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Israeli Bishop Protests Play Based on Account in Genesis

July 24, 1998
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The tensions in the Middle East surfaced at a London- based theatrical production this week when the Anglican bishop of Jerusalem stormed out of a play by a Christian drama group based on the theme of reconciliation.

Riah Abu el-Assal walked out of the play “Wrestling With Angels” and threatened to return home to protest the supposed political references in the production, which had been specially written by the Riding Lights Theater Company.

Assal was among an audience of 800 Anglican bishops from around the world who have gathered in London for the church’s once-in-a-decade Lambeth Conference.

The play was based on the account in Genesis of Jacob’s struggle with an angel, which resulted in God renaming him Israel. What riled Assal was the depiction of a scene from Ezekiel where two sticks, representing the biblical kingdoms of Israel and Judah, were joined together with references to Judea and Samaria.

“The least I can say about this is that I was greatly disturbed,” Assal said later. “If it was done intentionally, it was a catastrophe. Judah in political terms stands for the West Bank, the occupied West Bank.”

He said the producers should have been “more sensitive to the way people understand the presentation. We Palestinians have learnt the art of burying our dead and starting again.”

Assal withdrew his threat to return home when the Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, offered him an apology and prayed with him to calm him down.

Carey said the episode demonstrated that “we cannot interpret the Bible in a vacuum.” Assal, he continued, was a bishop of a Christian minority “steadily decreasing under the pressures in Israel.”

“I can understand him feeling that the drama did not express the pain of Palestinian Christians. He wanted to share that with me. I was able to listen to him and reassure him that there was nothing intentional in that. He felt it was deliberately done.”

Assal, an Israeli citizen, once ran for the Knesset as a candidate on the Progressive List for Peace, a predominantly Arab party that was active in the 1980s.

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