Cross cultural circus and avoiding the draft

28 January 2007

Heading north we found ourselves in rural Israel: cow land.  Located in a village built on Kibbutz principals is the Israeli Circus School by the Australian David Berry.  Based in an old cinema the school has great facilities with a huge stage, aerial rig, trampoline and tight rope.  We were visiting to thank David for his formal invite for the circus to visit Israel and to see what cross cultural projects they have been working on.

Working in the arts in Israel is not easy; there is chronic underfunding.  50% of the school’s income is from its services and 50% comes from overseas funding.  This story of lack of state funding was repeated when we visited the Lajun Theatre in Narazeth.  The theatre was set up to perform Arabic cultural shows in bilingual (Hebrew and Arabic) medium.  They take these shows to Jewish schools in the area to foster cross cultural understanding and appreciation.  Its such a shame that the Israeli state dosn’t appreciate the true value of such work.

During our time at the circus we got to know some of the pupils and teachers.  As young people high in their minds is military service; either impending draft, friends serving or their own experiences.  Although it is a requirement it is possible to avoid joining and completing social service instead.  This is done by claiming to be ‘crazy’ – or in other words a pacifist.  Twenty years ago it wasn’t so easy; I met someone who attempted suicide outside Jerusalem hospital to avoid the draft.  Avoiding the draft isn’t without it’s drawbacks; working for the civil service is impossible and it is likely that employment in many nationalist organisations will be closed to you.  There is also the issue of peer pressure – as one girl who was considering her options put it: ‘but all my friends are going.  If I don’t go I won’t be with them.’  There is certainly a lot of pressure on very young (18 when they join) Israeli Jews to conform, and once they have, the military have 3 years to indoctrinate them into ‘proper’ Israeli citizens.  However there is no compulsion for Israeli Christians or Muslims to join the military; building a religious divide within the nation and the military.

Perversely it is compulsary for Israeli Druze to join the military, which leads to its own tensions between religious communities.  Some say this was borne from the Druze community as seeing the new Israeli state as a salvation from Muslim oppression.  However nowadays, perhaps from the realisation that the Israeli state is not treating them equally, as many as 30-40% avoid the draft.  One project that the Circus school has done in cross cultural work was creating a performance of Aladdin with a Druze community circus in Maghar.  It was a trilingual show with performers from the Jewish and Druze communities.  Circus is a great means to develop high level trust; something much needed in a country where there is much inter community distrust.

We went to visit Maghar to work with their cirucs and put on a show.  It was fantastic to have extended time working with a small group of very enthusiastic and talented young people.  We worked on a number of theatre games and worked on circus skills.  There is certainly a lot of potential here and I can’t wait to return to see have far they have developed.  Yet again we were hosted with great kindness and warmth by Adnan and his family; we are all putting on weight with th quantity and quality of food provided.

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The forgotten village of Kiwana

22 January 2007

Just outside Hebron there is a tiny forgotten village off the main road and up a dirt track.  Suzana arranged for us to visit there to put on a show and play with the kids.  So setting off early in the morning we cross the Israeli check point into the West Bank and Palestine proper.  Tailing back the other way were a queue of cars, bus, vans and trucks waiting for the say so of the Israeli army to enter East Jerusalem.  We entered an area of hills dotted with rocks and olive trees between which small boys drove goats.  Up and down the countryside we went, passing King Herod’s summer palace high on a hill; you can’t go too far without stumbling over a historical site.

From Hebron we had to pass two more Israeli army checkpoints and made several phone calls for instructions before we finally arrived at the village – to be greeted by 80 children from the village.  The conditions there were extremely basic with erratic water supply and electricity from a generator.  However on the hill side over looking the village you could see Settler compounds.  20 children from the school live outside the village in caves a few kilometers away passed the Settlement.  Each day these children have to be escorted by the the Israeli army because of the risk of attack from the Settlers.

We did the show which was a load of fun with plenty of heckling and laughter from the children.  And we set about trying to organise some games for them to play when two Israeli humvees drove through the village.  Suddenly the spell was broken and tension and stress could be seen on the children’s faces.

There is no peace for the people of this village; the more outspoken of the villagers claim to be hassled day and night.  This has not escaped the notice of the Israeli and international peace community.  Our show was organised by an Israeli group of peace activists who also arrange for Internationals to stay in the village to observe any human rights issues from the Settlers and Israeli Army.

As we were leaving we asked to use the toilet and we were taken to the home of one of the children.  And despite their poverty (they had no furniture) we couldn’t leave without a cup of tea and plenty of warm smiles.  Annie and Kiwana local


East Jerusalem – The Wall and the tails of two schools, but the same story

16 January 2007

Jerusalem is an unequally divided city – West and East. The West is controlled by the Israeli authorities – it is historical, prosperous, full of amenities, but tense. The East is neither under Israeli or Palestinian authority; it is effectively left to rot. Rather it is controlled by the Israeli army – restricting entry and exit, populated by Palestinians. For most it is an open prison dominated by The Wall, which snakes across the landscape.

