Actor and director Mohammad Bakri has been named the new manager of Al-Saraya Theater, part of the Arab-Hebrew Theater of Jaffa. Bakri, who succeeds Adiv Jahshan, was chosen by a majority of the board of directors and is due to assume his new position in the next few days.
"I see it as a great honor and responsibility to manage the theater and I'm very happy to have been chosen," Bakri said during the first interview since he was named to the job. The theater veteran added that there were few good professional theaters in the Arab sector, and he saw his new position as a chance to work for the good of both the Jewish and Arab sectors.
- Jaffa: Look at them, see us
Bakri noted that the Jaffa theater was a "symbolic place" that served as a home to both Arab and Jewish theater. "Symbols can't stay empty," Bakri said, adding that he hoped to increase cooperation and had specified that every Arabic-language play produced include Hebrew translation.
The 59-year-old actor was born and still lives in the Galilee village of Bana. After starting his new job, he intends to split his time between Jaffa and the North. "I’m not afraid of hard work; a little change is a good thing," he said.
Bakri appears in the theater's Voltaire cabaret. (Photo: Merav Yudilovitch)
Bakri is considered a major figure in Israeli theater and film. After studying theater at Tel Aviv University, he joined Habima and went on to play leading roles. He also appeared with Al-Kasaba Theater in Jerusalem and Haifa's Al-Midan Theater. His screen career has been no less successful, with roles in films that have been enthusiastically received in Israel and abroad.
However, he has also been involved in controversy. Bakri produced "Jenin, Jenin," supposedly based on battles in Jenin during Operation Defensive Shield. The film, which was harshly criticized as inaccurate and biased by soldiers who fought in Jenin, was banned from commercial distribution in Israel and initially banned from being shown on cable television, although the High Court of Justice reversed that decision in 2003.
An anti-Bakri protest at the Tzavta Theater. (Photo: Ofer Amram)
Five IDF reservists who fought in Jenin also took Bakri to court over the film, alleging libel. After six years, the Supreme Court dismissed their case.
The media attention Bakri garnered as a result of "Jenin, Jenin" caused some of Israel's repertory theaters to steer clear of working with him. However, Saraya is apparently unconcerned with the possible fallout.
Administrative Manager Bernard Tanus told Ynet that the appointment was "professional, and intended to bring the theater forward and make Al-Saraya a cultural center not only for Jaffa, but for the residents of Lod, Ramle, and the entire Arab sector."
"Mohammad Bakri is a very influential figure in the cultural scene and we have no doubt that the theater will be blessed to have his creativity and his ideas," Tanus added.
Yaakov Agmon, general director of the Hebrew Theater of Jaffa and director of the joint facility, said that since the two groups operated independently, he had not been a party to the decision, but welcomed Bakri to the job. "The atmosphere is becoming more extreme and it's not easy to hold on. But we aren't here for Hebrew or Arabic, but for theater," he said.