- Listening to the Other:Storytelling and Conflict in the "Real World"
In this essay the author writes of her experiences as an Israeli storyteller performing stories told her by a Palestinian friend and from her own family's history. The author shows how through listening and acknowledging that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is rooted in two parallel narratives of two national movements, a path to peace can be forged. The author shares reactions of audiences in various places including Israel, and describes how this performance was used to cultivate dialogue by an inter-faith group in Rochester, NY.
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The Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with brutal images of its endemic violence, pervades newspapers and TV news. The complexity of the situation and its many shades of gray are buried beneath the headlines and the media's inclination to simplifying rhetoric. Americans are not often exposed to the people and stories behind the bloodshed.
A Land Twice Promised is a storytelling performance that I, an Israeli Jew living in the U.S., created based on my personal friendship with a Palestinian woman. I've woven together our memories, and our mothers' stories, to give voices and faces to the people behind the headlines.
Jumana and I met on a playground in California [End Page 101] and had a lot to share. Both of us grew up in Jerusalem. Our kids went to kindergarten together and were friends. We talked about "The Situation," the news, the kids—but it took years until we had established enough trust to begin to tell our personal stories of growing up in the same city on opposite sides.
Most Israeli Jews and Palestinians from the territories know very little about what it is like to live "on the other side," though it may be less than five miles away. And even I, who had been politically active against the Occupation, had never, before Jumana, had a personal friend who was from the West Bank.
At the heart of this conflict are two parallel narratives of two national movements struggling to gain sovereignty over the same piece of land. This conflict is characterized by endless layers of memories of pain and victimization, and an unwillingness to legitimize or even listen to the narrative of the other side. My work is based on my belief that acknowledgement of the other's story is the first step toward dialogue and relationship building which are the foundation for peace.
Coming from this dual narrative reality, where volatile emotions are so common, Jumana and I both worried about balance in this performance. She was worried that her story was not representative of the suffering of her people: my story includes a death in my family and there wasn't one in hers, yet her people are killed every day. However, because the nature of storytelling is visceral and intimate, people need to be carefully invited in. I felt her story was strong precisely because it wasn't the most "horrific."
I also worried: by giving voice to the story of "the other" was I being disloyal to my own people? Was I explaining enough about our struggle for independence or our long history of suffering and persecution? I am an Israeli, but I'm often accused (as part of the Israeli left and by my mother) of only seeing "their" side and not being patriotic. Is balance possible?
Over the past several years, I've told these stories dozens of times. Listening to, and deciphering, people's responses has been a very important part of the process. An Israeli man told me the show was completely anti-Israeli; an Israeli woman wrote it was the most powerful experience of her life: "I found myself experiencing emotions of pain, laughter, shame, identification and helplessness." An American Jewish woman yelled, "It's a disgrace!" walked out in rage, and wrote that I should be ashamed of myself. A Palestinian man said this was not balanced since I show only Jews as loosing a family member while every single person he knows has lost someone to the violence; another Palestinian man came with tears and...