On stage in Jerusalem, Jewish and Arab audiences hear the other side of the story – in their own language
Jerusalem Stories challenges Jewish and Arab audiences to revisit the common narratives of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The characters: six Jerusalemites. The setting: the embattled city claimed by both Israelis and Palestinians. The point: to get people listening to narratives they didn't think they wanted to hear.Skip to next paragraph
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Jerusalem Stories is a series of dramatic monologues that are being performed in Jewish and Arab parts of the city, in Hebrew and in Arabic, with the aim of challenging audiences to empathize with the other side – or the "enemy," as many here would say.
On stage are stories representative of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to the point of being cliché: A Palestinian man expresses anger over the Israeli army's killing of his nephew, an Israeli mother grieves for her teenage son killed in a Palestinian attack.
But the stories are told in a way that cuts through prejudice and hate. Director of Jerusalem Stories, Carol Grosman, chose two Israeli actors to do all six parts for Hebrew-speaking audiences to bring them face-to-face with the narratives in their own language. Palestinian actors performed for Arab audiences in their mother tongue.
It's having the intended effect, says Mohammad Thaher, the project's Palestinian director. "The issue is that for the first time ever, they're seeing something that is about the suffering of the [other] side, and it's a shock for them. People like to hear something about their own suffering and they're not used to getting beyond that. Suddenly they feel for the other, and sometimes it makes people a little bit angry."
The Jerusalem Stories project, which includes performances as well as educational programs and workshops aimed at fostering better understanding between Israelis and Palestinians, is the labor of several years of work by Ms. Grosman, an American who came to Jerusalem and decided to use her background in drama and storytelling as a way to get people to start really listening to the other side.
After collecting some 70 in-depth profiles of people who live in Jerusalem and recording the story of how the conflict affects them, Grosman chose six that seemed to capture some of the most essential and painful elements of life here – and largely, how they cope with the suffering they endure at the hands of the "other."
The debut series of performances in East and West Jerusalem has proven powerful and phenomenal. Now Grosman and Mr. Thaher are deciding where to take the show next. High on the list: Israeli and Palestinian schools, international audiences, and perhaps in the US, where Grosman studied storytelling as a tool of conflict resolution.
It's a journey, she says, that began 15 years ago when she attended a conflict resolution program in Jerusalem. "I saw how exposing audiences to real people and their narratives just opens them up, and their horizons widen," she explains. "So I started to play with getting groups together to tell their narratives." This included bringing together Jewish and African-American groups in the US, as well as groups of young Bosnians and Croats at the Seeds of Peace camp in Maine.