- Double Exposure:A Jewish-Palestinian Anthology That Bridges Cultural Divides
Double Exposure: Plays of the Jewish and Palestinian Diasporas is an anthology published by Playwrights Canada Press about the Israeli—Palestinian conflict. With works by diaspora playwrights, it is the first English-language anthology worldwide in any genre of drama, prose, or poetry by writers of Jewish and Palestinian descent. Featuring compelling interviews with each playwright and introductions by acclaimed dramatists Karen Hartman and Betty Shamieh, this volume of seven plays tackles a major thematic taboo for many theatres in the Western world. The anthology—which recently won the Patrick O'Neill Award from the Canadian Association of Theatre Research for the best edited collection—includes three plays by Jewish playwrights, three by Palestinian playwrights, and one collaboration between Jewish and Palestinian playwrights. Co-editors Stephen Orlov and Samah Sabawi began as strangers living on opposite sides of the world when they embarked on this project. The following is an edited and abridged transcript of my conversation with Samah and Stephen about their process and the collection.
How do the writings outside the conflict zone offer a distinct viewpoint? What can these voices achieve, and how might they contribute to conversations around the Israeli—Palestinian conflict that so often become insular?
I'll speak from my personal Jewish perspective. I think two major elements distinguish the diaspora voice. One is that we live in privileged societies away from the heat of battle. And the second is that many of us live in multicultural societies. That helps us view the conflict through a more diverse cultural prism that could offer more objectivity. At the same time, our journey from the page to the stage is marked by the footprints of our ancestors, and the affiliation many of us have with family and friends living in Israel and Palestine.
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When speaking about Palestinian writers, it is important to acknowledge how extremely difficult it is for them to exist free of … challenges—whether be it the destruction that Gaza faces or the lack of funds available for the arts. The arts are [End Page 77] seen as a privilege; they are a luxury for people living underoccupation. Productions require a lot of resources to actually be staged. And then there is the issue that funding often comes with strings—international donors who are happy to fund the arts but only if they push a particular purpose. So we end up with performances of Shakespeare etc., which are great, but they're not homegrown, reflecting the lives of people in the West Bank. And you have theatres that really struggle, like Alrowwad Theatre and Ashtar Theatre. Ashtar put out a fundraising call recently and is facing the real possibility of closing down if they don't get enough funds … And we do have privilege being on the outside. So what do we offer? We can offer a window into the lives of people in Palestine.
From my experience, I'd say there's somewhat more acceptance of Israeli playwrights writing and staging plays critical of the occupation than there is of Jewish diasporic play wrights. The unspoken message is loud and clear: Don't pin our dirty laundry in public. Many factors interplay in creating this dichotomy, but it's partly a reflection of the attitude that some Israelis have toward the diaspora—that we don't have the right, reason, or ability to address the occupation because we're not in the heat of battle. Both Samah and I categorically reject this claim. Americans didn't have to fight in the jungles of Vietnam to know that war was morally and politically wrong. We believe the issues at the heart of this conflict are not merely specific to Jews and Palestinians. These are issues of peace, social justice, and human rights for all of humanity.
In the editor's preface, you mention that one of the most significant...