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Wrestling Jerusalem

Presenting the Israel mess in 17-part disharmony: An excerpt from a one-man show

It’s complicated.

You might say it all started in 1948
Which you might call Al Nakbeh
The Catastrophe
You might say it all started in 1948
Which you might call Milhamat HaAtzma’ut
The War of Independence

You might go back to World War I
Blame the British
Say they fucked up a thousand years of decent relations
Between Jews and Arabs

You might say it was the 1929 massacre of Jews in Hebron
You might say it was the 1994 massacre of Muslims in Hebron
Or the 1982 massacre at Sabra and Shatila
Or the 2003 massacre at the Tel Aviv bus station

No, no, you might say,
It was 1967
The Six Day War
That was when the real problems started
No, no, you might say
It was the Yom Kippur War
1973, that was it

But really, you might say,
It was 1947
The Green Line
United Nations Resolution 181
The Arabs should have accepted 181
And they would have had a better deal
Than they’re ever going to get now
But you might say
The UN never should have adopted Resolution 181
Because it was a European land grab

You might say
It was the invasion of Lebanon
It was the First Intifada
It was the Second Intifada
It was the Withdrawal from Gaza
It was the war in Gaza

No, no
It’s the Settlements
Definitely the Settlements
No, it’s the terror attacks
The bus bombs, the cafes
No, it’s the wall and the check points
No, it’s the tunnels from Egypt
and the missiles in S’derot

No, it’s Iran
It’s all about Iran

No, it’s the politicians
It’s all about the politicians
Golda blew it
Peres blew it
Arafat blew it
Barak blew it
Sharon blew it
Olmert blew it
Clinton blew it
Bush blew it
Obama is blowing it

If they just hadn’t killed Rabin
If we just hadn’t killed Rabin

If the ultra-Orthodox just didn’t have so much political power
If the Arab League would just do more
If the media just wasn’t so biased
If the Right Wing Christians just would stop funding Settlements
If AIPAC would just be more critical of Israel
If J Street would just be less critical of Israel
If we just had a real partner on the other side
If Netanyahu would just…
If Abbas would just…
If the Palestinians would just lay down their arms
If the Israelis would just get out of the West Bank
If the world would just step up and get more involved
If the world would just back off and stay of out it

If, if, if, if, if, if

This is the opening to my play Wrestling Jerusalem, a solo performance about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict in which I play 17 different characters covering a wide spectrum of political, social and religious perspectives. The play premiered at Intersection for the Arts in San Francisco in March 2014 and is now touring throughout the U.S. and is being made into a feature film.

We usually host conversations following the performance where audiences reflect on their experience of the play. These conversations are profound. People in the U.S. are desperate to talk about the issues in an environment that will allow them to go beyond polemic. The play is about many things, but one central theme is listening. We are living in a such a polarized world and here is a play where audiences are not asked to pick a side, but rather to sit back and absorb the profound complexity and nuance that lives deep inside this conflict. They are asked to engage with human beings who may have perspectives different from their own.

Wrestling Jerusalem presents characters from the U.S., Israel, and the West Bank, who each have a very real stake in the conflict. Audience response is immediate. 5 minutes after the play is over, we gather. People are often moved and tongue-tied at first. Much to digest. A Jewish man listens as a Muslim woman describes what resonated for her. It’s eye opening. A Christian woman listens to a Jewish woman share her experience. Again, eye opening. A woman on the Left listens to a man on the Right. It’s a softer, more considered conversation than the one we are usually having in the public arena. My creative team and I have created an artistic event where audiences bear witness to the experience of the “other”, both while watching the play and in the conversation that follows. We need to talk to each other, we need to try to understand each other, even if we can’t agree with each other on solutions. It’s a vital step in the process that will lead to the end of bloodshed. We’re all complicated.

About the Author
Aaron Davidman is a writer, actor and director. He is drawn to stories of ethnic history and cultural complexity that challenge our assumptions of the “other”. Aaron served as Artistic Director of Traveling Jewish Theatre in San Francisco from 2002-2011. His play WRESTLING JERUSALEM, a solo performance about the Israel/Palestine story, is touring throughout the U.S. and is being made into a feature film. Aaron received his theatrical training at Carnegie Mellon University, earned a BA from the University of Michigan and an MFA in creative writing/playwriting from San Francisco State University.