Reviews, Endorsements, & Media
"an extraordinary work of theater" -- DC Metro Theater Arts
"The abstraction of the conflict--leaders, political parties and settlement accords--falls away, leaving the audience with the wounds that leave indelible scars, the reality of personal inhumanity, and the lasting pain and resentment of ordinary people. Sarah, Avram, and Ilan likely function as agglomerations of different soldiers, but the regret and the pain of memory affect them all. ...
Nice's play succeeds in giving the daily reality of oppression stark form, and proves well deserving of the Best Drama Award it received at the conclusion of the festival."
-- Bobby Gulshan, Al Jadid magazine, Vol. 21, No. 73
"The controversies surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict make it a difficult arena for art, even given the human drama at its center. "It’s What We Do": A Play About the Occupation has no interest in sidestepping this controversy, but it does manage to avoid accusations of bias and create a more authentic experience given the source of its text: interviews with Israeli soldiers compiled by the Israeli NGO Breaking the Silence. ... worth seeing based on the script alone."
"powerful" -- MD Theatre Guide
“Nice’s play really respects the [Breaking the Silence] source material... The material measures the cost of occupation. Making art out of conflict and making something that is a beautiful human expression of pain and difficulty is important. It breeds understanding and a whole different take on political strife."
--Ari Roth, founding artistic director of Mosaic Theater Company
“'It’s What We Do,' gave me a disturbing, powerful, and insightful picture of the interactions between Israeli soldiers, Israeli settlers, and Palestinians, from the perspective of Israeli soldiers. I would highly recommend it to anyone who wants to understand the complexity of the current environment."
-- Mark Nadel, member, Temple Rodef Shalom in Falls Church
"Many members of St. Mark’s Mid-East group saw the play at the Fringe in 2015. Some had already taken our “dual narrative” trip to Israel/Palestine and met with peace-makers on both sides. All were deeply moved by the authentic testimony of the soldiers and the scenes depicting their enforcement of the occupation. The play reveals daily realities rarely glimpsed by visitors, as well as the terrible toll on all involved."
-- Peter Hawley, member, St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Capitol Hill
"Israeli soldiers testify to the daily brutality they are trained to inflict on Palestinian civilians. Witness what the Israeli Government would like to keep hidden from the world. Learn the truth about Israel's occupation. See the play!"
-- Rosemarie M. Esber, author, "Under the Cover of War"
"I was moved by this play. Its honesty and simplicity made for a very powerful piece. Do I think it represents all viewpoints? Of course not. But it shares stories that are often not heard, especially in America."
"Breaking the silence shows soldiers with a conscience. I'm certain they are vilified in Israel. This is what happens in an ultra right wing society, the zone where Israel is."
"The Jewish people are not all alike. They include some of the best educated and most compassionate people in the world. Those who speak out as shown in the case above deserve great support and our admiration. It is not easy to go against one's leaders. To do so is considered traitorous even when the leaders are traitors to the great principles of their people."
"This was one of the best plays I've seen in almost 10 years of going to the Capital Fringe Festival. Well done."
"Play Reveals Wounds of Palestinian Occupation"
By Bobby Gulshan
Earlier this year, the Israeli Knesset passed a law barring “Breaking the Silence” from presenting in schools, universities, or any other non-profit institutions. The initiative to enforce a ban on the group came from Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who accused “Breaking the Silence” of denigrating the reputation of the Israeli Defense Force in the eyes of Israeli youth.
“Breaking the Silence” attempts to bring awareness about the realities of the Israeli occupation of Palestine to the Israeli public and the wider world. The organization collects the testimonies of IDF soldiers who have served in the Occupied Territories, testimonies that often detail the everyday ground-level cruelty of the occupation. Pamela Nice’s new play, “It’s What We Do”, has recently given this mission a valuable assist. The play, which recently completed an award winning extended run at the D.C. Capital Fringe Festival, takes the voices from Breaking the Silence and puts them into the bodies of onstage actors.
The play opens with a disembodied voice that enters into an almost therapist-style dialogue with three IDF soldiers, Sarah, Avram, and Ilan. Events unfold as the soldiers share the images, memories, and emotions that cannot be suppressed. Actors recreate scenes at checkpoints, pointless and arbitrary humiliations. Sarah describes how Palestinians would travel into Israel to buy inexpensive goods, and then be forced to leave those goods by the side of the road when a security warning went out. Palestinians would re-enter their lands while wearing multiple layers of newly purchased clothing as they weren’t allowed to bring bags of goods.
