Composer Merlijn Twaalfhoven gives an impression of his experiences during the preparation of a project in East Jerusalem.
I am currently working on a project in Jerusalem. Living rooms, kitchens, public baths and schoolrooms will host musicians, poets and actors giving brief performances inspired by stories told by the inhabitants.
While making preparations for my project, I received a striking letter from my partner organisation, a theatre in East Jerusalem. The director asked me to unequivocally declare that my project would not be a part of the 'peace process'. From the very beginning, we had discussed the contribution the project could make to mutual understanding and contact between people from the various cultures and religions. He had always agreed with me. Why did he now want a declaration that the objective of the project was not to bring peace? What could be wrong with that? Is the Peace Process some kind of club that you can join or a religion that conflicts with his?
As it turned out, he had been involved in art project for many years in which Palestinians and Israelis collectively worked towards peace, communicating a message of equality and contact. However, in this era of hope and optimism, the occupation was growing increasingly grim: many colonists were settling in East Jerusalem and on the West Bank, making a peace agreement impossible. The artists were used to distort reality and proved to be part of a propaganda mechanism that was intended to maintain Israel's image as a land of peace.
That is why Palestinian artists no longer want to work with Israelis. They refuse to give hope that is not rooted in actual progress. What a pity for the many idealistic Western musicians and theatre makers who often not only a have a good idea for contributing to the peace process but also bring along a tidy sum. A pity for me, because the various documentary makers and journalists that I had approached proved to have no interest in the project if Palestinians and Israelis were not both involved.
Perhaps I had expected to encounter in Jerusalem only the dramatic characters from the exciting story being told in the newspapers and television news shows in particular. I learned that the people who live there are like you and me: people who refuse to be used as symbols. So my project will not be a statement or a metaphor, but merely a piece of Reality: an encounter with the dreary truth in a city on the verge of collapsing under an overdose of history.