This evening Carm and I went to see a play in Hebrew called Jerusalem Stories. Directed by Carol Grossman after four years of interviewing and researching, this play put on stage some of the many confronting and challenging life experiences that are common to the citizens of Jersualem. The two actors portrayed six characters, three Israeli and three Palestinian. There was a bus driver who was injured in a suicide bombing, a Jewish woman who joins a tehillim group that gives her strength, a Palestinian older lady who has to cross several border crossings in order to sell her fruits in Jerusalem, an uncle of a young boy killed in the Al Aqsa mosque riots of the second intifada, a displaced Palestinian who reminisces on his childhood playing downball against the Western wall, and perhaps most touchingly, a mother of a 15 year old boy who was killed in a suicide attack in Ben Yehuda St. All the stories are based on real interviews conducted in the years prior. When the actress portraying Miri, (the mother of Assaf who was killed on Ben Yehuda) spoke, the room became chillingly quiet. There was enormous sadness in her monologue, in particular as she described reading in the newspaper that the mother of her sons’ killer was proud of her son, and would gladly sacrifice her other children for a similar cause.
The play is also being performed in Arabic in East Jerusalem. After the show we sat in a circle on the stage and were invited to share our reactions to the play. In a very heated hour of conversation, we talked of how it feels to have the others’ side of the story told so sympathetically, what it is like to live in fear, what we have done to create this enormous hatred from Palestinians, and what some solutions may be. During the course of the discussion, we realized that one of the participants was the real ‘Miri’, the mother of Asaf Avitan
who was murdered along with 10 other youths one Saturday Night on Rehov Ben Yehuda in December 2001.
When Miri spoke and explained who she was, the group fell silent. Her grief was palpable, and even though several years have passed, it is clearly a very raw pain for her. Her contribution to the discussion was in a sense quite aggressive towards the other participants who were mostly sympathetic to the Palestinian cause. She hated the way leftist ranted on about the checkpoints and the occupation, as if this somehow justified the motivation of the murders who killed her son. She said, “If I had to live with a giant wall and checkpoints and was greatly inconvenienced each day on my way to work, but all this meant that I could see my son again, I could live with this.” She continued, “So many of you here criticize the wall for the hardship it causes to ordinary Palestinians, but I tell you, had that wall been built around Abu Dis(a Palestinian suburb east of Jerusalem) in 2001, the those two Hamas bombers would have never been able to reach my son and the hundreds of others victims that evening.”
Some tried to respond to this by saying that the harm we cause to the Palestinian is greater than what they inflict on us. She responded by saying “This is not Switzerland or Holland. We can’t have dialogue groups and hold hands and think it will make things peaceful. It’s the Middle East. We are playing with fire here. After 59 years, this state needs firm and clear borders. Only that will make us safe.”