"There are some things only governments can do, such as negotiating binding agreements. But there are some things that only citizens outside government can do, such as changing human relationships."
-- Dr. Harold Saunders, former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State, and
Negotiator of the Camp David Accords
There are suicide bombings and military brutality -- symptoms of hopelessness, fear, and abject failures to communicate. It is commonplace for people to be paralyzed with fear and motivated by revenge.
Yet Israeli Jewish and Palestinian youth of the Jerusalem Circus do not go up and down with the headlines.
These girls and boys -- supported by their courageous families from all socioeconomic backgrounds -- use circus arts as a tool for dialogue and coexistence, and emphasize teamwork and equality.
Circus founder Elisheva Tobiass, an observant Jew and shepherdess of the youth, sees that "...circus art has a very strong social dimension, which contains elements of encouragement, cooperation and collective creativity,"
Arab trapeze artist Shireen Zuiater is fearful about being in the streets these days. She adds, "When I go to train at the circus, I forget about everything going on outside."
Shireen was asked if she could suggest any solutions to Palestinian and Israeli leaders.
She thought: "Maybe they should join the circus."
Elisheva Tobiass receives e-mail at Tobiass@israsrv.net.il
More about the Jerusalem Circus is on the Web at http://www.jerusalemcircus.org/
Published in Ha'aretz newspaper (Israel) -- Friday, June 21, 2002
The show must go on:
Jewish and Arab youth continue performing despite the violence
By Orly Halpern
On Wednesday afternoon, the day after the suicide attack near the Patt junction in Jerusalem, a busload of Arab parents and children got off a bus in the city's Baka neighborhood, and walked past an Ethiopian security guard into the Efrata school auditorium to wait for the show to begin.
The 18 Jewish and Arab youngsters from West and East Jerusalem who had been training all year for their performance that day did not seem to be deterred by the mounting tension between their peoples following the bombing on Tuesday. While virtually all other channels of communication between Palestinian and Israeli youth have been blocked, especially in the capital, participants in the circus troupe of the Jerusalem Circus Association (JCA) continued meeting and training together, without interruption.
This attack on bus No. 32A "didn't change much for me because I don't travel on the bus and I have no problem with the [Arab] kids here," said Aaron Tobiass, a juggler and unicyclist. "I trust them. I don't think they're going to join a terrorist organization. And I wasn't afraid of the Arabs in the audience because they came to see a circus."
"All the [performing] kids came except for little Alex - his parents were afraid for him to take the bus," reported Elisheva Tobiass, who directs the JCA and founded the association eight years ago.
But, by and large, the Tuesday attack and the warnings of additional attacks Wednesday did not seem to faze the performers or the 200 or so members of the audience that packed the hall, where French, English and Arabic were the dominant languages.
"I hope willingness to participate in this event is not just an Anglo thing," says Jill Levensfeld, who moved to Israel from Los Angeles in 1984. Her daughter, Gabi, does the "diablo" - a circus yo-yo.
Bringing together Arab and Jewish youngsters from all socioeconomic backgrounds, the JCA's various programs use circus arts as a tool for dialogue and coexistence, and emphasize teamwork and equality. The weekly circus group run by the organization - which is supported by the Abraham Fund and the Jerusalem Foundation - encourages participants from ages six to 18 to work together to solve problems that arise during preparation of a show. The JCA (Website: www.jerusalemcircus.org) also organizes activities for new immigrants and children with special needs, in cooperation with schools and community centers.
"There is not enough of a social dimension in art, but circus art has a very strong social dimension, which contains elements of encouragement, cooperation and collective creativity," explained Elisheva Tobiass, who was born in Tunis and is an art teacher by profession. "I discovered quickly that the `game' dimension of the circus lowers the kids' barriers, which are plentiful because of different cultures, religions, languages and so on. This dimension allows the children to connect better, in a noncompetitive way."
Slava Oleinik, an immigrant from the Ukraine who studied and taught at the College for Circus Art and Variety, and later was manager of the well-known Ukrainian Berdichev Circus, is the trainer of the troupe in various arts including acrobatics, juggling, balancing and drama (clowning and magic).
Mahmud Mahajni, 23, who works as a social facilitator for the JCA, is from Umm al-Fahm but lives in Beit Safafa. According to Tobias, "We have achieved what we did because of a great deal of volunteering by many people, including Slava and Mahmud. But the real `payment' comes when the children are on the stage."
Mahajni's friend, Ayman Kabaha, also 23, was among the 19 people killed in the suicide bombing on Tuesday.
"Today is a particularly difficult day," said Tobiass, opening the show, "and Mahmud and I feel it personally. The attack took place on a road between Beit Safafa and the Katamonim - both neighborhoods from which children who participate in the circus come."
"The situation is, of course, difficult," agreed Shireen Zuaiter, a 16-year-old trapeze artist from the mixed Jewish-Arab neighborhood of Abu Tur. "We all feel it. I can't go to the shopping mall anymore or to Jaffa Street with my friends. But when I go to train at the circus, I forget about everything going on outside."
"I don't know anything about politics," she said after the performance - and minutes before another suicide attack claimed seven more lives, at the French Hill junction - when asked if she could suggest any solutions to Palestinian and Israeli leaders. "Maybe they should join the circus."
In Washington, DC, in the shadow of
government institutions which seem to choose confrontation over cooperation,
the "public peace process" is taking a different, more hopeful form.
Arab-American Andy Shallal (firstname.lastname@example.org) has created a PEACE CAFE, right in his "Mimi's American Bistro" at 2120 P Street NW. The phone number is (202) 464-6464. It's at http://www.mimisdc.com/
Andy began two years ago creating an atmosphere of breaking bread together in a safe place for learning and Dialogue among Arabs, Jews, and supportive others.
The June, 2002 WAMU-Radio story about the PEACE CAFE can be heard on the Web at:
In the Fall, Andy would like to
help create a PEACE CAFE in Jerusalem.
Is the PEACE CAFE trademarked? "No," Andy says.
"Take it and run with it!"