The soldiers tell of the so-called “separation barrier,” or apartheid wall, and how carving its path required the destruction of near-ancient olive groves that had sustained farm families for generations. According to Ilan, the contractors sometimes abandoned parts of the path, for whatever technical reason, rendering the destruction completely senseless.
The tense and emotionally heavy movement of the play through the various dimensions of the occupation climaxes in the recreation of a raid on a Palestinian home. At the height of the action, the stage lights go black, while the small auditorium fills with the sobs of children. The abstraction of the conflict – leaders, political parties and settlement accords – falls away, leaving the audience with the wounds that leave indelible scars, the reality of personal inhumanity, and the lasting pain and resentment of ordinary people. Sarah, Avram, and Ilan likely function as agglomerations of different soldiers and voices, but the regret and the pain of memory affect them all.
“It’s What We Do” reminds the audience that we cannot dismiss a military occupation as a few simple stats in a research paper or brief headlines on a news crawl. As Sarah describes it in the play, occupation functions as a machine with the purpose of disruption, harassment and the eventual elimination of a people. Nice’s play succeeds in giving the daily reality of oppression stark form, and proves well deserving of the Best Drama Award it received at the conclusion of the festival.
July 14, 2017 by Kelly Whealan George
“It’s What We Do”: A Play about the Occupation (Capital Fringe review)
Nazi Germany, South African apartheid, any city USA circa Black Lives Matter, pre-civil rights era America, Batista regime in Cuba, Cochabamba in Bolivia, Syrian uprising, 1984, even Jews in Bethlehem during the time of Jesus. All these geopolitical comparisons and more can be made during this one play.
Back for a second run in Capital Fringe is It’s What We Do that portrays an aspect of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict getting minimal attention. Three Israeli soldiers answer questions from an unseen narrator and a supporting cast of four civilians. Written and directed by Pamela Nice, the three soldiers are actually composites of 10 actual soldiers and the dialogue is in their own words.
“Harass and disrupt lives” are their orders and the overarching theme that drives their activities while serving in the Israeli military.
The three actor-soldiers, one woman and two men (Caroline Lucas, Zeke Alton, Matthew Gibeson, respectively) are quite believable and human. While Lucas’s anguished facial expressions and dialogue are spot-on, her delivery is a bit unnatural and practiced. Alton and Gibeson’s portrayals of soldiers were filled with emotional roller coasters and were quite effective delivering the mental after-effects of the policies they enforced. The narrator (Dior Ashley Brown), has a soothing presence. The scenes transitioned smoothly. In only a few places did scene lead-ins seem forced.
The scenes themselves recreate various instances whereby the systematic harassment and disruption took place. Rules are arbitrary, inconsistent, and handed down from higher ranking officers to the soldiers forced to interact with Palestinians and to stop thinking as they did it. The supporting cast (Jamal Najjab, Kaelie James, Matt Stover, Kashvi Ramni, and Ojasvi Ramani) do a superb job of playing numerous characters that are the recipients of mean treatment while they are just trying to live their lives. In a number of instances, the cast used the audience as a prop – as a recipient of the anger of soldiers or settlers. It pulls the audience into the uncomfortable situation and is rather jarring.
Even though you can turn on a cable network and get an overdose of politics, this play stands out because of the similarities to any conflict where one group declares their superiority and systematically oppresses another. The ending comes rather abruptly without a nice tidy conclusion. But then, isn’t that the point? There is still no conclusion. Harass and disrupt lives – It’s what they do.
A Production About the West Bank Occupation Brings its Pro-Peace Message Back to the Stage
The play emerged from testimonies by Israeli soldiers who have served in the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem.
By AMY LYONS, JUL 6, 2017
Fifty years have passed since the 1967 Six-Day War, which marked the beginning of Israel’s occupation of East Jerusalem and the West Bank. The continuous feuding between Israelis and Palestinians has resulted in thousands of lives lost, given rise to Hamas, and failed to move Israelis and Palestinians toward a sustainable, peaceful solution. It’s a complicated war of borders, a literal bloody mess.
