Could it have been you who ended up in evil? Voices from Israel is a dramatic reading based on testimonies from Israeli soldiers.

On the way to Det Vestnorske Teater (DVT), I passed the University Museum. The students in Bergen have been camping outside the rector's office for two months now. On their tables inside the tents there are many books and water bottles. We are in the middle of a genocide.

The discussion about Gaza has turned into a demonstration of hopelessness and anger. On Instagram, it's story after story: "all eyes on Rafah". Everything looks like it just happened overnight.

But it hasn't. The story is long. The terrible story from 2000-2010 will be read at DVT. The text that tells the story is called "Voices from Israel". It was written by Finn Iunker in 2016, based on the organization Breaking the Silence's collection of Israeli soldiers' testimonies. The events they describe took place in the occupied territories of Gaza and the West Bank in the period 2000-2010.

A human distance

The reading has free admission and is announced on Facebook. When I walked into the theater, the actors were already on stage. They are not wearing special costumes or makeup. Simple wash lights illuminate the stage.

The theater did not try to create prestige in its communication. There will be no myth. It is an intimate stage. The nearest seat is one meter from the actors. The greatest distance is no more than 7 meters. The seats are not in perfect rows. We had to reposition them before we sat down. I sat very close to the stage and could see the eyelashes move when the actors blinked. They are real.

There is a human distance. 

This also applies to the narrative. As a documentary theater, you know that the story comes from someone's own life. We share more compassion with our friends who have broken up with their girlfriends than with Romeo and Juliet, precisely because we know that our friends are people, not just a character. We know them personally. With the actors sitting in front of us reading the stories of the Israeli soldiers, we can see the soldiers as people. We can better understand perspectives that are often not told: 1. not all Israeli soldiers want to oppress, many of them are also victims. 2. the occupation was already in full swing 20 years ago.

It's touching when we hear that the soldiers also have families. That they are ashamed when they return home. That they dread it. That they can't do anything other than be in the military because of the law.

"Have you told your parents?"  


"Have you told anyone?"  


I feel a knot in my stomach. My friend sitting next to me was crying. Many audience members said after the reading that the play makes them feel that: "It could have been me. It could have been us."

A difficult acting job  

"I don't know the play that well. I didn't want to do it the wrong way," said actor Jonatan Filip after the reading. While playwright Finn had intended a line as a joke, Jonatan read it differently. 

That's the biggest challenge with the play: The reading doesn't have the same rehearsal process as a theater production. The actors don't have all the lines in their bodies yet.

On the one hand, it's very difficult to follow. Because of the form of the reading, the actors are looking at the script instead of at us or at each other. Thus, part of the communication is blocked. A very important part. 

An invitation to the theater is to think about where else they can play. This is not a traditional drama with sets and scenography. Nor do they have very complicated lighting or sound. Doesn't it make more sense to play in a room with natural light? Or maybe on a balcony? On the stairs? Is the theater stage a conscious choice or is it just theater habit?

But there is also an advantage to this style of acting. When the actors read, they hardly act at all. There is no dramatic body movement, nor big changes in their voice. It's more convincing that the stories are true. Because no soldiers in real life are going to be actors of their old stories. It's more real, it's more moving.

When their heads are bent down over the text it also looks like they actually regret it. The actors said that they didn't want to play the role of soldiers as very violent. For the soldiers, all brutality was part of the 'job'. To understand them better, they had to be played without our emotional reaction to the cruelty. Because of this, a bowed head becomes meaningful as a gesture of regret. 

One thing should be changed for the style to work better: the stuttering in the text should be removed. When the actors read from the script, the stuttering doesn't sound like an artistic choice, but like bad work by the actors. It's almost unfair to the actors. 

A proper conversation

The play was first published as a book in 2016. In 2018, it was produced as a radio play on NRK.

I'm grateful that there were actors reading with us in the same physical space.

A lot of 'conversations' in the cultural field can actually be called speeches. Many of them do not tolerate comments or stories from the audience. It was not the same at DVT today. We talked to each other.

People talked about how they felt after the reading, in the situation. One audience member shared her experience from the Hate Conference in Oslo many years ago with Gro Harlem Brundtland running to the toilet after Israeli and Palestinian speeches and having to splash water on her face to calm down. People referred to things others had said earlier when it was their turn. The leader of the conversation let everyone speak. "I was so nervous when someone spoke for quite a long time. I'm used to them being interrupted.

A radio play, while better at being played over and over again, doesn't have the same power and magic as theater to create a conversation. There's also a reason why I'm moved: tonight we all know we're just people. And it may well be each one of us who ended in evil. That's why we need to talk and talk again. Until peace comes.

All photos: Yimin Dong, courtesy of the show

Røyster frå Israel/ Voices from Israel

by Finn Iunker

The West Norwegian Theater

Thursday, May 30 at 19:30

Actors: Reidun Melvær Berge, Jonatan Filip

The conversation is hosted and moderated by Aslak Moe, dramaturge at DVT