It was a long way to travel to attend the theater. Seven
hours from Washington to Frankfurt, another three and
a half hours to Israel. Arrive, pick up the bags (minus
the case containing lights that got left behind in Frankfurt),
pile into an overstuffed minivan, and then head straight
to the Cameri Theatre in Tel Aviv for an evening performance.
Plonter or Tangle is a kind of
reality play that explores both sides of the
violent and painful struggle between the Israelis and
Palestinians, to let each really see the other.
Its presented in Hebrew and Arabic, with subtitles
in English as well. Jews play Arabs, Arabs play Jews,
each telling stories with humor and drama of the lives
of the occupied and the occupier, the bomber and the bombed.
The performance we attended was done for Israelis teenagers.
They laughed at moments that seemed meant to be laughed
at. They also laughed at some that did not. That, the
theater representative said, was nervous laughter.
It was an unusual start to what, in many ways, is an
unusual mission: To come to a place thats often
in the geopolitical news and typically seen
through the eyes of politicians and political experts,
and instead talk with cultural figures to get another,
perhaps slightly angled view of the world. Poets, not
Today was our one news day, at least the
only one we knew would occur before we left for the Mideast.
Several weeks ago Condoleezza Rice surprised us by scheduling
a three-way meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert
and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Jerusalem
on February 19th. Even though it was to be just our first
full day on the ground, we decided to produce a story
around the event. The result, which weve just edited
and fed to our office in Washington as I write, will be
on tonights program.
Some instant impressions: Everything here has echoes
and layers. You cant miss the ancient ones, of course.
The recent ones can be a bit more jarring. Walking along
Ben Yehuda Street, a busy pedestrian promenade, a local
producer whos working with us says, just up
there is the pizzeria where 15 kids were blown up a few
years ago by a suicide bomber. We walk that way,
but she cant find it and is puzzled. Then she figures
it out: The pizzeria is now a falafel shop. Wed
just passed it.
On the Arabic side of town in East Jerusalem, Naim Tarazi,
an older gentleman who runs a travel agency and speaks
wonderful English, agrees to talks with us. He takes my
arm and jokes for several minutes, entertaining us all,
a twinkle in his eye, playing to the camera as its
being set up. But then he says, "Let me tell you
something," turning deadly serious. He talks about
the injustice around him, a life of small and large humiliations,
of promises made and broken.
As he said "Let me tell you something", I think
hes joking, still playing with me and telling stories.
Then I realize: Of course, he is a serious man, a funny
and serious man. And this is a very serious place.