Despite decades of wars—or perhaps because of them—powerful pieces of art have come out of the region. For 17 years, the Voices of a Changing Middle East Festival, first presented by Theater J and now by Mosaic Theater Company of D.C., brought many significant plays to local audiences. This year’s Capital Fringe Festival includes another particularly emotional part of the canon, Pamela Nice’s It’s What We Do: A Play About the Occupation.
The play emerged from a presentation by Breaking The Silence, an organization that collects and publishes testimonies from Israeli soldiers who have served in the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem since 2000. Organizers curate text and mount public events to share the stories of Israeli soldiers with the goal of exposing audiences to the brutal and untenable realities of life in the occupied territories. Nice attended one such event at Busboys and Poets in 2013, which inspired her to write It’s What We Do.
“I was so taken by the courage of the soldiers from Breaking the Silence, most of whom were conscripted, talking about what they did and talking about what the occupation means,” Nice says. “They are not the policymakers. They are the boots-on-the-ground people.”
Her play centers around three Israel Defense Forces soldiers. As they are interviewed about the acts of violence and subjugation they committed against Palestinians, the soldiers express regret and, at times, agonizing guilt about enforcing an occupation that they morally oppose. Intermittent scenes dramatize the horror and supply a close-up view of the ramifications of the occupation. The play premiered at Capital Fringe in 2015, winning the Audience Award for Best Drama.
This year’s iteration, which Nice brought back to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the occupation, is largely unchanged, with the exception of several new cast members and some additional text from the Palestinian point of view. Nice gathered direct quotes from Palestinians when she visited the region in 2016 on an interfaith peace-building trip. She called the situation at checkpoints Kafkaesque—there was no way to know why and how, and for how long, Palestinians are detained.
Nice also spoke to many Israelis. “We went to Sderot, the city that receives most of the Hamas rockets from Gaza,” she says. “We talked to a woman there who started an NGO to build relationships with Gazans. She refused to accept that Palestinians had to be her enemy.”
The playwright has a history of using art to increase understanding between Americans and Arabs. Her 2003 documentary Letters from Cairo features interviews with Egyptian artists and intellectuals. She has lived in Morocco, where she taught theater of the oppressed techniques, which encourage artists to use theater to promote social change, to students who complained of sexual harassment by the police. During a stint in Egypt she taught a study-abroad course for Americans who wanted to learn about Egyptian life through the eyes of Egyptian artists. She has taught courses in theater, Arab film, and Arab literature at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota and been a film critic for Al Jadid, a review of Arab arts and literature. She is currently working on a film script about a Muslim scientist in the U.S. who is targeted when a vial of his newly developed bioterrorism agent goes missing.
“It’s based on a true story of a non-Muslim scientist whose life was ruined when his vial disappeared,” Nice says. “You can only imagine what would have happened if the scientist was Muslim.”
It’s meaningful, says Nice, to bring It’s What We Do back to Fringe this year, given the current political climate. “Some of the language coming out of the highest office in the land is encouraging the dehumanization of Muslims,” Nice says. “The U.S. gives over $3.2 billion in military aid each year to Israel, much of it to fund the occupation, and that amount will rise.”
One thing that remains constant from the 2015 production is the presence of Jamal Najjab. A Palestinian-American who made his acting debut in the original production, Najjab is returning to the stage in a play that is close to his heart.
After working as a reporter and photographer in the West Bank for three years, Najjab was beaten and jailed, after which he says he didn’t take photographs for many years. Since coming to the D.C. area, he’s become a fixture in the art scene’s conversation about the West Bank crisis. Ari Roth, founding artistic director of Mosaic Theater Company, has worked with Najjab on Mosaic’s Peace Café conversation for several years. In a show of artistic camaraderie, Nice and Roth cross-market and support each other artistically, and both artists have drawn from Breaking the Silence to develop and distribute anti-occupation, pro-peace art.
“We couldn’t believe any more in Breaking the Silence, and Nice’s play really respects the source material,” Roth says. “The material measures the cost of occupation. What Israeli soldiers are being asked to do is difficult and terrible. The price that is paid in order to maintain a security apparatus has a lasting and corrosive impact on the Israeli body politic, on the Israeli character and soul.”
