Imago’s next project, the workshop and public reading of The Peace Maker by Natasha Greenblatt, is right around the corner and the momentum towards the presentation has started building. The process of exploring a script is exciting and I’m thrilled to be working for a theatre company that develops and promotes works with a female voice, like The Peace Maker.
This project touches on loaded subject matter and makes an effort to find the humanity wrapped up and tangled in political turmoil. The Peace Maker is the story of Sophie, a young Canadian Jewish woman who travels through Israel and Palestine and struggles to understand this complex conflict through her friendships with an Israeli soldier and a young Palestinian girl. Like Sophie, I’m trying to find my way through this incredibly complex conflict. I’m trying to learn without my biases getting in the way. I am trying to develop an opinion while wondering if I, someone with very little personal connection to the issue, even have the right to an opinion. I have a feeling that I’m sitting in a black and white world view of the conflict, when really, this conflict is all about the grey.
I mentioned this blog post project to a Canadian friend a few days ago and the conversation that ensued left me feeling calmer about my future words. During my friend’s recent time in Europe, she met many Israeli students, one of whom was a bundle of contradictions, at least to her outsider’s eye. This student lived on a new settlement in Israel, which means a settlement that pushes into dwindling Palestinian land. However, the student also made an effort to buy groceries in Palestinian shops and put her Palestinian friends into the trunk of her car to bring them into Israel to party. To top it off, the student described herself as apolitical. From where I stand, I wonder how someone cannot be politicized when living on land that has been changing hands like a foot-ball since 1250 B.C…
To understand, I needed some context. And so, I offer up a bit of the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. For more detailed information, I recommend the timeline laid out by the BBC. (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/shared/spl/hi/middle_east/03/v3_ip_timeline/html/).
In 1250 B.C., the land now known as Israel, Gaza and the West Bank was conquered by Israelites. The land switched hands many times, but in 63 B.C., became the Roman province of Palestine. Following this, Arab Muslims took over and remained in control until the fall of the Ottoman Empire in 1908. Around this same time, and stimulated by growing anti-Semitic sentiments in Europe, a Zionist Congress (Zion is often synonymous for Jerusalem) met to discuss the creation of an independent Jewish state in the ancient land of the Israelites. Between 1903 and 1914, 65,000 Jews arrived in the land of the fallen Ottoman Empire, now known as Israel. Emigration increased during the Holocaust followed by growing turmoil between Jews and Palestinians over the ownership of the land. An accord between the two people has yet to be reached and is made more complicated by international vested interests in the area. Meanwhile, Palestinians have been squeezed into small segments of the land they once inhabited while Israeli boundaries continue to spread.
As my friend shared stories of this Israeli student’s experience, my understanding of the history, which up until this point had been neatly cut into historical events, became more human. I was reminded that this land is home to many people, of varied backgrounds, who cope with the conflict in many different ways. This got me thinking about my homeland, Venezuela, where I lived until I was 17.
When I was home in Venezuela over the holidays, I saw what I expected and feared. The country is in a steep decline, and due to an insanely corrupt and megalomaniacal government, is starting to fester from the inside out. This saddens me more than I can express, but what is worse is the way that these conditions no longer seem strange to the people who live there. People are forced to adapt and live life normally. They have gotten used to waiting in 3 hours lines for toilet paper, milk and eggs (when they’re available). They have gotten used to not going out at night for security reasons and find the growing death toll (pegging Venezuela as one of the top 3 most dangerous countries in the world) something you just have to shrug off.
Humans are resilient and we adapt. We get used to our surroundings simply because we have to: otherwise, we would no doubt go mad. I think this might apply to the situation in Israel and Palestine as well – at some point you have to let politics fade away into the daily soundscape and live life moment to moment, person to person.
I believe Natasha has done just that with The Peace Maker: focused on the people.
The outsider can misunderstand a civilian’s lack of aggressive engagement in their political surroundings as surrender. But is it? Or is it simply that politics are such an integral, consistent part of daily life that one is forced to prioritize other things? Is this something possible for a stranger to understand?
Bravo to Natasha for opening up the dialogue and giving us a chance to chew on the human aspects of this conflict.