30 April 2010 0 Comments

J Street group refreshingly artistic

I spoke this week to a group touring Israel and Palestine from J Street, an American group which aims to provide an alternative perspective on the conflict hereabouts to the one put forward by AIPAC. The idea: AIPAC is a bit stuck in the mud, because it toes the line of the utterly mudstuck Israeli government, so there ought to be some new thinking on the conflict.

Thinking differently is usually thought of negatively in the Middle East. Which is why there was a bit of a stink recently when the Israeli ambassador to the US boycotted a J Street convention. As though this pro-Israel group were somehow anti-Israeli, simply because it poses questions Israel would rather avoid. Just as in the US, anyone who isn’t on the mad end of the Republican party is some kind of Communist.

I was very pleasantly surprised that I was asked to speak about portraying Israel/Palestine as an artist. I’m often asked to speak to groups about my books, only to end up being urged to comment on questions like “Will non-violence ever catch on among Palestinians?” or “Has Netanyahu changed?” Well, I have opinions on these things, but really I’m a bit bored with them…

Not only was I — and the two Israeli filmmakers also invited to speak on Wednesday night — charged with talking about my creative work, but many of the people in the J Street group were writers, playwrights, visual artists. In other words, people who believe that the best path in life might not revolve around hard cash and political trash.

The J Street group had just come from a meeting with Tzipi Livni, former Israeli Foreign Minister and head of the Kadima Party. They thought of her as a hope for the future and rather inspiring. I’ve always found her to be whiny and negative, and if she’s still leader of Kadima in a year I’ll eat one of my son’s diapers. (I’ll post it to youtube to prove that I’m true to my word.) But I try to be polite at these events and in any case people ought to take their inspiration wherever they can get it in such generally uninspiring times in the Middle East, so I kept quiet.

One of the other filmmakers invited by J Street was Arik Bernstein, whose Gaza Sderot project is one of the most interesting sets of short films about Israelis and Palestinians made in years. Though the website/films are very sensitive to the fact that they’re about a conflict, they’re really quite lovely cultural insights into the way the two people’s cope with the division around them. Take a look at the films, in particular the one where a Gazan laughs that the tunnels under the Egyptian border ought to be expanded so that jokes can be smuggled through. “We need more humor,” he says. Amen, habibi.

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