“The Theater of Miracles”

BETHANY (West Bank) – The little kibbutz theater and the hospice in Bethany are separated by many miles of highway, by Lake Tiberiade and the Jordan Valley. And by snipers, and Sharon’s wall, and Arafat’s duplicity. And by the checkpoints clogging the West Bank. And by the hate of the second Intifada. And in the end, by History with a capital “H”. Angelica and Samar have spanned it all in an embrace that began two years ago and has yet to loosen.

Among the orchards and military turrets in northern Israel, near the borders with Hezbollah’s Lebanon, in that small theater called “Arcobaleno” [Rainbow], Angelica Calò Livnè teaches young Jews, Arabs, Circassians, Druse, Christians and Muslims to recite the lines of peace. At every terrorist attack she prays: “My Lord, drive out hate, let us remain who we are.” She says, “I had been looking for a Palestinian friend for a long time, someone like me. I heard about her. One day I called her, and later we met. You have to meet Samar too, she’s special.

Submerged by a wild bunch of kids (she calls them “my children”) at the Jeel El Amal orphanage in Bethany, which she inherited from her parents and expanded into an even more defiant place of refuge – Lazarus Home – hiding even young single mothers that Palestinian society would irredeemably damn, Samar Sahhar is indeed special. She laughs, “Angelica became my friend, then my sister. God has made us the same.

This is the story of a friendship that is almost forbidden by the prevailing political climate. It is a story with a small “s” of an Israeli woman and a Palestinian woman, whom perhaps God did make identical but who appear almost to be opposites: Angelica is minute and brimming with nervous energy, black curls and long lashes that moisten at almost nothing. Samar is robust and unsinkable, with short hair and arms like a champion of the faith.

Only when you have looked a little more closely do you see it in their eyes, that identical gaze. And then you understand that when they call themselves “sisters” it is not just a manner of speaking. Last Wednesday they met in Rome at the Vittoria Theater in front of six hundred schoolkids from seven lyceums. But before the show began—the show that Angelica is taking around Italy, “Bereshit, In the beginning”, with her eighteen very young actors who dance in white masks and recite lines like “No place is safe! There has to be a solution … some hope!”—Samar appeared on the stage. And Angelica had not been expecting her. They embraced each other there in front of the uncomprehending Roman kids. Then Samar said, “If the whole world could see this show everyone would know that peace is truly possible.” And then there was a deep hush that lasted three full minutes before the students finally burst into applause.

But the small and determined story of Angelica and Samar is full of words. With the words of Angelica, a 47-year-old who left Rome as a young girl to go live on Sasa, one of the last Kibbutzim still keeping true to the original Socialist ideals. She taught Batya and Nemi, Amal and Sharif and all the other pupils at the Kerem Ben Zimra theater workshop that they can make a difference, “that weeping in front of the television is not enough.” The idea behind “Bereshit”, those white masks that fall to the stage floor “revealing the beauty of diversity” accompanied by the songs of Noah (“it’s over, it’s all done, we will touch our dream”), came from the children after six months with Angelica and Samar. “When I spoke for the first time before the regional council of High Galilee, when I said that I also wanted Arab children, they said, ‘Well, it’s a nice idea, but with the Intifada … you know … politically it’s not the thing to do. Forget about the Arabs.’ And I answered, ‘Either them or nothing.’ And it worked.” One of her actors, Sharif Balut, a big Arab boy from the village of Fassouta, took the script so seriously that he caused an outbreak of peace, real peace, between his cohorts and the Jewish kids from Elkosh: “We were in a situation of gang warfare. But I noticed Ofri over there at their barricade,” she tells, “and one day he came to see me at the theater. I went up to him and said, ‘Hello friend, do you remember me?’ Yes, he did. And so we all made a ‘sulha’, which means reconciliation both in Arabic and in Hebrew.

And Samar too, in the twin shelters on opposite sides of a dusty street in Bethany, works with words—the words of a mother or big sister for the 70 children at Jeel El Amal (“Generation of Hope”), the 33 little girls at the Lazarus Home and the women hidden at the orphanage who find a refuge from their troubles. At the moment there are three women, a prostitute, one just out of an insane asylum and another who killed the man who raped her.

