by Miriam Kaney (1973), the first among many Israeli plays in which the character of a male Arab has been found "acceptable" for intimate relations with a Jewish woman. However, his "acceptability" is conditioned by the blurring of his Arab identity and his cultural assimilation into Jewish society. Fluent and even literary Hebrew is spoken by these Arab characters in the course of their legitimization into fitting partners for Jewish women. They are educated members of the free professions, and their female Jewish partners are generally of western background, liberal-minded, students, or well-educated professionals. The relationship formed between them is one of real love, with a tendency to motifs of love conquering all barriers of enmity. The character of Riad in The Return is the prototype of the Arab as lover. The objection of Riad's father to the liaison and Riad's own loyalty to his Arab village are the reasons given for the eventual separation. In many other plays, the separation also follows social or family pressure. In this way, the Israeli playwright achieves a double goal, by suggesting that although relationships are possible between Arab and Jew, they will encounter psychological and social barriers.
Beyond merely telling the story of certain individuals, these plays deal with the problematics of Jewish-Arab relations in general, including the fear of an apparently powerful rival who might appropriate the place of Jews whose power has diminished. Only in one play does a couple succeed in overcoming the barrier. However, there are no happy Jewish-Arab families in the Israeli theater.
Following the outbreak of the first Intifada, additional changes began to occur in the image of the Arab character. He was no longer an Israeli Arab, but in many texts had become a Palestinian from the Occupied Territories. Research by Kalman Benyamini (1990) reveals that young Israeli Jews perceived the Palestinians as negative and frightening. Palestinian society, as portrayed in the plays of the 1990s, reflects this particularly among young playwrights. In several of these plays, the knife as a theatrical prop represents the violent side of Palestinian society. In Masked by Ilan Hatzor (1990), set in a butcher's shop against a backdrop of a dirty and bloodstained wall, an Intifada activist stabs his brother to death for collaborating with the Israeli authorities. The link between knife and Palestinian also appears in Israeli satire. In Hey Rimona by Ilan Hatzor and Ilan Sheinfeld (1992), the voice of a Palestinian is heard offstage even before he enters: "To cut or not to cut, that is the question." Similar traits are also attributed to Palestinian characters by Israeli Arabs: in The First Stone by Miriam Yachil-Wax (1993), based on detailed research by both the Jewish playwright and the Israeli Arab actress Salwah Nakara-Hadad, the autopsy report is read of a young Arab woman who was brutally murdered because she wanted a divorce from her elderly husband.
At first glance these plays appear to complicate the inherent difficulty in reaching a possible settlement with the Palestinians, and even seem to express an aversion to such conciliation. In fact, the texts constitute a late phase of a structure that has existed in the Israeli theater since the 1970s, which bridges the apparent contradiction between the hostile reality and the "optimistic" presentation of this dispute in the theater. In theatrical texts of the 1990s, the political message of the playwrights is even clearer: they are instructing politicians to negotiate with the Arabs. One question that remains to be answered concerns the extent of the contribution of the Jewish Israeli theater to co-existence with Israeli Arabs and to a possible solution to the dispute with the Palestinians.
In general, spectators at a theatrical performance find themselves simultaneously within the world of the stage and outside it. They may therefore adopt a critical stand towards what is being shown on stage, and connect its contents with extra-theatrical social and political referents. Regarding the Jewish-Arab conflict there is also the cumulative effect of the rise in the number of plays dealing with the "Arab Question" and, from the 1980s, the "Palestinian Question". All the factors that I have presented here, taken together, validate the assumption that the Arab image in Israeli theater represents a wish to settle the dispute and has contributed to public thought by emphasizing the strong desire of a group of Jewish Israeli spectators for conciliation with the Arab section of their population. The contribution of the theater is especially important in the years during which a solution appears to be far off. In this respect, the theatrical texts that staged the Palestinian problem in the 1980s constituted an artistic avant-garde that urged and demanded the beginning of that difficult conciliation process with the Palestinians.*

*This article was first presented as a paper, "1948-1998: Fifty Years of Hebrew Culture in Israel", at the University of Chicago, 1998. It is based on my books: The Arab in the Israeli Drama and Theater, London and New York, Routledge, Harwood, 1997. The Judaic Nature of Israeli Theater: A Search for Identity, London and New York, Routledge, Harwood, 2000.

1 Patrice Paves, "Production et reception au theatre: la concretization du texte dramatique et spectaculaire", in Voix et Images de la Scene, Lille, Presses Universitaires de Lille, 1985, 285
2 George Lukacs, The Historical Novel, trans. Hannah and Stanley Mitchell, Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1969; 150.
3 John Fiske, Television Culture, London and New York, Routledge 1987; 108-127.
4 The results of the research of the Arab image among Israeli youth in 1990, as obtained from Kalman Benyamini. See also K. Benyamini, Political and Civil Standpoints of Jewish Youth in Israel, Research Report, Jerusalem, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Psychology, 1990; 4-5,6,7,11 (in Hebrew). Another study into the Israeli Arab image among Jews in Israel carried out by Mina Zemach in 1980 revealed a prejudiced negative opinion regarding the violence of Israeli Arabs; an additional study carried out in September 1987 prior to the outbreak of the intifada showed that the reservations of Jewish Israeli youth regarding the Arabs was higher in comparison with other sections of the population. The two studies are quoted in: Uzi Benziman, Atallah Mansour, Sub-tenants, Jerusalem, Keter, 1992; 29 (in Hebrew). Research carried out among Jewish pupils after the outbreak of the intifada, revealed "stereotype hatred" among approximately 40 percent of the youth, expressed as fear of economic competition among one group of those questioned and an extreme right-wing political ideology among another group. The research report of Ofra Meisels and Reuven Gal, Hatred of Arabs among Jewish High-School Pupils, Zikhron Yaakov, The Israel Institute for Military Studies, 1989 (in Hebrew).
5 Anita Shapira, Land and Power, 1881-1948, Tel Aviv, Am Oved, 1992; 94 (Hebrew)