Israel/Palestine: What do we do now?

Personal, Theatre

(Words of explanation: in April, I directed an interactive theatre project about the Middle East conflict which toured the UK; I’ve also been a Palestinian solidarity activist for the past couple years, although that theatre project spoke/questioned from a more neutral, explorative position.)

Directing Israel/Palestine gave me a deeper insight into the Middle East conflict than I’d had in years of working as an activist: I began to be able to grasp the conflicting narratives and gain an understanding of why things are as they are; it even helped me think more and better about how I and we (my social group? my actors? my country? my society?) could positively act. That’s also what I hoped our audiences gained: if nothing else, then a better understanding, and a more focussed attention on the issue — a willingness to understand, a desire to be involved.

But one of the anxieties of live performance is that it’s quite difficult to keep track of what happens to your audiences afterwards. Immediately following the show they can let you know how moved they are, how much they want to engage better with issues — but what about days after? Weeks after? Months after? I was thinking this a lot as yesterday’s terrible news unfolded; these were my first reactions:

@HarryGiles:

Whenever Israel/Palestine news breaks, I look at my theatre project and think: what did we achieve? Do our audiences now pay more attention?

Of the 200 people who came along, are they really now more empowered to engage with events? Do they care more? Do they ask more questions?

And what about me?… faced with the appalling news of the #FreedomFlotilla attack, do I react differently? Can/will I do more than tweet?

A good friend of mine replied “the ramifications of discussion are not a precise science. It is not a chess game, it is a gesture of hope.” That’s encouraging and partly true, but a part of me still wants to know whether or not my work as an artist-activist is effective, offers practical results.

On another level, I started thinking about the new perspective on the conflict the project had enabled me to have. More than anything else, I now see the war as a war of competing narratives: so much of the work we did involved discovering why people thought as they thought and delivering their own versions of events. We’re dealing here with sides who have competing historical understandings, competing visions for the future, and for every new series of events there is a new narrative division. As news breaks, every news source suffers (often justly) accusations of bias from both sides — every word is loaded with meaning, every reader extra-sensitive. It’s never clearer that there is no such thing as an objective fact. Understanding what happened becomes difficult, and so everyone resorts to their knee-jerk reactions, siding with one narrative or another — because it becomes more or less impossible to do anything else. Here’s what I wrote about these thoughts:

Hashtag lines drawn: #terroristflotilla vs #freedomflotilla . Twitter’s cardinal virtue/vice: brevity makes ideological division so clear.

That Israeli/Palestinian narratives r mutually incompatible & antipathy utterly entrenched never clearer than in responses 2 Gaza flotilla

Follow the war/crisis on Twitter and understand that it is overarchingly a battle for historical narrative.

Territory, faith, revenge, fear, security, cultural imperialism/defence: yes, all of these. But the ends and means are narrative and history

And, of course, historical narrative is here, as ever, delivered through the barrel of a gun.

See, I do take a side, but I take it now with rather more understanding of what the other side is experiencing. When I read a site like Mere Rhetoric, which spins every news item on Israel/Palestine firmly and vitriolically in one direction, I no longer react with disgust and anger — instead, I appreciate the insight into the other side’s mind.

And yet, I do take a side, I can’t maintain neutrality out of the theatre space, and so what am I supposed to do with this knowledge? Ineffectually plead for an end to mutual antipathy and a beginning for understanding? I mean, this isn’t just an argument, these are two narratives fighting for their very existence — for life. Do I want to see the triumph of one? The resolution of both? I don’t really know. I understand more now, but I’m more lost.

I’d greatly appreciate the thoughts of anyone who came to the show.

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