Fringe audiences will go into the show knowing there is no peaceful solution yet to the Israel-Palestine problem, but a harmonious union of D.C. artists gives voice to the injustices in the region and calls for peace. Roth finds the local collaboration compelling. “Making art out of conflict and making something that is a beautiful human expression of pain and difficulty is important,” Roth says. “It breeds understanding and a whole different take on political strife.
DCMetroTheaterArts.com Review by John Stoltenberg
2015 Capital Fringe Review: ‘It’s What We Do: A Play About the Occupation’
As a medium for understanding what has been going on in the Israel-occupied territories, the art of theater can do something that other media cannot. Theater can narrate events and tell stories, of course; but it can also make the human emotions in dramatic encounters present and palpable. Theater can make feelings feel so real that we feel something akin to them too. As evidenced by a theater piece that opened last night, the resulting performance experience can be gripping. “It’s What We Do”: A Play About the Occupation is a powerful staging of a powerful script with a powerful moral meaning.
There was barely a sound in the sold-out opening night audience. There was nearly sustained pin-drop silence. Only one brief tragifarcical scene (an amusing bit about border-crossing bureacracy) got an audible response. All the rest of the time it was as if one could hear the audience listening, taking it all in, trying to process the unprocessable—in empathic response to the emotions being enacted and in stilled, chilled bewilderment at the inhumanity being depicted.
At a Busboys and Poets program in fall 2013, Playwright and Director Pamela Nice happened to hear a former Israeli Defense Forces solder speak out about the horrors of the Israeli occupation. That led her to discover an organization called Breaking the Silence, which has assembled a chorus of testimony about those horrors from other IDF service people. (Even a cursory glance at the group’s website offers a troubling look at the experience of soldiers whose consciences were military casualties.) Artfully, Nice has crafted excerpts from truth-telling about the 1967 occupation into a stage play featuring three Solders, composites representing an army of silence-breakers (compellingly played by Olivia Haller, Tariq Triano, and Keanu Ross-Cabrera), who are debriefed by an interviewer, an eerily uninflected offstage Voice (Dior Ashley Brown).
As the soldiers speak their verbatim testimony, their words now and then segue into short scenes, like tableaux vivants, which vividly demonstrate the solders’ horrific acts against Palestinians (who are played variously by a wonderful supporting ensemble: Moses Bernal, Sofia Pellegrino, Jamal Najjab, Xavier Goytia, and sisters Jaelyn and Izabella Cruz).
The cast has clearly been well-directed to communicate the truth of each emotional moment. Time and again, one could read on their faces and in their quavering voices whole chapters of distress where there was but a line of dialogue. And in the midst of the extensive combat choreography—when the Israeli soldiers routinely assaulted the Palestinians—cries of the heart could be heard with heartbreaking immediacy.
“Our mission was to disrupt and harrass people’s lives,” says one Soldier succinctly. And that is exactly what “It’s What We Do” puts on stage: Ransacking homes and blowing up houses (euphemized as “changes of address”). Bulldozing centuries-old orchards. Jewish-only roads that Arabs are forbidden to travel. Brutal checkpoint assaults. Denial of work permits for anyone whose distant relative ever so much as threw a stone at an Israeli (meaning that nearly no Palestinian can earn a livelihood). Doing whatever it takes to defend the Jewish settlers’ claimed authority to live on land that once was Arabs’. The catalog of indignities and atrocities that were these soldiers’ job to perform leaves them in an agony of inner conflict. They speak of being torn between the national loyalty of being born an Israeli and the awful recognition that that heritage now requires victimizing innocent Palestinian civilians. As one Soldier says, “The settlers are the closest to Jewish Nazis I’ve ever met.”
This is an extraordinary work of theater—disturbing in the most important sense that it provokes real-time reckoning with real-world morals and places the meaning of human emotions center stage. “It’s What We Do”: A Play About the Occupation is a play that one must think about and talk about after. But first and foremost, it must be seen.
Running Time: 45 minutes, with no intermission.
“It’s What We Do”: A Play About the Occupation plays through July 25, 2015, at Atlas Performing Arts Center: Lab II – 1333 H Street, NE, in Washington, DC. For a schedule of performances and to purchase tickets, go to their Capital Fringe page.
RATING: THE BEST OF THE 2015 CAPITAL FRINGE (5 stars)
© 2015 DCMetroTheaterArts. All Rights Reserved.
