Mohammad Bakri is an extraordinary actor and filmmaker. He is also a Palestinian citizen of the state of Israel, which gives rise to complex issues of identity.
Bakri is currently appearing in a production of Federico Garcia Lorca’s “The House of Bernarda Alba” at the Tzavta theater in Tel Aviv. In an article in Ha’aretz, theater critic Michael Handelzalts called his performance “rare and impressive.” But right-wing groups are condemning the performance because of Bakri’s filmmaking history.
Born in 1954 in the Galilee, Bakri has acted in dozens of theater productions and films. His first major role was as a Palestinian political prisoner in Uri Barbash’s Oscar nominated “Beyond the Walls” (1984), one of the most highly acclaimed Israeli films ever produced. He also starred as the leader of a PLO unit in the award-winning “Cup Final” by Eran Riklis (1991). Both films raised important issues concerning Arab-Jewish relations and political tensions. Bakri has also appeared in a number of international films including “Anna K.” by Costa Gavras and in “Haifa” and “Laila’s Birthday,” both by Palestinian filmmaker Rashid Masharawi.
It has been 25 years since David K. Shipler published his Pulitzer Prize-winning book “Arab and Jew: Wounded Spirits in a Promised Land.” Shipler wrote the book following a five-year stint as Jerusalem bureau chief for The New York Times. He has also worked for the Times as a reporter in Saigon, Moscow bureau chief and Washington bureau chief diplomatic correspondent. His new book, “Rights at Risk: The Limits of Liberty in Modern America,” is forthcoming in March 2012. Shipler spoke with The Arty Semite about his thoughts on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict 25 years after publishing “Arab and Jew.”
Renee Ghert-Zand: Why did you decide to examine stereotypes and views of “the other” in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?
How many ways are there to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Given that none so far have definitively worked, the number doesn’t seem high. But in a new anthology, “United States of Palestine — Israel” (Sternberg Press, 2011) a group of Israeli, Palestinian and European left-wing writers and artists present no less than 18 solutions to the conflict.
On September 17 Joshua Simon, an Israeli writer, curator, filmmaker and editor of the collection, held a talk at the New Museum in New York together along Ohad Meromi, an Israeli writer, and Ingo Niermann, a German artist. Niermann is also the editor of the “Solutions” series for the Sternberg Press, a German publishing house that has tackled the problems of places such as the U.S., Japan, Scotland and Dubai.
The Five Percent: Finding Solutions To Seemingly Impossible Conflicts
By Peter Coleman
Public Affairs, 288 pages, $27.99
One of the great challenges of our time is finding ways to resolve intractable conflicts that have proven persistent, destructive and resistant to change.
A groundbreaking new book by Columbia University professor Peter Coleman argues that while most conflicts can be resolved by traditional means, 5% of those conflicts — the ones that seem impossible to solve — call for new ways of thinking.
Based on the work of an extraordinary multi-disciplinary team that includes specialists in complexity science, astrophysics, mathematics, social psychology, anthropology and conflict resolution, “The Five Percent: Finding Solutions to Seemingly Impossible Conflicts” brings to the general reader, for the first time, research that could reshape our understanding of intractable conflicts.
Americans often hear about Israel, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the U.S.-Israel relationship. We read Israeli authors in translation, buy Israeli products, and anyone within driving distance of a JCC can hear an Israeli speak on a nearly weekly basis.
What we don’t often hear are Palestinians.
This is, I believe, understandable — particularly for the Jewish community. We want to know more about ourselves, our brothers and sisters, our homeland. We want to support our people and our future. We know the story, and don’t feel a need to hear the version told by Israel’s enemies.
But perhaps that’s exactly why we do need to consider Palestinian voices — because after all these years, Israel and the Palestinian people are still enemies.
When the English novelist Ian McEwan accepted the Jerusalem Prize in January, he did so despite strident demands from pro-Palestinian writers to reject the prize and boycott the Jerusalem Book Fair where it is awarded. But McEwan insisted on his right to engage in dialogue with all Israelis, and argued in the Guardian that literature, “with its impulse to enter other minds, can reach across political divides.”
