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B.C. theatre cancels Israel/Palestine play after pushback, vandalism

Pro-Palestine group protested Victoria’s Belfry Theatre over The Runner
Protesters at a recent meeting to discuss the play The Runner being scheduled for the Belfry Theatre in Victoria. (Screengrab/Facebook)

Victoria’s Belfry Theatre is being criticized for cancelling a play that produced protests and an act of vandalism to its building.

The Belfry announced on Tuesday (Jan. 2) that it will not be presenting The Runner.

“The Belfry Theatre presents contemporary work, with ideas that often generate dialogue. That is why, a year ago, we decided to bring the much-acclaimed play, The Runner, to Victoria. However, we believe that presenting The Runner at this particular time does not ensure the well-being of all segments of our community,” said a statement.

“Given the current conflict in the Middle East, this is not the time for a play which may further tensions among our community. We will therefore not be presenting The Runner during the 2024 SPARK Festival. This has not been an easy decision, and we are grateful to our community for sharing various perspectives which added to our understanding.”

The play at the centre of the controversy is The Runner, written by Christopher Morris and based on a true story of a moral dilemma faced by an Orthodox-Jewish man who works with Z.A.K.A, a volunteer emergency response that gathers body parts to be returned to families. He decides to save the life of a Palestinian girl who is blamed for the murder of an Israeli soldier, and the play explores the outcome of that decision.

Ian Ward, a councillor in the Victoria suburb of Colwood, was furious at the announcement.

“Shameful capitulation to misguided anti-Semitic fools,” Ward posted on X, formerly Twitter.

Duelling petitions were set up online and on Dec. 22, protesters expressed anger over The Runner being scheduled by the Belfry. Someone then spraypainted “Free Palestine” on the outside of the theatre.

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A petition for the Belfry to remove the play from the 2024 lineup garnered more than 1,100 signatures as of Dec. 29, and describes the theatre’s hosting of the play as “unacceptable.”

“It is shocking to see the Belfry decide to host The Runner, a story of Israeli settlers in a dehumanizing exercise of whether Palestinian and Arab life is of value. We are currently witness to the ongoing genocide in Palestine that has killed 20,000-plus people, including 7,800-plus children, and we struggle to understand why the Belfry would choose to centre the voices of the oppressors instead of the oppressed,” the petition reads.

A counter-petition created by Jonathan Gustin has reached over 1,700 signatures.

“Our hearts break for the suffering of both the Israeli and Palestinian people, and we dispute the over-simplified narrative in the cancellation petition that the Israelis are oppressors and the Palestinians are the oppressed,” the counter-petition reads. “Surely, Hamas’ role is not insignificant? But we do not need to resolve the Middle East war in order to see the value of The Runner as a work intended to bridge rather than break.”

- With additional reporting by Sam Duerksen

Chris Campbell

About the Author: Chris Campbell

I joined the Victoria News hub as an editor in 2023, bringing with me over 30 years of experience from community newspapers in Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley
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