Samar is 42 years old and Catholic. The first stone of the first shelter was placed by Alice, her mother, many many years ago. “I was initiated with the Memores Domini,” she says. She does not have a family of her own. “My children are all these here.” Abdallah, 10 years old, with two stumps instead of hands, who would not utter a word when he was first brought there (“now he is the smartest one in the fourth grade”) asked her, “Mama, how do sheep and cows eat if there’s a war?” All of them together, with the children recovered from the refugee camps in Ramallah, Bethlehem, and Tulkarem, decided that the sheep and cows had to start eating again and so the war had to end. Samar bursts out, “An orphan doesn’t have anyone and so the kids on the street are all ready and able to join the Intifada. Mine aren’t. I don’t want my children to kill or die!

And so Samar fights her invisible war against recruiters and the Palestinian authorities, and pays a price. She opened a bread shop in town to help support her work, but she has not been able to get the electricity hooked up for a year. People on the street have signed a petition to close the orphanage “that hides the bad women”. If Samar gave up, the “bad women” would probably be lapidated. And so she hangs in there. And she gathers close around her the latest arrivals: Safiria, 6 years old, found in a chicken coop covered with burns; Nanni, 7years old, chained in a cave in Bethlehem. She fusses over Nahla, 14 years old, who has a long scar on her forehead but is a whiz in science and attends the Peace Now marches. “Let’s all sing together, habibti, my loves,” she says. Crystalline voices are raised in the refectory, “Ya raba salam / imnan biladana salam, God of peace / give peace to our land,” and reach all the way to the laundry room, ruled by Alia, the woman who killed her rapist. His relatives have been hunting for her ever since she got out of prison. She was a wrinkled face. She says, “I am good at washing, you know? But my legs are always hurting, everything is always hurting.” Samar strokes her hand, “It will pass, everything will pass.

While waiting for everything to pass, Samar and Angelica have filled two years of friendship. Their first meeting was in East Jerusalem, their second at the Weeping Wall. Together they toured schools and universities in Italy, won awards and participated in debates with titles such as “Two Women’s Quest”. Last year the Italian television program “Excalibur” dedicated a twenty-minute special to them. Soon two children from the orphanage will join the group at the Arcobaleno. But it is not always easy. At the University of Bari they said, “We are two friends, not Sharon and Arafat,” and someone snapped, “Who are you trying to kid? One friendship is not going to stop the war.” Samar has a little story for people like that: “A man sees a little bird lying on its back. ‘Why are you lying there like that?’ he asks the bird. And the bird answers, ‘I heard that God is going to make the sky fall today; I am trying to protect the Earth.’ The man laughs, “Are you kidding? You’re going to try to save the Earth with your tiny little claws?’ And the bird responds, “I am doing all that I can!’” Goffredo Buccini


Why this prize for Angelica and Samar?

The jury awarded the prize for “Human freedom and advancement” to the Israeli educator, Angelica Calò Livné, and to the Palestinian orphanage director, Samar Sahhar. The jury included: Franco Mascia (president of Difendiamo il Futuro, Sardinia), Mario Mauro (president of Difendiamo il Futuro), Giorgio Vittadini (president of Compagnia delle Opere), Luigi Amicone (director of Tempi), Antonio Socci (vice director of Rai Due), Renato Farina (vice director of Libero), Alessandro Maida (Dean of the University of Sassari), Cosimo Filigheddu (Correspondent for La Nuova Sardegna), Antonello Arru (president of Fondazione Banco di Sardegna), Giampiero Farru (president of CSV Sardegna Solidale), Roberto Perrone (Correspondent for Corriere della Sera), Ubaldo Casotto (vice director of Il Foglio), Pierluigi Battista (Correspondent for La Stampa).

In the dramatic story of Abraham—in which we all have our origins—we read that the patriarch, confronted with the foretold destruction of Sodom, threw himself into dizzying negotiations with the Omnipotent and managed to win a deal. The city would not be destroyed if 10 righteous people could be found in it. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, evoking this biblical episode in one of his stories, The House of Matriona, concludes that this woman, Matriona, was the person thanks to whom the village could go on existing. I wanted to mention these images because they are always what comes to mind when I think about Angelica and Samar.

