Jewish, Palestinian imaginations make play, circus part of public peace process

15 March 2005


     Most people would say it isn't "play" or "a circus" -- this road toward a cooperating Middle East community beyond war.
     "Not so," would say these Jewish and Arab youth and their adult mentors. 
     A play and a circus it is, in part -- the best, helpful, creative part. 
     The new part.
     More and more, the arts -- theatre, music, poetry, dance, photography, film, even humor -- are unlocking people's hearts and minds, helping us desire to connect.

     Here are two courageous examples for you:
                PLAY - Peace Child Israel's "Roadblock"
                CIRCUS - The Jerusalem Circus

PLAY -  Peace Child Israel's "Roadblock"

     Next Monday evening, March 21, 2005, at 19:30, Arab and Jewish teens will perform "Roadblock."
The writer-performers are from from the Maayan-Shacher and Qalansua High Schools.

     The play opens at a press conference called by the Minister of Education to announce a new joint Arab and Jewish school.

     The students cope with difficulties of language, cultural differences, and freedom of speech leading crises and violence between them..

     The roadblock -- the separator between the Palestinian Authority and the State of Israel -- takes on new meanings for the students. 

     At the end, they decide what will become of the "roadblock."

     This premier performance is at Kibbutz Ein HaHoresh on "the old road" between Tel Aviv and Haifa, turning right at the HaRoe intersection then continuing three miles just after Kibbutz Givat Chaim.
     Peace Child Israel has been a pre-eminent, sustained relationship-builder among Palestinian and Jewish Israeli youth, after its founding in 1988 to teach coexistence through theater and the arts.
     Palestinian and Jewish Israeli teens model democratic values and mutual respect to create original dramas about living side by side.
     Their plays, in Arabic and Hebrew, are performed for family, friends and the larger public.

     You must see their Web site at with its stunning photo album, thanks to the generosity and creativity of Ami Isseroff ( ).
     There you can listen to "We Brought Peace" -- PCI's original theme song in streaming audio, and read its side-by-side Arabic and Hebrew lyrics at::
     For more information, you can write to PCI's dedicated Melisse Lewine-Boskovich, at

CIRCUS - The Jerusalem Circus

     The Jerusalem Circus Association is dedicated to the development of circus arts as a tool for dialogue and coexistence.
     They say: "Learning circus arts can serve as a fun way for youth from different social and economic backgrounds to come together and meet in a safe and equal environment. We are committed to teaching circus arts to young people from all sectors of Israeli society that they may learn to work together for a common future."

     SEE a 2001 MSNBC news video at
     SEE their inspiring videos, photos, and news reports at , put on the Web through the creativity of former circus magic instructor Nathan Livni ( ), now a teacher in Sacramento, California, USA.
     Elisheva Jortner in Jerusalem can answer your questions in e-mail at and .

