Everyone wants to start their own organization to bring Palestinians and Israelis together for peace. The problem is, no one wants to do it by working together.
When I started Comedy for Peace several years ago, I thought peace efforts like that didn’t exist. I hadn’t heard of any, other than a small village in Israel where 25 Palestinian families and 25 Israeli families have been living together in virtual seclusion since 1976.
I once served on their board, but the other board members, who were not Palestinian at the time, didn’t seem to like my constant calls for official contacts between Israelis and Palestinians.
My slogan is “If we can laugh together, we can live together.”
Apparently, even if we laugh together no one will live together until they actually decide that they really want to live together.
In other words, all these peace efforts won’t add up to much if the people out there, the Palestinian and Israeli publics, don’t want peace.
In reaching out to build a network of support, I realized peace efforts like this are a dime a dozen. There are many. It’s just that they all want to do their own thing. Greater people than me have tried and keep trying.
Actor Richard Gere has a peace effort and a foundation. He did something. The event made headlines.
Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt were working with Danny DeVito and his wife Rhea Perlman supporting an effort called “One Voice,” a great idea, although, it seems, their founder put the emphasis on “One.” Does the Aniston and Pitt break-up mean their peace efforts branched out and are growing?
Loads of Hollywood types have dedicated themselves to Middle East peace, at least for a headline. Susan Sarandon. Richard Dreyfuss. Danny Glover. William Shatner stepped up to boldly go where no man has gone before.
Different sort of convergence
The inspirational Michael Lerner of Tikkun has a peace effort. So does Deepak Chopra. I performed at both their gatherings. Chopra called it a “convergence,” which has a whole different meaning from the “convergence” that is being unilaterally sought by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
There is Dancing for Peace by the al-Raja Debka Dance Group from Ramallah. Given the terrible circumstances in which they must live, it’s inspiring to see them push ahead anyway during a six week tour that has taken them through Chicago and seven states.
There is Seeds of Peace, which seems to be in winter hibernation, and, Bicycling for Peace, which needs a little air in its tires.
Crossing the line
There are other Jewish and Palestinian comedians who also have their own peace efforts, but they don’t work together. In the comedy profession, most comedians despise each other.
One Arab comedian in New York, who really despises me, explained indignantly: not only did I want to perform comedy with “Jews,” she complained in an email, but I also wanted to perform with “Israelis.”
I guess that crossed her punch line.
Before all these great peace efforts were begat, there were “Dialogue Groups.” Palestinians and Israelis shared our stories, our hopes and our dreams. And then we all drifted off. Because we never went anywhere except to the falafel table to eat. We came together and got to know each other. And maybe that was the problem.
The Mother of all Dialogue groups is headed by Lennie and Libby Traubman http://traubman.igc.org/dg-prog.htm. in the “Jerusalem” of the American peace movement, San Francisco. I turned to Lennie to ask for some guidance.
“At the root, the process of change is about People and Relationships. Nowhere is this better illustrated than in the Holy Land, where treaties -- cold pieces of paper -- have never been respected by either people. While we are still controlled by fear from distance and ignorance of each other, we will not have the courage to change, and our lower instincts will still rule,” Traubman explained.
When I observed that most dialogue groups and peace events only have limited reach and success, he agreed, saying, “The circle is far too small. To have one's own dialogue is mandatory and the correct beginning. It changes the participant -- always the first step. But the required ‘action’ is relationship building, and public outreach to include others is next required for a successful process of change. … We know we’re not alone.”
Lennie shared news of the “Fourth Annual” Palestinian-Jewish Weekend “Oseh Shalom - Sanea al-Salam Family Peacemakers Camp” to be held this Fall at Camp Towanga in California.
Just this week, a new peace project was launched by a Palestinian and an Israeli at Roger Waters' concert at Neve Shalom. It’s called “Just a Minute of Peace,” or JAMOP for short. They have a web page of the same name. They also have foundation, and they’ll probably form a board, raise funds, and host many events – everyone has to have at least one. And then?
They’ll hold 30 more concerts. You can hold up a cell phone instead of a lighter for affect. It could be the beginning of something, I guess. Or maybe, just a great punchline.
“You see … this Palestinian dude and this Israeli dude walked into a bar, er, Roger Waters' concert … and they decided they needed to form their own peace effort … and …”
Ray Hanania is an award winning Palestinian American journalist author and standup comedian. He can be reached at www.hanania.com