....question. What is the real situation, as seen from the ground, in the West Bank? It's the subject of articles every day in the paper. It's the subject of books that fill shelves in stores around the world. It dominates conversation in the UN and is the sole mandate of a special envoy, George Mitchell, from the United States. Even starting to frame an answer to that question opens the ultimate Pandora's Box.
As with all situations involving life, justice and injustice, you are confronted by the "depends on what side you see it from" dilemma. How do you develop a vantage point, a perspective, that stays objective? Or is it meant to be that you have to take a side, a stand? And, if you do, what does that do for your ability to contribute ultimately to a solution? What, if any, role can/does an American dance company serve in that discussion, that dialogue, that world? Before we left the States I was challenged by a past patron over why we were even coming to the West Bank. For him an agenda which doesn't exist lay under every conversation. It lead me the reprimand my own staff for the terms of art they used to describe where we were going. What was "the Palestinian Territories" and what was Israel.
When, if ever, can you use the word "Palestine" in conversation without igniting debate and forcing a situation where people think you have "taken sides?" In the end, what I find is that we are doing what people do every moment of every day -- meeting other people and forging individual relationships that are ex-political, meaning, simply, not political. That may sound, and seem, naive, but what choice is there?
We, as a delegation of Americans from Washington, DC, are not going to invent peace in the Middle East. Each of our experiences, and each will be very different from one another, will frame not a region but a life. We will bring back different tales, different memories, and those will infuse themselves into our individual lives, as the experience of meeting us will shape the lives of the others we meet here. It is the weaving of small webs that will last. People came here afraid on many levels, persuaded by the stories on the news that this was a war zone, that walking down the street put your life at risk. It's not and it hasn't. That alone is worth the journey.
We are, by nature, tribal in my view. We form bonds and communities, and develop passion and care for those, and in so doing too easily develop an "us against them" mentality that is somehow preternatural, built into our genes. Its a survival technique. But its built for a less complex time, and for a world that no longer exists. But when you are, as we are here, in the midst of a land, and of peoples, divided literally by walls, separated by funnels in the form of checkpoints and barriers, where you can see the lights of Jerusalem from our hotel but are with people who cannot travel there but could travel to the States, you are forced into the reality that goals, and visions, do not merge with reality easily.
There are artists from all around the world here for this festival. They have traveled great distances, stood in many lines for many hours, raised many funds and done so for, often, 90 minutes on stage in an elegant theater (or theaters) in the cradle of so many great civilizations. Why? The easy answer is "because its what we do." But the honest answer if far, far more complex and far, far more individual. The shell overlying a trip like this is the performance we leave behind.
The nutrients in the soil beneath it is the experience and life we take away.