The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict on Stage
Play exposes emotions of the "other."
Reprinted with permission from the The Independent (June 11, 2005).
There's a telling moment in the discussion after the performance of Plonter. A man asks the cast crossly why the settler women depicted in the play in long dresses and hats of the sort worn by many religious Jewish women, all "look the same."
No more so, the Jewish director, Yael Ronen, points out, than the mourning Palestinian women grieving over the death of an 11-year-old boy. Or, says one of actors, Asaf Pariente, the equally stereotyped keffiyeh-clad Hamas gunmen who promise eternal vengeance after an Israeli soldier shoots the child dead. Caught out, the audience member lets a rueful half smile, in what just might be sudden self-awareness, flit across his face.
This play, set against the dark background of occupation and intifada, repeatedly challenges its audience to realize that the "others" are individuals too. At the climax of the piece--"Imbroglio" in English--the haunted Israeli soldier who has helped to cover up the killing, suddenly sees the Palestinian mother and her child in his living room. "Can't you see there are people there?" he asks his uncomprehending, and of course, unseeing wife.
It's one of the oldest of all dramatic devices. But the line has a double meaning, half of which is a resonant appeal to understand the suffering on the other side of the psychological, as well as increasingly physical, wall separating Israelis from Palestinians.
Without an initial script, Plonter is the outcome of an intense and extraordinary collaboration between Ronen, 29, and a talented cast of young professional Israeli Arab and Jewish actors, who improvised, argued, and finally bonded for seven months to create a work that confronts, often painfully but sometimes with savage humor, its audiences with the human realities on both sides.
The sketches weaving together the lives of an Israeli and Palestinian family, each tormented in its own way by the conflict, linger in the memory long after the performance ends: the Palestinian husband goaded by his wife over his apparent passivity in the face of their son's death; the young Israeli woman trying to reach out to her soldier husband after her own stridently left-wing activist sister has accused him of being a "war criminal"; the Palestinian man on a bus who angrily confronts his suddenly terrified fellow passengers by stripping down to his underpants.
The versatile cast set out to confront the complexities of the conflict. For the mainly left-wing Jewish actors, for example, this meant, says Ronen, understanding soldiers and settlers as well as Palestinians. "The first thing we had to do was to destroy every opinion we had about the conflict," she says. "We wanted to expose our own ignorance and prejudice, our lack of knowledge of ourselves and others."
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