The playwright David Hare, whose 1999 one-man show Via Dolorosa considered life in Israel and the West Bank, separately debuted two new monologues in London earlier this year: Berlin, a meditation on the German capital twenty years after its wall came down, and Wall, about the barrier going up between Israel and the Palestinian territories. He’ll perform them together for the first time in five performances at the Public Theater this month. He spoke to Vulture from London about what separates the two walls, performing for many different nationalities, and emotionally conflicted Israelis.
You told the Evening Standard that you’re pairing Berlin and Wall because it seemed like a cute idea. I suspect your decision wasn’t quite that glib.
It’s just the comparison is so extraordinary. One wall went up to keep people in, the other one is being put up to keep people out. In both cases these walls are philosophical statements as well as security measures. The wall that is going up now is three different things. It’s a security measure, yes. It’s also potentially a border. And thirdly, [Yitzhak] Rabin, who is the first person who ever thought of the wall, said we have to decide on separation as a philosophy. The experiment of trying to make Israel a country like any other is over. Now we’re gonna make ourselves a separate place. Because it’s all three things, it’s fantastically complicated, and that obviously seems like a very rich thing to be writing about.
Is the pairing designed to imply that it's a successor to the Berlin Wall?
No, absolutely not. I don’t say that. Though, obviously, the Palestinians do spray it with poster paint, and with slogans. And there is art going up on the Israel/Palestine wall, which is indeed to remind any visitor of the analogy. The Palestinians want to make that analogy, obviously. I don’t make that analogy.
You say the Berlin Wall was built to keep people in, whereas the Israeli wall is to keep people out. Is that sort of a difference without a distinction?
No, I think it is completely different. There’s absolutely no doubt that the Berlin Wall went up because without it, people would have been escaping to the West. However, I do think that having put up the wall in the Middle East, it is going to be fantastically difficult to take down. And it has been put up and nobody comments on it. And I think the extraordinary absence of comments on it is something quite bizarre. It has so affected people’s lives, and yet so little is written or said about it.
Why do you think that is?
I have absolutely no idea. I suppose, people’s minds have been on the siege of Gaza, originally, and then the invasion of Gaza. But meanwhile, this wall has gone up and is now going to have to be dealt with by both sides, both philosophically and diplomatically. And it’s a tremendously big — this wall, as I point out in the piece, cost $2 billion. It’s a massive physical fact. And it isn’t until you see that physical fact that you realize how radical it is. But I don’t believe that the people who put it up have begun to think about what the implications of it really are.
You do make the interesting point that, although Israelis themselves are really emotionally conflicted about it, more than 80 percent of the population supports it, which is clearly a huge number —
So, how is it that Israelis simultaneously feel bad about it and yet support it?
The piece does not take a stand on one side or another, and as I point out, I’m not partisan. The thing I’m trying to do in the play is refresh the rhetoric, as I did in Via Dolorosa. Via Dolorosa was listened to by both sides, and in the same way, here in London what’s been completely wonderful is both sides have listened to me [in Wall and Berlin]. The theater has been full of both Israelis who’ve visited, and Arabs who have visited. And that’s because it’s not in the tired oppositional rhetoric, which doesn’t get anybody anywhere, you know?
Do you think you’ll draw as balanced an audience in New York?
No. I know from Via Dolorosa that unfortunately the Arab community in New York does not go to the theater. It’s not part of the culture. Whereas here in London, just through geographical proximity — I’m not saying it’s a more cosmopolitan city than New York, but in many ways it’s a differently cosmopolitan city. There was an extraordinary night with Via Dolorosa when I went outside the London stage door and there were fourteen different nationalities waiting to talk to me outside.