Explosions of Ideas

Shirley here.

We’re heading into programming central once again as we embark on our VOICES FROM A CHANGING MIDDLE EAST Festival. Tons of talk-backs, plenty of panels–all necessary at this time, I think, as the area of the world that this festival examines shudders and mourns.

We shudder and mourn too–and we talk.

Opening night Ari had a conversation with the charming and talented (and so funny!) Iris Bahr, the actress/playwright/performer who penned the piece.

Last night we were joined by two fantastic guest panelists, Ronit Avni, Founder and Executive Director of Just Vision (a non-profit that widens the influence of Palestinian and Israeli non-violent civic peace builders) and Aharon Barnea, Israeli journalist and author. Ari moderated, with an assist from Stephen Stern, the programming director for the DCJCC Dialogue’s Program.

Some more about our guests:
Aharon Barnea is currently the Senior Correspondent to the USA for Channel 2 Television News in Israel, where he previously served as Anchorman and Special Correspondent (from 2001-2008). Before that he was a Correspondent on Arab Affairs for Channel 2 News, Hadashot Newspaper and Israel Radio. Since 1993 he has served as an Advisor to the President of Israel. He has been a lecturer in the Department of Arabic Language and Literature at the University of Tel Aviv; and he taught in the Department of Near Eastern Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. Barnea has written articles on Middle Eastern Affairs for numerous journals and newspapers. He is the author of the book Mine Enemy, a true story about how– against many odds and numerous obstacles– two Israeli journalists befriended PLO commander Salah Ta’mari and his wife, Princess Dina, the former queen of Jordan. Barnea has a Ph. D. in Middle Eastern Studies and Linguistics from UC Berkeley. He received his Bachelor’s Degree in Middle East History and Arabic Language and Literature from Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

Ronit Avni is the Founder and Executive Director of Just Vision, a non-profit that researches, documents and creates media about Palestinian and Israeli civilian-led efforts to resolve the conflict nonviolently. Ronit directed and produced the film, Encounter Point, which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival and won the Audience Award for Best Documentary from the San Francisco International Film Festival and the Docupolis award for Best First Documentary. Encounter Point screened in 200 cities worldwide. On account of her work, Ronit received the 2005 Auburn Seminary’s ‘Lives of Commitment’ Award and appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show with her colleague, Joline Makhlouf. Prior to launching Just Vision, Ronit worked for Peter Gabriel’s human rights organization, WITNESS, where she trained non-governmental organizations from Afghanistan to the Gambia to produce videos to deter further human rights abuses. She co-edited the book, Video for Change: A Guide for Advocacy and Activism. Ronit’s essay, “Inverting the Shame-Based Human Rights Documentation Model in the Context of the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict,” was published in the spring 2006 edition of American Anthropologist. Ronit received the Joshua Venture Fellowship for young Jewish social entrepreneurs. A graduate of Vassar College, she received a Burnam Fellowship to intern at B’Tselem: the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories.

Both guests spoke about the complex feelings they experienced during the show. Both mused on the characters that they would have liked to have seen represented. Iris nodded (I suspect she’s heard this before) but explained that these were the voices that spoke to her: as an actress, as a playwright, and as a woman with questions about her own identity: 12 years in the United States then almost a decade in Israel. She described the piece, in part, as a way of bringing to life the splintered parts of herself.

Ronit spoke about the organization she founded, Just Vision, and the film they produced–which aims to show the kinds of Palestinians and Israelis we rarely see in the mainstream news; those that are resisting falling into the tragic grooves (on both sides) that Iris theatricalizes in her play. Ronit’s movie Encounter Point is on Netflix. I’m adding it to my queue as we speak…

Aharon talked about living long term in a conflict zone–a reality for Israelis and Palestinians alike–and how that inevitably leads to the creation of a (negative) mythology about the other side; it is this mythology that both allows people to survive, and also to kill. Part well-honed survival technique, part road-block to peace.

This is all tricky stuff to talk about. I’m glad we’re trying.

Saturday night when we’ll speak with Israeli Director Sinai Peter and Ms. Bahr about being an Israeli artist (or some hybrid of American and Israeli artist) and creating against the backdrop of the conflict. Sunday between the matinee and evening performances we’ll welcome two more panel guests, Irene Nasser, Outreach Associate for Just Vision, and Anat Berko, author of The Path to Paradise: The Inner World of Suicide Bombers and Their Dispatchers.

Join us.