It’s this spirit which animates a new public book club in London. Having just celebrated its first anniversary, the Arab-Israel Book Club has been inviting people to inhabit the minds of characters living with “the situation.” From Anton Shammas to Sara Shilo, its aim has been to introduce readers to authors — and characters — who might deepen their understanding of the Arab-Israeli conflict. And its time seems to have come: As uprisings spread across the Middle East this winter, its numbers have more than doubled. People suddenly seem hungry to know more.
With his film “My Trip To Al-Qaeda” on HBO in September and his one-man show, “The Human Scale,” about to open in New York City, Pulitzer Prize-winning author and The New Yorker staff writer Lawrence Wright has a lot going on. During a short window between memorizing his lines and beginning rehearsals, he found time to answer a few questions about “The Human Scale,” which is based on his experiences in Israel and the Gaza Strip last year. Directed by Oskar Eustis of the Public Theater, the play opens on October 2 at The New Yorker Festival and will continue its run at 3LD Arts and Technology Center until October 31.
Zohar Tirosh-Polk: How did this play come about?
Lawrence Wright: I had a done a one-man play before, “My Trip to Al Qaeda.” That was anomalous to start with, and I thought I would never do that again. Then I went to Gaza for The New Yorker in July 2009, and when I came back Karen Greenberg at the Center on Law and Security asked me to give a speech about Gaza. The more I thought about it, I realized it was very familiar to the people of that region, but here people are so unacquainted with it. I thought maybe I would try another one-man presentation, so we assembled all this video and we did a reading last December at the 3-Legged Dog theater, and it was during that time that Oskar Eustis at the Public got interested.
Watching an actor burst into tears during a monologue, Hamlet marvels at how the performer inhabits the scene so deeply — if only he could evoke such dramatic feelings in real life, Hamlet reasons, he might save his kingdom. Thus inspired, Shakespeare’s hero rewrites the script of a play that dramatizes what’s wrong with his country, and presents it at the royal theater. Hamlet believes he can use the stage to shake-up the state; Israel’s actors seem to have taken the cue.
On August 25, a group of nearly 60 actors, directors, writers and theater professionals released a letter saying that they will refuse to perform in Ariel, a large West Bank settlement which is set to open a cultural center in November. The center, which took twenty years to build and cost about $10.5 million, will be the first space in the West Bank that is large enough to host Israel’s six major theater repertories. At least eight shows have already been scheduled, and the first set of memberships to the center sold out quickly, according to Ariel mayor Ron Nachman.
This Saturday, May 15th, will be the first illegal Nakba Day in the state of Israel’s history. Due to a law passed by the Knesset last summer, any organization that receives public funds will be forbidden from taking part in demonstrations that commemorate the “Nakba,” an Arabic term for the catastrophe that befell the Palestinian population during Israel’s War of Independence in 1948.
Yet a growing community of Jews and Arabs are seeking to raise consciousness of the Palestinian tragedy in Israeli culture. Among them is Zochrot, a non-governmental organization focused on “bringing the Nakba into Hebrew.” In addition to organizing tours and posting signs at destroyed Palestinian villages, Zochrot serves as a hub for Israelis who wish to reconsider the Palestinian experience of 1948 to 1949 through the arts.
Among its activities, Zochrot publishes a literary journal and hosts an art gallery. On May 6, they opened an exhibition by the architectural collective Decolonizing Architecture, whose projects attempt to “imagine the reuse, re-inhabitation or recycling of the architecture of Israel’s occupation” with proposals that respond to Israeli settlers and Palestinians. Zochrot’s exhibitions are not typical of counter-cultural protests against the Israeli government. “Part of our work is to deconstruct the fear,” said Norma Musih, a curator of Zochrot’s gallery. “Even in our imagination, the most private and intimate thing that we can have, we don’t have the words, we don’t have the images to start thinking about a different scenario.”