A city, a people, a nation, a state are not just political, institutional or economic entities. They would crumble if that was all they were. They need a soul to give them life. For those who have encountered these women face to face and heard their tales, it is clear that they bring out the shining soul of their peoples. The fact that people like them exist means that the good Lord has a good plan for their two peoples, that they have hope, that they have a destiny in peace. And they have it together.

For those who have beheld the light in their eyes and the light that they represent for the pain-stricken children and young people with whom they live and work—both of them living a spiritual motherhood which is perhaps even greater than the immensity of biological motherhood—it is clear that hate and violence will not have the last word in this world.

There is no curse upon the land that has given so much to human history, there is no curse condemning everyone and everything to destruction. We always hear that it is the political elite who have to resolve the problem. But instead the thing that is truly decisive, in all things, is what gets planted in people’s hearts, especially in the hearts of children, in the souls of the young. Angelica and Samar are silent planters of humanity; they are the face of hope. I think that when the good Lord sees the faces of people like this He blesses their peoples.

Antonio Socci

A statement by Angelica Calò Livnè  


Education is hope. It is the last hope for the world’s survival. The education of our children, our own education. A few days ago I was with a group of old friends. We meet every year from all over Israel and we go walking for miles over rocks and through forests to get better acquainted with this small land, and through our dialog with nature our bond becomes stronger.



It seemed that nothing could darken the spirit of these unstoppable sabre, extraordinarily tanned all year round from working in the open air. It was unthinkable that the bitterness and incredulity at the situation in Israel could cast even for a minute a shadow of troubles across their eyes too. During the outing, during our climbs up the many rocks in the Wadi Daraje desert near the Dead Sea, I hardly recognized my longtime friends, this group of wonderful, deeply human people who, 25 years ago, at Misgav Am, a kibbutz on the border with Lebanon, freed 11 three-year-old children from two terrorists who had taken them hostage.


As we walked between two immense majestic rock walls I told them about my travels in Italy and around the rest of the world with Samar Sahhar, my Palestinian friend, director of an orphanage in Bethany. I talked to them about our efforts for peace and the warmth with which we were received wherever we went to tell about our educational experience.


Avi, an agronomist, interrupted me, “It’s very nice to hear your stories about your theater project with Arab and Jewish kids and your efforts to bring them closer together, but my dear friend there’s nothing to be done for it: they, the Arabs, want us dead, they don’t want us here in Israel, they have no intention of living side by side with us! There will never be peace with the Palestinians. No dialog will ever be possible with these people. I know you want it dearly but it is an impossible dream!”


They are 45-year-old men whom I met when they were boys, when they were as old as my son is now. Fathers without a future, who build houses and families to whom they can promise nothing. A heated, painful discussion ensued, an argument among people who feel betrayed. I realize that I cannot let myself be overcome by the sadness, by the events, by images of attacks and of barriers. I realize that they need to hear my voice, a voice that was once also their own but that they lost because they did not have my fortune of believing deeply in the inestimable value and power of education, the fortune of knowing that I bore the responsibility of a generation to bring up.


“So why stay here?” I asked, “Why be so deeply attached to this land? Why teach our children to know every single stone? We have the duty to hope, to continue to seek a way to live together with them, with the people who live on the other side of the barrier. To convince them and convince ourselves that it is possible. To find a way to raise their kids and ours normally! We have to do what we can! And we have to start with education, ours and theirs. We are doing it and we will go on doing it; we cannot give up. We alone can teach these people the courage to love life, the secret of the industriousness that creates work, bread, hope!”


My voice echoed as if pleading with my listeners not to give up—please, not them! “But Galilee today is the cradle of Hamas…” says Hanoch. “I know, I live in Galilee but the Arabs of Fassouta and Jish are part of our lives there. And lots of them are looking for serenity just as we are. Life, when you get right down and live it, is a lot less complicated than it seems when you just talk about it!”


When it came time to say good-bye to Amos, the most disenchanted of all, Amos, with his past full of stories, someone who knows the Arabs well from having worked with them and lived with them, he hugged me and gave me his own sort of blessing… “Keep on doing what you’re doing, we need lots more like you who still believe…”


And I send on to you this blessing, this prayer, this urgency: believe!


And the prophecy will fulfill itself! It will!


Angelica Calò Livnè

(Kibbutz Sasa Alta Galilea )

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