- Beyond Words:Producing Palestinian–Israeli Dialogue at the Galilee Multicultural Theatre
As the audience arrives for the Galilee Multicultural Theatre's show Neighbors, a Palestinian musician sits alone on the stage tuning the strings of his oud. Wassim Bashara's solitude is soon disrupted by loud stomping feet and the clang of a suitcase against the ground. An iterant wanderer emerges from the sidelines: Pablo Ariel, a Jewish performance artist, looks out into the public as if he's searching for something. As Pablo enters into Wassim's playing space, Wassim puts out a pointing finger that signals to Pablo to move to the other side of the stage. Resolved, Pablo finds that he has what he needs in this new space, so he turns on lights and begins to arrange the tools of his trade. These actions, however, disturb Wassim. After Pablo's third attempt to set up shop is still greeted by Wassim's headshake "no," he shuts off his light in resignation, and Wassim commences to play the oud for us.
Thus begins a competing battle for territory, artistry, and public favor. Doggedly implanted in his spot, Wassim appears to have won this round, but the audience realizes that Pablo has only temporarily bequeathed the playing space to Wassim: his light is out, but he has not left the stage. As Wassim's melodic song ends, Pablo turns his light back on and pulls out a piece of paper in the shape of a house. He begins his own song, a wordless melody composed of the syllables "yah bay bay bay"—perhaps familiar to some spectators as the theme song from Fiddler on the Roof. Sure enough, a toy fiddle emerges on the roof of the paper house. The comic moment abruptly ends, though, as the fiddle is strangled and the house is ripped in half. In Pablo's dexterous hands the paper becomes a bird, which flies as Pablo whistles an accompanying South American song.
Levity returns as Pablo sings "La Bamba" and the paper turns into a fiddler who plays the toy violin, but only momentarily—for the paper then turns into a gun, and the song's notes pare down to the simple yet evocative syllables, "bam, bam." Salvation arrives, nonetheless, as the paper turns into a sail and the fiddle a ship (Fig. 1). The wordless "yah bay bay bay" melody is repeated once more, this time in a sorrowful tone. Before long, however, Pablo adds another triangle to the paper sail, and the two papers form a Jewish star. The "yah bay bay bay"s similarly transform back into the familiar upbeat tune, with a comically punctuated ending of "bye" as Pablo scoots away and turns off his light.
The battle for dominance is on. At stake is not merely who owns the (performance) space, but whose historical narrative dictates the rights to it. In this particular context, as Christian Arabs, Wassim's ancestors have certainly inhabited the area for numerous generations.1 In contrast, Pablo's nomadic character suggests expulsion and return: coerced to live in exile in Eastern Europe, where they were ultimately unwelcome, Pablo's ancestors fled to Argentina, only to face persecution once again until finding refuge in a Jewish homeland.2 The problem for Pablo, though, is that Wassim remains on the stage. [End Page 193]
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The task of these competing artists (and competing identities) is to figure out a way to occupy the same space. In other words, what the Galilee Multicultural Theatre (GMT)3 offers is a theatrical means of analyzing coexistence.4 While it is beyond the scope of this article to discuss the implications of coexistence as a political strategy or to address the claims of those who advocate for separatist movements, my role is to examine the role of theatre in making public dialogue about alternatives to conflict. When it comes to Palestinians and Jewish Israelis, current political clashes are inseparable from competing claims of ancestral history (land as biblical right), national history (victors and victims of wars...