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Theater as a Common Language

Israelis and Palestinians Try to Cross Boundaries


An elderly Arab woman approaches a young Israeli woman at a garbage dump. They have no common language, yet somehow they interact.


Called “Take-away,” the play is set in a garbage dump on what used to be a sacred hill. A group of garbage collectors, all refugees from conflicts, live on the hill. They sort through the garbage that is dumped and in so doing, learn about each other.


“Garbage is the source by which we discard each other and so much stuff,” Bonna Haberman, the co-director of the Y Theater Project, tells The Media Line. “We’re really trashing the world, and that comes from a very instrumental approach to the other. We look at a person as a means to fulfill our goals and once that person is no longer useful, we discard them.”


The piece came out of two years of theater workshops by Haberman and her Palestinian partner, Qader Harani. The play comes as political negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians are frozen, and amid tensions over the United Nations recognition of “Palestine” as a non-member observer state and Israel’s decision to move ahead with thousands of housing units on post-1967 land. There is also pressure against “normalization," or Palestinian contacts with Israeli organizations.


“Qader has been threatened and blacklisted by co-professionals for working together with me,” Haberman said. “I’m an ‘out’ Israeli and I support the state of Israel. I believe working together will contribute to improving the quality of Israeli and Palestinian society by encouraging the process of critique and seeing things from each other’s point of view.”


The conflict, however, is never far away. Some of the Palestinian actors have been delayed at Israeli checkpoints. There are also personal conflicts over religion.


“Qader believes that Islam is the ultimate development of religion which encompasses whatever gifts and contributions that Judaism and Christianity made to humanity and he sees no reason why we shouldn’t simply convert to Islam,” Haberman said. “I’m an observant Jew and I practice religiously. We’re both learning how to find shared space and sometimes it’s sheer agony.”


The project is being funded by a Kickstarter campaign in which people can donate money online. So far, 82 people have donated more than $5500. They have each received tickets to an upcoming show. Still available is a special prize for anyone who donates $1800 – a dinner in Haberman’s home and another in Harani’s.


“We’ll honor and care for you, guide and cook for you,” the Kickstarter campaign promises. “You’ll accompany us into the YTheater vision of creativity and hope. We’ll feature you as YTheater godparent in our program and online.”


Other actors say they see the play as a way to reach out and start a discussion on how Israelis and Palestinians can live together.


“Today people don’t want to hear about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – they’re just sick of it,” Fida Zeidan, a young Druze actress in the group and a student of theater told The Media Line. “This is the only way I can get them to listen.”


Haberman says she is optimistic that the play can restart a dialogue that is essential for Israelis and Palestinians.


“There are so few people who believe in the possibility of working together,” she said. “Through relationships and professional collaboration, we can make a difference by educating people about what it means to live together with respect and even caring and commitment to each other.”


Then she paused and added, “We’re investing in hope.”