Despite what is said, positive news from Israel/Palestine is like a ray of light breaking through the darkness.
By Andrea Gagliarducci
A small flower can spring up even in the desert, and one has definitely sprung up in hills of the Northern Galilee. This is the so-called “middle ground,” an area emcompassing Israel, Lebanon and Syria where, in the space of a few kilometres there are kibbutzim, moshavim, Arab Christian villages, Muslims, Circassians and Druse. And it is here that Angelica Edna Calò Livné works. An Italian Jew, born in Rome, Angelica (Edna) emigrated to Israel 30 years ago. After her degree in Social Theatre and a Masters in Integrating the Arts in Education, she had the idea of using theatre to promote peace. So she founded the Arcobaleno-Rainbow Theatre Group, made up entirely of young people, half of whom Jewish and half Arab. Their latest success, entitled Anne in the Sky, is based on the story of Anne Frank, something which has been in Edna’s heart for most of her life. Before that there was a mime-opera called Beresheet (containing just five spoken sentences) which shows how conflict comes about.
Many colors, one rainbow
Edna firmly believes that her theatre group can help promote peace despite all the differences and difficulties. “The idea of the Arcobaleno-Rainbow Theatre Group,” Edna explains, “is that the spectrum contains many colors, each different from the other. And yet its beauty lies precisely in the fact that all these different colours appear harmoniously together.”
Edna always wanted to use theatre for education and she has managed to put together young people from completely different ethnic and cultural backgrounds. “At one time,” says Edna, “I was teaching in five different schools, and I decided to open a theatre school. Lots of young people joined, but we didn’t have any Arabs. On the kibbutz where I live there was a young Palestinian lad who worked in the kitchen. One day he saw me pinning up a poster for the school. “What are you doing?” he asked. “I’m pinning up this poster. Why don’t you come to my theatre? Come on, don’t worry, anyone can act.” I convinced him to come. Now half the students are Arabs and half Jews. When you see them together there are no obvious cultural or religious differences. And yet they lead completely different lives, with different languages, traditions and religions. There are even differences among the Jews themselves, “said Edna.
“We meet once a week for three hours,” she says, “But the first half hour is always taken up with kisses and hugs and bringing each other up to date with what has gone on over the last week.” The basic idea behind Angelica’s theatre school is very simple: “Every religion, every human being, every tradition has its own wonderful world. But because they don’t know one another there is fear of the unknown and mistrust, and this creates conflict,” she says. “Somehow, through education, we have to bring young people together and let them get to know each other, so that they can pass their experience on to their people.”
Removing the masks
The first show is entitled Beresheet, ‘In the beginning,’ taken from the opening words of the Bible. Edna explains: “To start with they are all dressed the same and are wearing masks. But after a while we discover that, underneath the outer costume, some are wearing orange suits. Very soon those in the orange suits are fighting those in the purple suits. Eventually, after suffering and deaths, two characters detach themselves from the group. They start to get to know one another, but the group turn theirs backs on them. At a certain point a child arrives on the scene, without a mask (he is Or, my youngest son) and dressed all in white, as if to say ‘Do it for us children.’ Then they all remove their masks, something which is not normally done in theatre. It is something we decided together. In fact the young people said to me: ‘We want to take our masks off.’ And I said to them: ‘You can’t, it’s a theatrical convention.’ They replied: ‘Perhaps if we break the convention something will happen.’”
And, in fact, something happened. “Our show has a prophetic quality. There is a moment when the orange suits make a barrier. Then the purple suits make a barrier behind them, like the wall we built in reply to the wall of suicide bombers. Four years ago, when we first staged the show, the color orange had no particular significance, but now it has become the color of the Gaza disengagement plan.”
The reactions of the public to the Rainbow Theatre Group’s show are amazing. “At the end of the show, many in the audience are left speechless. They just don’t know what to say,” explained Angelica, “At a certain point, the young people sit down on the stage and conduct a dialogue with the audience. I act as interpreter. What they say is just what they feel and no one can make a judgement of it, because it is a show which speaks for both sides.”
Bread for Peace
Another point of encounter between Palestinians and Jews is the “Feast of Bread.” The idea came about through the friendship between Samar, a Christian from Palestine, and Edna. “Samar had opened a bakery in the Palestinian zone and she was always saying to me: ‘One day I want to bake bread with Israeli women.’ I lowered my head,” admits Edna, “But one day I said to her: ‘I will bring you some Israeli women.’ In fact, I brought her fifty. Samar had got everything ready, and there was even a Palestinian Scout band to welcome us. I also decided to write an article about the event. I opened the Torah to look for inspiration and eventually found a sentence in Leviticus: ‘And you will eat and be satisfied. The sword will pass no more through your land, and you will distribute the bread of peace.’ I copied it and sent it to Shalom (a Jewish weekly published in Rome). It was February and this thing began to circulate on the Internet. It gained official backing from the European Parliament and was given the go ahead in Italy. And on Wednesday 1 June 2005 the first Feast of Bread took place in Italy, which was later repeated in Rome, Milan and Naples.
Never short of new ideas, Edna has now started a radio program run by young people for young people, entitled All for Peace, which is broadcast throughout the whole of Israel from Ramallah to Jerusalem. Who knows what she will come up with next.
“Our performance Beresheet is a hymn for peace. I can’t accept terrorism, I’m glad that I can show, through our performance, that coexistence between Jews and Arabs is possible. And we show this with our living presence!”
Abir Hleihel, 18, Muslim
“I felt a voice inside me that said: It’s time to change! To go to another direction! And I understood how the difference between us is something so special! I took off my mask… If I could, everyone can! ”
Moussa Michail, 18, Arab Christian