Give Peace a chance Voices From Is­rael and Pales­tine

Pasatiempo - - CONTENTS - Jen­nifer Levin I The New Mex­i­can

Ev­ery sum­mer, 16 girls travel from Is­rael and Pales­tine to Santa Fe in an ef­fort to sow seeds of peace be­tween their coun­tries. They spend three weeks telling one an­other their sto­ries and get­ting to know their the­o­ret­i­cal en­e­mies as flesh-and-bone hu­man beings. “Is­rael and Pales­tine are about the size of New Jer­sey, but the chil­dren don’t grow up to­gether,” said Dot­tie Indyke, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor for Cre­ativ­ity for Peace, the non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion that runs the sum­mer camp. “They don’t go to school to­gether. Their na­tive lan­guages are not the same. All they know is what they read or what they hear from their par­ents, and most of it is de­mo­niz­ing: ‘Those peo­ple want to kill you.’ ”

The fear is real. Peo­ple on both sides of the con­flict are ter­ror­ized ev­ery day, and many of them die as a re­sult. Chil­dren who are just try­ing to grow up are caught in the mid­dle of a decades-old con­flict they have no hope of solv­ing if they can­not even talk to the peo­ple they per­ceive as en­e­mies. The stance taken by Cre­ativ­ity for Peace is that an enemy is a per­son whose story you haven’t heard, so the or­ga­ni­za­tion em­pha­sizes per­sonal nar­ra­tives as a way for the campers to get to know one an­other. They find out how much they have in com­mon sim­ply as teenagers liv­ing in the same re­gion, and they find out that their side isn’t the only side that suf­fers.

“A lot of time, they don’t know the other side of the story,” Indyke said. “A Pales­tinian girl says the Is­raeli army came into her house and took her fam­ily’s stuff, or they shot her fa­ther, and an Is­raeli girl says, ‘But the army doesn’t do that.’ They don’t know. This is the be­gin­ning of un­der­stand­ing what’s go­ing on and hav­ing com­pas­sion for the other side. You feel pain for them, and then you can never stereo­type a whole group of peo­ple in the same way again.”

The or­ga­ni­za­tion takes no po­lit­i­cal po­si­tion on the con­flict, and it does not ask the girls to change theirs. They are only ex­pected to lis­ten to one an­other and treat one an­other with re­spect. But find­ing com­mon ground in neu­tral ter­ri­tory is one thing. The real test of the girls’ peace-making skills comes when they re­turn home changed, yet war rages on. Over the years, for­mer campers have sent jour­nals back to Cre­ativ­ity for Peace that chron­i­cle sin­gle days in their lives, which are of­ten in­formed by the chaos of their el­ders and po­lit­i­cal lead­ers. The jour­nals were de­vel­oped into a se­ries of mono­logues that have been per­formed by adult ac­tors for small, pri­vate au­di­ences, and now they’ve be­come the ba­sis for Voices From

Is­rael and Pales­tine, a col­lab­o­ra­tive theater pro­duc­tion di­rected by Jonah Winn-Lenet­sky. It opens at Ware­house 21 on Fri­day, Nov. 20.

Writer Sara Gmit­ter worked with the young cast from New Mex­ico School for the Arts and Santa Fe Univer­sity of Art and De­sign to gen­er­ate re­sponses to the jour­nals via prompts about the themes, in­clud­ing how border con­flicts and violence have af­fected their lives as well. Those re­sponses were then de­vel­oped into scenes and wo­ven among the vi­gnettes from Pales­tine and Is­rael. The pro­duc­tion will be filmed, and Cre­ativ­ity for Peace aims to pack­age it for use in school curriculum about the Mid­dle East.

