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Shaken Hopes & Stirred Visions?
It is true that summer is often referred to as the silly season when activities are quite sluggish!...

4 August   |   2002   |   Subject  Middle East & North Africa (MENA)

... However, I must admit that last week was pretty much another brisk summery one for me in terms of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict!

To start the week, I went to the Duchess Theatre to see a play written and performed by David Hare. It was entitled ‘Via Dolorosa’ and offered an account of Hare’s enlightening trip to Israel and the Palestinian territories in1997 . The play re-created his encounters with thirty-three men and women from different backgrounds who held widely dissimilar political and religious viewpoints on the conflict between Arab and Jew. During ninety minutes of an incisive monologue, David Hare painted a sketch of the inner tensions, inequities and contradictions bred in that small but self-possessive land. And at the end of the performance, though, I felt that David Hare was left questioning his own values as searchingly as the powerful, deep and at times violent beliefs of the people he had met there.

Later in the same week, I went to the Young Vic to see the much-acclaimed ‘Alive from Palestine’. This wrenching and potent play consisted of Palestinian stories under Israeli occupation. They were performed by different actors in a series of monologues that drew from interviews with ordinary Palestinians living under conflict. They were stirring, poignant and at times quite funny stories, but billowing through them all was a sense of bewildered horror and rage. There was almost a complicit resignation that the violence had become far too ‘normal’ for many people.

Whilst David Hare’s ‘Via Dolorosa’ was the accurate but understated view of an outsider who talked to all sides in this conflict, ‘Palestine Alive’ was presented by Kasaba Theatre Company from Ramallah [in the West Bank] and represented a dramatic report from the inside. So impressive and engrossing were both plays that they had received huge plaudits. The New York Magazine had written, ‘I could quote forever from this Via Dolorosa whose every other line is quotable’. Along the same vein at least, the Independent had praised Alive from Palestine as ‘the most life-changing experience in drama this year.’ The Guardian had added, ‘How often do you see a piece of necessary theatre? These stories fall precisely into that category. Under the satire of the show, there is fierce anger and sadness.’

However, despite the vivid and high-octane productions, let alone the seamless acting and black humour, I emerged with a heavy heart and carried with me a final impression of sombre death. Perhaps that was also the strength of both plays, since they typified to me an Israeli-Palestinian conflict so morbid in its mundane realities and yet so mundane in its morbidity too that it has now come to accept death, violence and injustice with frightening equanimity.

That sense of morbidity struck me again this week as I was having a conversation with an Israeli teacher. She had just been to Turkey alongside eighty other Israeli and Palestinian teachers to participate in a Peace Education Programme workshop organised by an Israeli-Palestinian co-institute [IPCRI] that seeks to create a bottom-up peace process between the two feuding sides. The teachers had just completed their programme for the day and were having dinner when they were informed that a bomb had exploded at the cafeteria of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. The terrorist attack had claimed the lives of seven students. Faced with this latest recycled tragedy, the teachers were forced to cope together with their grief and spent time consoling or encouraging each other.

Alas, it seems to me that humanity as a function of sanctity has lost all veneer of decency! If anything, Via Dolorosa confirmed to me the self-destructive inanity of the positions held by those who cannot see beyond their noses and who are so involved in their own today that they cannot even perceive the tomorrow of others. Indeed, talking to those men and women must have shown to David Hare the absurd intransigence that has been inculcated into peoples’ minds and hearts. Even the souls have become bereft of hope or vision. Equally, Alive from Palestine was a vibrant depiction of the way men and women were being traumatised in Israel and Palestine, and how the thin line distinguishing victim from prey becomes lost in the egregious environment of war, injustice and cruelty. Today, the younger generations are being coerced willy-nilly into lives of servility and servitude to the political masters of doom and gloom.

But the two plays, let alone the IPCRI peace programme, also fingered the only way forward! The solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is as clear to spot as it is easy to implement on the ground. Land for peace, or justice for security, were the solutions back in1967 , and they still remain the same today after thirty-five sad years of bitter and murderous conflict. The re-packaging and labels might have altered, but the issues - settlements, refugees, Jerusalem, security, resources, borders, terror - have stubbornly remained the same! Most politicians know the answer, but refuse to overstep their mantras to acknowledge the truth! So two peoples are sadly sacrificed for the political designs of the few! If this does not stop, the latent prophecies of both plays will become even more biting and pungent.

Is it not high time to shake some hope, and stir some vision, into peoples’ minds and hearts? Is it not?

© Dr Harry Hagopian   |   2002   |   4 August


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