An Israeli and a Palestinian who actually agreed on something… I thought, that’s an opportunity for people to see…
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is only getting worse, and the news in the past week has been even more troubling. But most recently, the news of the attacks in Gaza have gained a lot of attention. In only 6 days 104 Palestinians were killed and 866 wounded after Israel’s recent attacks. In the more than 65 years of conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians, the ancient war mentality, “an eye for an eye” has continued to dominate.

Yet tonight, in a small room in the south of France, in a city that dates back to the Ancient Romans, professors and students from all backgrounds, gathering to watch a play and hear from two remarkable people, simultaneously felt a sense of hope.

Over fall break a group of students and teachers who attended a Peace Conference in Dublin, Ireland, caught a 5 minute glimpse of a play that had such an impact on them, they worked to bring the message home. Thanks to their persistence and the willingness of the two creators to fly from Ireland, we were lucky enough to see the play “Bassam” performed at our school in Aix-en-Provence.

“Bassam” is not only inspiring because of its plot, but even more so because of the reality behind its creation. Originally written in Spring 2008 in Hebrew, the play was written by ex-Israeli soldier Idan Meir to tell the true story ofBassam Aramin, co-founder of the Israeli-Palestinian movement “Combats for Peace”, who after his 10 year old daughter was murdered by Israeli police, decided to instead of seeking revenge, turn away and work instead towards justice.

Played by one actor, Fadl Mustapha, the play was extremely well executed and powerful. Fadl Mustapha, tells Bassam’s story from his perspective, re-enacting the circumstances and reliving the emotions he felt when his wife and son no longer talked to him for being friends with Jews after their people were responsible for killing his daughter. He goes through the distress of watching his son become brainwashed by war and the knowledge that nothing will ever bring his daughter back. In the end of the play, Bassam, so frustrated with his son’s decision to continue with the war, threatens to kill a 19-year-old Israeli soldier in revenge and continue the circle of violence. Since Mustapha is the sole actor, you see his big brown eyes glisten with emotion as he clenches the gun with two fists, pointing it toward a point in the audience, as he re-enacts Bassam’s desperate struggle between revenge and retaliation. As he’s holding up the gun, you hear the thoughts running through his head, his daughter’s voice laughing and his Jewish Israeli friends talking to him.  Just then, his eyes weaken, he puts his gun down, and walks away, never to return to violence again. After this powerful scene, the play ends, Mustapha bows and everyone claps…

The room turned to hear the students who visited Dublin for the Peace Conference over Fall Break speak. But while they spoke, what only half of the room could see was that after Mustapha bowed, he went to a dark corner on the side of the room, completely overcome with emotion. To me, it became clear then that perhaps the most emotional part was not the play itself, but what we were about to learn after. Mustapha put his hand to his brow and broke down crying; turning his face away from the crowd so as not to be obvious. It was this moment that I won’t forget.

For those who are from Middle East, who have experienced the emotions, it is not an easy task to re-enact such very real emotions in a play. Given the most recent bombings; the reality is still so real, this fight has not ended.

After the play we were privileged to hear both the writer/director Idan Meir and the actor Fadl Mustapha speak about how exactly they had come together, who they were, and what their background was….

Idan Mier, after serving for 4 and a half years in Lebanon, Gaza and the West Bank, fled the country to escape anything that would make him remember the war he had experienced so closley. In a visit back to Israel, he made the switch from soldier to artist after having had the curiosity to interview Israeli teenage prisoners, who each had “extraordinary stories” that had a big affect on him. He found himself exhausted because each story they had shared about their experiences with the war had touched his heart so profoundly, he told us. After that, he told us, he didn’t believe people really want war, but that they are merely brainwashed into doing something they don’t understand. Mier told us, “There is one moment [where] you just have to let go”. Finally someone said to him once after noticing his curiosity in this, “Why don’t you write a story?”, so that’s what he did. He found that art was the best way to spread his peace efforts, and the theater was the best mechanism, despite the criticism he got for writing it along the way.“Everybody needs a good story to open his heart”, Idan said. After going to school and getting his Masters degree in theatre, he wrote his play, and went on to share his story.

A true testament to Meir’s good decision in creating the play in the first place, is his friendship with Fdal Mustapha. Mustapha had actually heard the reading of the play while in post-conflict Ireland, and was amazed that not only was it ironic that an ex-Israeli soldier was telling a story from a Palestinian perspective, but that he told the truth, Mustapha said.

Mustapha, born in 1972 in a Palestinian refugee camp near Beirut had a personal connection to the play, and took an immediate interest in the story. Having no acting experience previously, he eventually joined Idan’s group, auditioned, and became the lead role of his play Bassam. Mustapha told us that he felt it was important to him because growing up he shared the same mentality of those in Palestine, “Blame the Israelis, blame the Jews…but [after having seen the play] I felt something inside me change”. He remembered thinking “If it’s not me, who else? I’m a Palestinian, who better?” Mustapha said, “Through theater, they don’t just browse it; they humanize it, they visualize it…It’s a great vehicle”.

Watching these two sit right in front of us, an ex-Israeli soldier, and a Palestinian born in a refugee camp near Beirut; was remarkable, powerful, uplifting, and encouraging.

There we saw hope accompanied with important lessons to live by.

“When you fight back, they don’t become weaker, they become stronger”, Meir said.

While the fight still continues, smoke rises; beauty in humanity still persists. This story, this play, needed to be told and needs to continue being told. It portrays an important example of humanity, of Bassam, and of “Two enemies [who] became friends working together on stage”- Meir.

Lots of love, no matter where in the world you are,




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