Published by Middle East Times -- Friday, 11 March 2005

Jerusalem Circus symbolizes hope

By Amelia Thomas

     It is 7 pm, and in a long, neon-lit corridor of the Denmark High School in Jerusalem's poor Katamon neighborhood, Jamie, an 11-year-old boy, whizzes past on a unicycle. Through a window to one side, colored clubs cascade into the air; behind them, a small girl balances gracefully on top of a huge blue ball.
     This is the Jerusalem Circus, a collection of around 16 children, aged between seven and 18, and they are hard at work. In the school's roomy gymnasium, presided over by their expert Ukrainian circus trainer, Slava, the kids are busy rehearsing for a new show that will premiere in just three weeks time at this year's Jerusalem Festival.
      Four older boys hone their juggling skills, while others practice tumbling on thick padded mats. One little girl, perched high up on a trapeze, flips upside down to run through a series of moves. Older children help the younger ones and all are laughing and joking with each other and with their instructors. It is a picture of easy cooperation.
     What makes the Jerusalem Circus unique, however, is what lies behind this apparently effortless teamwork: Roughly half of the children are Israeli Jews, while the other half are Israeli Arab and Palestinian Muslim.
    And the differences between the children do not end with nationality. Some of the kids - on both sides - come from extremely religious, conservative families, while others come from secular, liberal homes. Some come from privileged backgrounds - their parents being doctors and university lecturers - while the parents of others struggle to make ends meet. Many do not even share a common language and a heady mixture of English, Arabic, Hebrew, Russian and French fills the air.
    Despite these differences the kids of the Jerusalem Circus function as one large 'family', in many cases also bringing their parents in on the act, to help with costumes, makeup and the all-important piles of food to feed the hungry performers.
    One mother, Annie, stands at the side of the gymnasium watching the rehearsal in progress. Her eyes shine with delight.
     "I'm the mother of the circus' youngest member," she says proudly, pointing to the little girl balancing on the ball. "She's now seven, but she first saw a Jerusalem Circus show aged four, when they performed in Efrata. It was an amazing feeling to see that you couldn't tell who was a Jew or who was an Arab. There was no difference - they were just all very talented kids working together." She turns to Elisheva Jortner, the circus' energetic founder, and the two grin at each other.
     "That show," explains Jortner, "was in the middle of the intifada. Things were dreadful. People said it was unrealistic for us to continue with an Israeli-Palestinian circus. There were attacks happening all over Jerusalem, and people we knew - both Arabs and Jews - had been killed. And yet," she says, "not one of the kids missed a single rehearsal".
    "And when we performed, the audience was full - half with Arabs, half with Jews. A busload of people even came from Abu Ghosh [an Arab town near Jerusalem]. I cried the whole way through," she admits with a smile.
     "I can't describe the feeling of hope I got from that performance," affirms Annie. "The feeling of poetry. The feeling that everything is possible."
     It has not, however, always been an easy ride for the now five-year-old circus. Directly after the Efrata show ended, for example, the circus members were informed that yet another blast had rocked Jerusalem; this time, a relative of one of their members had been killed.
     And sometimes, other problems arise. Two of the core members of the group, Aron and Moshe, have just turned 18, and will soon be expected to go to the army. Everyone is unsure as to how they'll cope. "What if you see me waiting when you're guarding one of the checkpoints?" asks one Arab girl. "I'll run up and kiss you, of course!" the soon-to-be soldier replies.
     "The trouble with the circus kids," explains Jortner, "is that they think that everyone's friends with everyone - just like themselves. But it's not always the case."
     Currently, one of their star performers has been taken away by her mother, who is citing political reasons for her decision. The girl herself is devastated; the circus members and parents are desperately trying to reason with the mother. After all, they say, the circus is nonpolitical: everyone has an extremely strong sense of their own identity - whether religious, atheist, Israeli, Palestinian or somewhere in between - but readily accepts and embraces their cultural and political differences.
     Despite the challenges they face, however, the Jerusalem Circus continues, undaunted. Although they do not receive support from any government or municipality, they still manage to hold onto an open policy where everyone, regardless of their financial circumstances, can see or participate in a show.
     Recently their audiences have included underprivileged bedouin children, battered wives with their children and the terminally ill - all of whom were able to watch the show free-of-charge. With the crucial support of the Abraham Fund - a nonprofit pioneer in Arab-Jewish initiatives - they are just about able to stay on top of the costs of mounting their performances.
     In May of this year the Jerusalem Circus will be performing in Berlin, in the president's garden as part of a celebration of Israeli culture.
     They are hoping, while there, to reach many of Berlin's Muslim, Turkish children, to further their message of integration and hope.
     "Our ambition," she says dreamily as the rehearsal comes to an end and the kids tidy away their equipment into a crammed cupboard, "is to one day be able to buy our own real circus tent, to stand in Jerusalem permanently as a symbol of togetherness. To show that circus can be an alternative weapon, to help people change their minds. The only problem we'll have then," she smiles, "is what color the tent's stripes should be".