Yesterday we welcomed a passionate, funny, super-informed group of guests to our stage following a fantastic second preview of THE ACCIDENT.
With the stories and observations coming from these guys, I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry or scream. It’s not simple, looking at what’s going on in the middle east. But that’s why we do this festival–last night reminded me of that.
THE ISRAELI MORAL COMPASS
Moderated by Stephen Stern, of Theater J Dialogues
•Amjad Atallah, Director of the Middle East Task Force at the New America Foundation
•Daniel Seidemann, founder and legal advisor for Ir Amim, a non-profit association dedicated to an equitable, stable and sustainable Jerusalem
•Sinai Peter, Israeli director of THE ACCIDENT
•Andy Shallal, co-founder of several peace movement organizations, including The Peace Café
The talk started off with a well thought-out observation from Amjad: the play made him think of a trip he made to Iraq and the stunning realization he had there–that we, as Americans, have no idea how many Iraqi citizens have been killed during the Iraq war. We probably never will know. And the anonymity of life and death in this play, the willingness of its participants to see and not see as they choose, forced him to examine: “The part inside of each of us that wants to turn off when faced with the consequences of our actions”.
Sinai agreed, adding that what makes the events in the play possible, and further–what made the recent events in Gaza possible–is not knowing the names and faces of those being harmed. The lack of identity makes this easier, cleaner. “And the media was silent. They cooperated” Sinai observed. In the play and in the war.
It struck me that with all of the talk about de-humanization during our HONEY BROWN EYES discussions–how the creation of myths about the “other side” made unthinkable atrocities possible and palatable to normal, sane human beings during that time; a similar theme that came up with DAI (Enough) in regards to the Israeli-Palestinian situation; that this play addresses de-humanization in a deeper, more insidious way. Here we are not creating identities for the other, we are simply denying that they have an identity at all. We are making them faceless. And maybe that’s the most effective tool of all in a campaign of destruction.
Danny stepped in–funny, off-the-cuff, energetic–and spoke of the fate of the Jerusalem-ite, being in a place where (unlike Tel Aviv) there is no escape, no retreat, no hiding from the conflict. He talked about the risk that Israeli society faces of growing uglier and uglier (metaphorically of course–as we learn from the play that similar to the US, the options for treatments on the market promising eternal youth just keep on increasing) and not just in terms of Israel-Palestine relations, but in their own lives (also a theme in the play). Danny has lived in Israel for thirty-five years, it’s his home and a place he loves, populated with people he loves and admires–but his look at his country was unflinching.
Andy Shallal, a friend and favorite here at Theater J, commented on the “moral outsourcing” he saw going on in the play, quoting the line of Mitelpunkt’s about “moral dyslexia” in Israel. And he raised the question of Shiri–the youngest character in the play, and debatabley the most hopeful and most morally responsible. This launched some healthy and exciting debate amongst audience and panelists–what DOES Shiri represent? Is she a free-pass for the transgressions of the others, or is she the movement of idealism that will pull Israel towards a more hopeful future?
Come see the play, and decide where you stand!