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Encounters Visit to Palestine and Israel Blog No 4 : Telling Old Stories so that we can Re-imagine New Ones

Reaching out to young people

Monday, November 18, 2013

Encounters associate Ben Yeger reflects on the workshops he is leading with Combatants for Peace (CfP) in Israel and Palestine, and the importance of transformation, theatre and storytelling. 

CFP-BEN_14_11_13_01Delivering the Personal Storytelling work has been complex especially this week working with the Israeli members of the movement. Identifying the unique entrance into the cycle of violence, and then the point of transformation away is difficult as it differs hugely from individual to individual. For example – women have a very different, whilst very relevant  story to tell. Their stories are not for the most part about being a combat soldier  but more about being a conscript for two years in an army that is causing violence. So adapting the thinking and Story Telling training to meet the variety of needs and  in this complex field has certainly been a challenge – and a very fulfilling one at that.

This week I  have also had the privilege of going to meet some new friends in Ramallah. One of them a 23 year old Palestinian actor from the Freedom Theatre in Jenin.  It was our first meeting and I was unsure how ready he was to meet me, an Israeli ex combatant who is currently involved in a joint struggle for peace with other Palestinians. In any case the meeting took place. After some hesitation , some searching hellos, a few questions about where we each had come from  I ventured  to ask: ” So what do you know and think about Combatants for Peace?” His response was very powerful and unequivocal and went something like this: “Please don’t talk to me about Peace! I am interested in talking about freedom, change,  vision, revolution, creativity, expression of truth, Theatre! These are words that mean something to me.  Peace has become a word which is so easily put out and it doesn’t really mean anything anymore”

Whilst I still believe in Peace I can completely see what he is saying about the word and how it is used. The word has become soft, used by politicians who are far more interested in their own power and glory than creating a real Peace. I was inspired by this man’s commitment to trying to re-imagine his life and create a new way of seeing his and the world as a whole.

To put everything into context: this young man has seen seven of his best friends die in the struggle against the Israeli occupation, he has been shot and by his own admission he was  on the verge of becoming a suicide bomber before he discovered the Freedom Theatre. Theatre saved his, and probably many others lives. I feel inspired by the potential of our ongoing connection.

Seeing with new eyes


On the other side of the border… I facilitated a meeting with 30 young Israelis three months before they put on the uniform and join the Israeli Army. Most of these young people come from left wing families who in one way or another try to instill a sense of human justice into their children. Yet here they all were prepared to give two or three years of their lives to serve this violent machine, masquerading as a system that protects the lives of their families.  They all feel that they can serve in a humane way and that in some way they have NO choice as every young man and woman is conscripted to serve in the army.

A young Israeli who had just left the army a week before this meeting and joined CfP whilst still in Service (already refusing to serve in the occupied territories) told his fresh story of realisation and transformation. The most moving thing about his story in this context was that he was exactly where they were three years ago because he went through the same particular pathway they were embarking upon. This simple human connection between him and them meant that they were called to really listen and consider what it was they were about to do.

CFP-BEN_14_11_13_03We were joined by an important addition, our Palestinian friend who told his harrowing story of nearly killing two soldiers at the age of 14 and then spending 10 years in an Israeli prison to then come out and choose non violence and CfP.  The event felt vital in as much as we have to reach out to the next generation, speak to and with the youth here and everywhere. Its them and their children who we must be working with and for.

So I raise my metaphorical hat to the potential of telling old stories so that we can re-imagine new ones. My wish is that we can find a way to understand the reality we are in and find a way of seeing it with new eyes, owning our connection to the pain and suffering and yet still have the courage to act, to take part in changing it

May it be so