It was at the climax of our Israeli-Palestinian seminar: in the heart of the debates, the disagreements, the long nights of conversation, the long days of inhaling and exhaling. The evening before that moment, Alma Dzinic-Trutovic gave a lecture on the conflict in the countries of the former Yugoslavia and on the work of Vacation from War there. After the lecture, the Palestinian facilitator of the group and me had a conversation till late at night. A conversation full of guilt, grief and fear. The next day, in the middle of another heated conversation full of tears, we went into the break – and suddenly we hugged each other. Him and me. A long hug. Just like that, in the yard of the academy. The Palestinian facilitator, my partner in the facilitation, hugged me, the Israeli, tightly. And I hugged him. Suddenly, thousands of miles from home, I realized how huge the conflict between our peoples is. How much we need this hug. The night before, I marveled at the stories from Yugoslavia – and in that moment of embrace I suddenly understood where I live. Suddenly, I realized the enormous gulf that was bridged by the embrace between us. A bit like the gulf I had heard about yesterday, between the Serbs and the Croats. Suddenly, from a distance, I understood in what deep hole our peoples are. We held each other for a long time. I also understood how significant it is what we do here. Now. How much hatred is present day by day in our countries – and how much this hug is not self-evident: for a single moment in my life, I felt in the center of the world.
Where did I get the courage to lead our group of Palestinians and Israelis from Tel-Aviv, Jaffo and Nablus? I don’t know. I did not have much experience in moderating such groups before the seminar. But I’ve had a lot of experience in directing various theater groups: in the past, I have worked with Jews and Palestinians living within the state of Israel, with “vulnerable youth,” with professional and amateur actors. But it was always just about acting. Without further discourse. That’s what I was capable of, that is how I know to communicate. I think that this partnership between me and the Palestinian facilitator, we are both actors – has led to such a special connection between us. But I was very surprised to discover what a powerful instrument theater is – even when the fear and hostility of the “Other” is so big that sometimes there are no words.
I was surprised and moved to the depths of my soul when the participants of the seminar, at the age of 19-21 years, performed theatrical scenes, without words and without preparation. Without saying a word, they showed the shots, the dead, the horror of life, the bloodthirsty media. And the human, thirsty after a hug, for love, for communication. In spite of everything. One of the Israeli participants took an incomparably bold step as she got up to take the hand of a silent Palestinian participant and invited her to walk around, hand in hand on the bloody floor, full of corpses – the participants on stage (spontaneously) performed. The Palestinian agreed. It was a journey of compassion, a true partnership between young women.
On another occasion, a Palestinian participant went on stage and started a monologue: “Doctor,” he said, “I want to tell you why we all say the things we say in the seminar. We are sick, doctor “. “We are sick,” he said – and began to tell the “Doctor” in detail his experiences from the war days, when he was eight years old and the Israeli army invaded his village. “This is the first time I have ever told these things,” said the Palestinian participant to the Doctor.
And me? In both cases I sat at the sideline – silent in the face of the power of this instrument in my hands, the theater. It was a kind of psychodrama, I told myself – drama therapy. Only that on the “patients sofa” not only individuals sat. My feeling was that there were two nations.
We continue our work from Israel and Palestine, but here it is much harder to meet. There are restrictions on freedom of movement and Skype makes it harder to make a real connection.
The passage of time carries within it hope (and we are working on it) to change the situation – but it also recalls discrepancies and anxiety, sometimes existential anxiety. I remember tree climbing – where you took us as part of the seminar. For several days, the situation between me and one of the Palestinian participants was very tense. I was angry with him and he was mad at me. He was afraid of me and I was afraid of him. And then, out of nowhere, he suggested that I should climb with him up a tall tree and jump into the rope with him – on a course that you had to do in pairs. I nodded “Yes”, without hesitation. We jumped together and overcame a huge fear. From that moment on something has eased.
I have no doubt that each and every one of the participants had such intense experiences during our journey in Germany as I experienced them. Thanks for this opportunity. Thank you for the opportunity to free myself from the fears I grew up with since my early childhood. Thank you for the opportunity to see how strong my instrument, the theater, is, and that our work is really important and brings hope. Thank you for making friends with real Palestinian friends and for feeling like I was the center of the world for a few moments. Thanks.
Yoav R. is 32 years old and an Israeli actor. He was one of the facilitators of the “theater group” of the allgenders-Seminar 2018.