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Friday, June 20, 2008

Melisse Lewine-Boskovich, "In retrospect: 20 years of repair work using theatre," Common Ground News Service, June 17, 2008.

TEL AVIV—Twenty years ago, it was far more trendy and sexy to be developing cross-border projects in Israel. Civil society groups and organisations tended to look past the issues facing majority-minority relations, and it was during this time that I began my work with Peace Child Israel, an organisation dedicating its efforts on the home front. In retrospect, and after seeing Israeli-Palestinian relations deteriorate in ways the organisation’s founders would have never dreamed, I ask myself: Was it worth it? Is it worth it?

If changing socially learned-stereotypes is a worthy goal, then yes.

Peace Child Israel performs original plays for communities and school audiences, and the programme has significant outreach. The bi-lingual plays are developed by teenagers, and reflect the deterioration of Israeli-Palestinian relations.

The surprising and encouraging fact is that these teenagers sit in the same room week after week, and live to tell the tale. The theatre groups survive the challenge. In the early days, 10 years before my time, the activity was ground-breaking; Peace Child Israel’s co-founders David Gordon and the late Yael Drouyannoff created a new commodity in Israel: the use of theatre as a dialogue tool between teenagers.

Yet where once it was commonplace to join such programmes, recruiting participants has become like pulling teeth; such programmes, in the context of Israeli society today, have become stigmatized. But there are still some heroes on the front: a core group of kids, parents, teachers and school principals.

Whether this work was or remains worth it can be seen on the stage itself. When the teens come out for the finale, clapping, singing, cheering each other, one realises that these teenagers are friends. During the course of a play, particularly those produced over the past ten years, an audience member could easily lose sight of this fact. By nature of things, the content is pretty rough. But better rough than a bluff. The mantra at Peace Child is: “It is not what is being said; it is how it is being said that counts.” Nearly everything can be framed in a way that the audience can digest, so censorship is rare.

Peace Child Israel was founded in 1988 with the goal of educating towards democracy, pluralism, and mutual respect between Arab and Jewish teenagers in the State of Israel. In 2003, the organisation developed a two-year curriculum that included three performances for students in the first year, and another six performances in the second. It is this capacity to achieve attitudinal change that makes the effort worth it. And the statistics show that the plays make a difference, so the curtains go up, and go up and go up.

On June 26th, Peace Child Israel alumni will convene at the Jerusalem Theatre. A long-term impact study is being produced and a “Salute to Cooperation” is being organised by a long list of wonderful musicians and actors who are contributing their time and talents to the event. They are coming to salute the heroes, for that is what they are. When most people have lost nearly all confidence in a vision of Israel where Arab and Jews will trust each other and coexist in equality, those taking up the torch of cooperation are indispensable.

Will these teenagers – who are seen as naïve or traitors by their peers – actually make the difference in law, or in the cultural and social change processes in the country? Probably not. Is it worth it to persevere? Emphatically yes. For one thing is clear: Hiba and Elinor know that the people “on the other side” are not monsters when they put the costumes on the rack for the last show. And they’ll take this understanding with them through the course of their lives, telling their children and grandchildren. Peace Child Israel is staying in business because it has something to contribute. And until the values of coexistence are an integral part of the education system, and Peace Child Israel can close shop, every Arab or Jewish teenager who stands on the stage is worth the investment.

Break a leg.

Source: Common Ground News Service, 19 June 2008,
Copyright permission is granted for publication.

Melisse Lewine-Boskovich is managing director of Peace Child Israel. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) and can be accessed at this Post

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