RAMALLAH, July 23 (JMCC) - In a list of unlikely places to look for peace in the Middle East, the Israeli Defence Force has to come top. But the field of amateur dramatics definitely comes a close second.
Enter Combatants for Peace, a group of Israelis and Palestinians who have been trained to fight either in the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) or as Palestine's Fatah paramilitaries, but have now put down their guns and together taken to the stage. Read
The group, formed in 2005, perform sketches based on their own experiences of war to promote a non-violent resolution to the conflict. Where these theatrical workshops take place is critical to the protest. Most recently, they improvised a scene about Israeli check-points to an audience of Palestinians, Israelis and international activists on a hill-top in the West Bank over-looking an Israeli settlement. They didn't get far before IDF officers stopped the show.
Pitching a group of trained killers-turned-thespians as messengers of peace seems a hard sell: disputes over the expansion of illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory resolved in one almighty improvisation workshop …? Really? Even allowing for the most obliging of circumstances, it's difficult to see how theatre can pack so much as a glancing punch at figures of real power in Israel, Palestine or anywhere. No matter how powerfully a piece of anti-war drama is scripted or performed, or how important the audience, it takes a leap of faith to see how theatre can genuinely affect the direction of a conflict, particularly when it is pitted against the immovable brawn of the Israeli war machine or a Palestinian committed to martyrdom.
But then there's none so zealous as a convert. Chen Alon, the group's founder, was a major in the IDF. Nour Shehadah, the group's Palestinian head, was a leading Fatah paramilitary. Shot in an assassination attempt by IDF soldiers in the early 90s, he spent five years in an Israeli jail and still lives with his family in Tulkarem, one of the largest refugee camps in the West Bank. Both are now passionately committed to working together towards a non-violent resolution to the conflict, citing Martin Luther King and Gandhi as inspirational figures.
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