Tuesday, September 28, 2010

(ARTS) Jerusalem Street Theater Tackles Touchy Topic

"Jerusalem, Israel Arieh O’Sullivan - A Jewish man holds a sign that says 'Temple Mount.' Next to him stands a Muslim Arab holding a similar sign claiming the sacred mountaintop in Jerusalem. They fight over a third sign that reads 'In my hands.'

A crowd gathers. Some look concerned that this could be a real life struggle. But soon people realize it’s just a show.

These actors are trying to open up the minds of Israelis and Palestinians.

Translating politics and sensitive issues into street theatre, however, can be challenging and in the downtown streets of Jerusalem it can also be quite risky.

During these hot late summer days, Jews reflect on the destruction of their temple by the Romans exactly 1,940 years ago. It’s their most sacred site.

Meanwhile, Muslims believe their prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven from this very same spot in Jerusalem, claiming it as their own.

Jews and Muslims have fought over it much like the two actors in the street. But what if they could share it?

'I guess it means we are fighting over nothing, but then really… everything. I imagine if there had been more people here it could have gotten a little dangerous,' says one bystander named Deb. 'Although perhaps that is also part of the idea.'

The Interfaith Encounter Association put on this show with Jewish and Muslim actors as part of their promotion of peace and coexistence in the Middle East through interfaith dialogue. It is an apolitical grassroots organization comprised of Jews, Muslims, Christians and people of other faiths, operating dozens of interfaith groups including regular Palestinian-Israeli encounters.

'Street theatre is a very strong medium and we should use it with this strength,' says Yaron 'Sancho' Goshen, director of the show. 'Theatre and street theatre are not only for entertainment. It is not only clown show – very nice, ha-ha, fun in the street. You can use it to bring to the street change, to change something in the street life now. And it’s very strong.'

His minor role in the three-man show takes people by surprise, as he is dressed as a municipal street cleaner, meandering in to sweep up the remains of the signs that the Muslim and Jew have ripped up. He hands the two a sign that they hold together reading: 'In our hands.' Next to them he places a painting of the Temple Mount that shows all faiths praying there together.

'Our goal is to change the common conception of the Temple Mount from a place of conflict and strife and turn it into a source of inspiration, peace and coexistence,' Goshen adds.

The actor portraying the Muslim man, Jawad Ared Elgany, says he was compelled to take part in the street play by its provocative topic.

'I’d be careful saying this was entertainment, since it is a very sensitive and volatile subject. Everyone is bringing their baggage to it, but we showed through pantomime how one can help the other,' Elgany says.

'I felt the crowd was interested. There were of course those who said: ‘What are you joking about? This will never work. It’s surreal and not suitable.’ It is enough that we make people think about this. I’m not saying they have to agree, but to think of a solution,' he says.

Organizers at the Interfaith Encounter Association say they believe that rather than a hindrance to peace, religion must be a leading force in promoting mutual understanding, respect and trust. They say they plan to perform the show, called 'God’s Holy Mountain,' in Arab east Jerusalem as well.

Despite their well intentions, one problem with street theatre is that there is no program to read and not everyone understands it.

'I enjoyed very much the performance,' says Joseph Zernick, a bystander. 'However, I believe that the veneration of the holy sites in Israel and Palestine is idolatry and I also have some different version to the end. I think that in the end the cats will rule Jerusalem and the holy sites will be in the hands of the cats.'" (source)

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