"We have to create a picture of the future," said former military personality Ami Ayalon in San Francisco a few weeks ago.
     Here is theatre for the future -- Palestinian and Jewish Israelis, side by side, telling their own and one another's stories.
     To audiences largely familiar with, and fond of, only their own narratives -- pain, self-righteousness, dreams.
     To people who, having been touched by these daring artists, return home a bit closer to compassion and to the "other."


     PLONTER --  a new kind of drama on Dizengoff Street in Tel Aviv -- just might help a lot of people and relationships.
     PLONTER has opened this June, 2005 at the Cameri Theatre, in the tradition of BLOOD RELATIVE -- http://traubman.igc.org/bloodrel.htm -- the ground-breaking San Francisco creation and performance of an Arab-Jewish cast to tell both people's narratives from a single stage.


     The story was first wired June 8, 2005 by JTA and published right away by newspapers and online by VirtualJerusalem:

        Jewish-Arab play aims to open eyes and hearts on both sides
        by Dina Kraft, JTA
        http://www.virtualjerusalem.com/leisure/arts/?disp_feature=UGthF6.var

     By June 10 it was printed by MIFTAH.ORG, The Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy

        Play Opens Eyes About Conflict
        By Dina Kraft
        http://www.miftah.org/Display.cfm?DocId=7669&CategoryId=25

     Today, an original Independent article re-printed June 12 in Arab News was summarized and passed on by the invaluable, leading-edge news service of Search for Common Ground in the Middle East -- http://www.commongroundnews.org :

 

Donald Macintyre, columnist for the Independent, writes about the play, Plonter. [T]his play set against the dark background of occupation and intifada repeatedly challenges its audience to realize that the others are individuals tooWithout an initial script, Plonter is the outcome of an intense and extraordinary collaboration between [Yael] Ronen [the director], 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 which confronts, often painfully but sometimes with savage humor, its audiences with the human realities on both sides.

 

     Add this to the growing list of credits to the arts -- http://traubman.igc.org/messages/424.htm -- for deepening and accelerating this precious,long-awaited public peace process.

     The fact of this story being reported with enthusiasm in both Arab and Jewish press could not be a stronger message.
     When both people's narratives are told together, both people feel heard. 
     Both people begin to listen.
     This becomes "our story," to be told by both peoples with appreciation, affection, and reason for hope.

     This could not create a clearer picture of the future, as Ayalon prescribes.
     Please encourage and support these kinds of activities however you possibly can. 
     Life depends on it, and on you.
                        -- L&L


Published in ARAB NEWS, The Middle East's Leading English Language Daily -- 12 June 2005
On the Web at http://www.arabnews.com/?page=7&section=0&article=65262&d=12&m=6&y=2005

Israelis, Palestinians See Life on the Other Side
Donald Macintyre, The Independent
 
     LONDON, 12 June 2005 Thereís 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.
     In fact, 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. Cant you see there are people there? he asks his uncomprehending, and of course, unseeing wife. Its 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 the 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 which 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 at Tel Avivs Cameri Theater ends: The Palestinian husband goaded by his wife over his apparent passivity in the face of their sons 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.
     We had to try and be neutral and not emotional, says Ashraf Barhoim, an Arab actor who, in one of several cross-overs, plays an Israeli soldier as well as the suspected suicide bomber.
     Thus, a settler couple whose child is killed in a Palestinian attack are treated with sympathy; on the other hand a group of settler women evading a soldier trying to evacuate them by throwing a baby like a frisbee from hand to hand until he is, shockingly, dropped, makes a highly charged point about the involuntary exposure of children to the conflict. As does one of the most disturbing scenes: A group of Palestinian children vying, as if in a game, for a suicide vest to avenge their dead 11-year-old school friend.
     Ronen says the cast did not, as they worked on the play, think much about the audience or whether people would be angry with it. But she agrees that it is Israelis who have the most to learn from Plonter.
     Unlike for Palestinians whatís happening is not a matter of everyday life for them. They have the privilege of behaving as if (the occupation) didnít exist every moment of the day, until, that is, a terror attack comes to their doorstep and then they say What do you want from us, why are you trying to kill us.
     For a symbolic taste of Palestinian life, theater-goers arriving at the play have to submit their ID to two aggressive actors in soldiers uniforms.
    It has already been shown to Arab and Jewish schoolchildren, in an experiment which the Cameri is busily seeking sponsorship to expand.
     The play doesnt seek to come up with a detailed peace plan. But the cast is united by an anti-occupation ethos; they are of a generation marked as teenagers by the rising hopes and then the crushing disappointments of the Oslo agreement era.
     Despite the darkness of much of the work, and her own admission that the audience probably only come half-way with us, Ronen suggests there are some grounds for optimism in the mutual understanding the cast built among themselves through real honesty and real dialogue in rehearsal.
     Of course if we can do it, and the audience get involved, they will be able to do it too. She cites one minor example. In one scene, the dead Palestinian childís distraught mother compellingly played by Raida Adon, composes herself for the TV cameras to say how happy and proud she was to have a martyred son before lapsing back into inconsolable grief.
     Ronen says that in the discussion after one performance a Jewish high school pupil said she had seen this so often before, but now she understood what the mother was really feeling.