MDTheatreGuide.com Review by Andrew White, July 18, 2015
Fringe Review: “It’s What We Do”: A Play About the Occupation at Lab II, Atlas Performing Arts Center
Without question, one of the most compelling and controversial issues of our time is the Settler Movement in the West Bank, a region known throughout most of the world as the Occupied Territories but among the hard right in Israel itself as Judea and Samaria—their biblical names. A similar movement is slowly taking over East Jerusalem, once intended to be the capital of a projected Palestinian state.
We don’t see the maps, but if we did we’d realize that what has happened over the past 48 years, since the conclusion of the 1967 war, is the gradual dissolution of what was originally intended as a Palestinian homeland.
The impossibility of having a substantive conversation about the origins and ideology of the Settler Movement is painfully obvious to the Washington, D.C. theater community. Witness the dismissal of Ari Roth from Theatre J, a company that rose to national prominence under his leadership; with his dismissal a sizable part of the local Jewish community has said in no uncertain terms that the Settler Movement will not be discussed in the heart of DC’s Jewish community—at least not in public—ever again.
This in spite of the fact the Settler Movement has been controversial in Israel from its inception and has always generated heated debate here. Among my colleagues in Israel, the reputation of settlers is about as low as it gets; but thanks to the intimidation of a powerful few, reasonable people who are concerned about this issue have been beaten into the shadows.
As a corrective, the Washington Interfaith Alliance for Middle East Peace and the DC chapter of the Jewish Voice for Peace have joined forces to bring eyewitness testimony directly from the front lines of the Settler movement—“It’s What We Do”: A Play About the Occupation is an evening of verbatim testimony from Israeli soldiers about the disturbing things they witnessed and did in the occupied territories, on behalf of the settlers.
A dissident group known as Breaking the Silence is now beginning to reveal what life is like for so many young people in the Israeli armed forces; and although they clearly do not speak for everyone, their voices deserve to be heard and considered.
Given the backlash that has already occurred—when I attended this past week, hecklers tried to dominate the postshow discussion—why stage something this controversial? Why produce a play that gives American audiences such a negative view of the settlers? My own answer: consider that Israelis within Israel proper live in constant fear for their lives. Consider that the Settler Movement is arguably one of the main motivating factors behind the terrorist attacks that haunt them. Consider, too, that Palestinians have lived in fear for their lives and property because of the settlers as well. If we care about Israel, why can’t we follow Israel’s own example and talk about the Movement ourselves?
Assembling the script and working with a company of trained actors and local volunteers, Pamela Nice has created a brief, powerful side of the story from the Occupied Territories. To give audiences an idea of the scope of the issue, she has provided a series of maps (from BBC News), and each performance features a post-show discussion. The goal is not to brow-beat us into one way of thinking, but it is designed to force us to think more broadly, and deeply, about what is happening in the Holy Land. Olivia Haller, Tariq Triano and Keanu Ross-Cabrera give us a compelling glimpse of life on the front lines, soldiers who are forced to defend settlers throwing bricks at Palestinian schoolgirls, who have to clear and destroy Palestinian homes with only 15 minutes’ notice. For many in the Israeli armed forces this is just a job; for some, however, it is not what they signed up for, and they are now beginning to share their reservations about the Settler Movement and what it entails.
The format of the play is an interview, and the multi-talented Dior Ashley Brown—seated among the audience—provides The Voice, which questions the soldiers about what they have done. As Brown pointed out in a recent post-show discussion, the stories here have an eerie echo in what we see in the American press about police brutality. Whether it’s Baltimore, New York City or the West Bank, men and women in uniform are often placed in positions where they feel they must brutalize the local population; the names are different, but the stories are remarkably similar.
If your mind is already made up, one way or another, perhaps this is not the show for you. But if you genuinely care about the innocent victims on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, those who have been held hostage by Likud’s zealots and the anti-Semites of Hamas for decades, by all means come. Your voice and your compassion for both sides matter.
Advisory: Adult content
Running Time: One hour, with an additional post-show discussion.
“It’s What We Do”: A Play About the Occupation runs through July 25th 2015 at the Lab II Theater at the Atlas
Performing Arts Center, which is located at 1330 H St. NE, Washington, DC.