One of the strong­est con­nec­tions be­tween young peo­ple in the United States and young peo­ple in

Is­rael and Pales­tine comes dur­ing a scene called “Ra­dio Paint­ing,” in which a boy strug­gles to make art while lis­ten­ing to con­flict­ing and con­tra­dic­tory news re­ports. Hate piles on con­fu­sion un­til it’s clear how dif­fi­cult it must be for any young peo­ple to understand con­flicts that started be­fore they were born. Why do peo­ple need to hate each other so much? How can you know who is right or which side de­serves your loy­alty? What role does history play, and what is the truth? Un­doubt­edly there are a num­ber of truths, the voices in this play as­sert. Par­al­lels are drawn be­tween the is­sues in the Mid­dle East and the “oth­er­ing” that’s oc­cur­ring in Amer­i­can pres­i­den­tial pol­i­tics, in which un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants and the work­ing poor are made by some into scape­goats for the coun­try’s mas­sive in­come in­equal­ity. Many Amer­i­can teenagers have the lux­ury of tun­ing out the voices when it gets to be too much. There hasn’t been a draft in the United States in nearly two gen­er­a­tions, so fight­ing for the Amer­i­can way of life is vol­un­tary. In Is­rael, all teenagers, male and fe­male, are con­scripted af­ter high school and must spend two years in the mil­i­tary. Many sol­diers do not want to hurt Pales­tini­ans and have grave mis­giv­ings about their ser­vice.

The stag­ing of Voices is ba­sic black box and in­cludes el­e­ments of move­ment-based theater and im­pro­vi­sa­tion. “It’s more of a project than a play,” Winn-Lenet­sky said. “The em­pha­sis is on col­lab­o­ra­tion and process and cre­at­ing a di­a­logue with the au­di­ence.”

Talks with the cre­ators of Voices, as well as Cre­ativ­ity for Peace staff, are held im­me­di­ately af­ter both pro­duc­tions. Winn-Lenet­sky hopes au­di­ences will make per­sonal con­nec­tions to the ma­te­rial and end their evenings with a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of what it’s like to live within the Mid­dle East con­flict. Per­haps the con­text of the­atri­cally pre­sented per­sonal nar­ra­tive helps au­di­ences reach this place. Of­ten, Indyke ex­plained, adult au­di­ences have a harder time talk­ing peace­fully about the is­sue than teenagers. She has wit­nessed this phe­nom­e­non count­less times dur­ing pre­sen­ta­tions by the or­ga­ni­za­tion with for­mer campers, called Young Lead­ers, who give talks in the U.S. and work at home to foster con­nec­tion be­tween the pop­u­la­tions. Though the pre­sen­ta­tions are al­ways the same, there are al­ways ac­cu­sa­tions of bias. “It’s so po­lar­iz­ing. The lens through which peo­ple see this is so in­tense,” she said. “I’ve had peo­ple trash me, trash our girls. If they as­sume go­ing in that you’re pro the other side, it al­most doesn’t mat­ter what you say. Their hair stands on end, they’re so up­set.”

There is year-round pro­gram­ming for campers once they leave Santa Fe, and so­cial me­dia al­lows the girls to keep in touch even though there are re­stric­tions on their abil­ity to travel freely, es­pe­cially for the Pales­tinian girls. Many ar­eas or events are dan­ger­ous, but they are not for­bid­den to have con­tact with the other side. They can chat on­line and make plans to meet. So­cial me­dia also al­lows them to see how many peo­ple find it easy and even plea­sur­able to de­hu­man­ize the other side. In

Voices, a Pales­tinian camper named Shaden is look­ing at the com­ments be­low a Face­book post of an Is­raeli news story about the bomb­ing of a bus in which many chil­dren died. “Chill out guys,” says one com­menter. “They’re just Pales­tinian chil­dren.” In the ver­nac­u­lar of so­cial me­dia, the com­ment re­ceives 22 likes.

“I won­dered how teens my age could talk in such a prej­u­diced way,” Shaden says. “All that time I had so many rea­sons to hate, to blame, and to take re­venge. How­ever, I re­mem­bered my fa­ther say­ing that rage should be re­leased in a pos­i­tive way, be­cause oth­er­wise it will lead to nowhere but worse places. He taught me to treat oth­ers ac­cord­ing to who I am and not who they are. Con­se­quently I con­verted my rage to an urge to make a dif­fer­ence.”

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