More from Alisa Solomon and Tony Kushner on Churchill’s “Seven Jewish Children: A Play for Gaza”

With its title, its subject matter, its distillation of that subject matter, of a long, tangled, bloody and bitter history down to a few simple strokes, it’s hardly surprising that Churchill’s play has elicited outrage. The hostile reaction to Seven Jewish Children has been amplified by the context of a frightening wave of anti-Semitism in Britain and elsewhere, and exacerbated by the tendency to misread a multivocal, dialectical drama as a single-voiced political tract.

Even among those who are anguished and appalled at the catastrophe in Gaza and repulsed by the invective being hurled at Churchill, some are likely to be startled, if not to say troubled, by the play’s blunt assertion that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a Jewish-Palestinian conflict. Even those familiar enough with Churchill’s work to recognize in Seven Jewish Children another installment in her recent move toward poetic compression–and Beckett proved how profound dramatic minimalism can be–may be taken aback by the play’s brevity, by the playwright’s implicit rejection of the idea that the situation in the Middle East is too complicated, too impacted, too needful of historical exegesis and balancing points of view to be responsibly explored at anything other than great length.

There are passages, particularly in an ugly monologue near the play’s conclusion, that are terribly painful to experience, especially for Jews.

It’s difficult to imagine that the author didn’t intend to court outrage, whether or not she anticipated its ferocity. This imputes nothing to Churchill of the mischievous or sensationalistic. Her play’s political ambitions are at least as important as its aesthetic ambitions. Moreover, it would be disingenuous and, in a sense, a betrayal of Seven Jewish Children to insist upon a calm, quiet reading or hearing free from the voluble passions it has enflamed. The fury that rises up around this conflict, and the cowed silence that is that fury’s inevitable concomitant, are simultaneously the object and subject of the play. It’s an incitement to speech and an examination of silence; in its content and through its inevitably controversial reception, it describes what can and cannot be said.