We first see The Wall walking down the East Jerusalem suburb of Bethany’s main street which has been renamed by locals as ‘The Road to Nowhere’. So called because it cuts across it, stopping traffic and trade. Now a detour of 50 minutes (dependant on favourable check point conditions) for a journey that use to take 2 minutes. It separates families, communities and lives. It stops access to shops, hospitals, education, clubs, religious sites, cinemas and culture.

We took the opportunity by the wall to make our mark of dissent using the artistic tool of the weak – the spray can. The Wall and The Circus Many thousands will use this huge canvas to vent their anger until it will eventually fall. It was very eerie to hear street life coming through the cracks of the walls.

The Wall is omnipresent in East Jerusalem – it is visible from our host Suzana I. Zorko’s house A view of The Wall (her organisation is called Children of Bethany). As is land which has been cleared of houses to make way for the monstrous progress of The Wall. Suzana and her family have been fantastic to us – welcoming us into their home with such kindness and warmth. I for one will be sad to leave. Suzana has been arranging shows and workshops for us this week and we hope to work with her again before we leave.

Our first ever show was on the 15th Jan at an all boys school. It was a poor school with only limited facilities and resources. As we pulled up in the van a hoard of excited boys greated us with whoops and cheers. Our copious luggage was carried by many small hands. As the boys lined up on one side of the playground and we prepared on the other we realised it would be a tough audience.

Afterwards the boys crowed round and we showed them some tricks and they, in return, showed us theirs. One boy walked on his hands for 20 seconds. The boys obviously enjoyed the show, as it is uncommon for them to see strangers – let alone strange strangers doing magic, juggling and comedy. It is difficult to comprehend how disadvantaged these boys our by being limited to their ghetto home.

The next day we visited a girl’s othordox Russian school. They were a much more receptive audiece and the rough edges of our show had been smoothed. It was a good school with high fees, but despite their relative affluence the disadvantages of lack of opportunities and opportunities are the same. The girls see little more than their school and home; even the rough streets of their Bethany are off limits. We are a breath of fresh air and some fun to lift the stress of their daily lives.


Dahab to Jerusalem

15 January 2007

Takes 15 hours.  That is if you have about 150kg of luggage for 5 people, get stuck at the border for 5 hours going through security,  and miss you direct bus.  But hey ho.  We got here; tired, sore but excited.

The first Israeli I met was certainly an interesting one – a music producer and part time Shaman.  He certainly was a mine of esoteric knowledge.  He did, however, tell me about an interesting new psychiatric syndrome – Jerusalem syndrome.  Apparently tourists arrive in Jerusalem and are overwhelmed by the holiness of the place and find that they are incapable of leaving.  They spend their time on the streets or in cheap hostals praying and/or preaching.  He did suggest that if you had a well developed sense of humour your pretty immune – so that has us clowns covered then. honk honk.

 Walking around the old city the past catches up and over takes you.  Wandering through narrow covered markets an array of produce is on offer – assaulting you eyes (bright kitche and brighter sweets), your ears (vegetable vendors shouting their wares) and nose (spices, kebabs, sheshas, drains galore).  Not to mention religious paraphernalia, materials, electrical goods and the ilke.  Everywhere you turn there is either a religious site, and Jews, Christians and Muslims intermingle.  However ever present is (in)security – barbed wire, metal detectors (to get the the Western ‘Wailing’ Wall) and the guns of the security forces.  Just now on the way to the internet cafe I saw a young boy with fake gun in hand pretending to shoot shop keepers – the suggestion of potential violence is never far away.

Tomorrow is our first show in the West Bank.  Time enough to go over the running order, work out workshops for the children and calm last minute nerves.  Now the work, and fun, start. 


Project Circus2Palestine is (almost) underway

5 January 2007

I’ve landed comfortably in Egypt – Dahab, Sinai to be precise.  The plan is to chill and wait here for the other members of the circus to arrive.  Its a chance for me to wind down after a hectic festive season.  To work on some skills for the show and to prepare for the forthcoming tour.

I only just managed to meet British Ariway’s luggage limit (no chance for an increase – thanks a lot you misely BA) what with my performing equipment and stuff for the kids.  Oddballs in Camden were fantastic and donated:

22 juggling balls
6 juggling clubs
6 juggling rings
2 frisbees
1 flowerstick
1 go-pedal
2 spinning plates
4 diabolos
5 sets of poi

So many thanks to Nathan for sorting that out for me.  Also Angie made me up 10 colourful hula-hoops to spread the hula craze to Palestine as well.

Excitement is building and its hard for me not to go around telling everybody what I’m upto.  But I must take things one at a time and enjoy this opportunity for winter sun and little chats with Egyptians – it is my first time here after all.  Dahab must be one of the most touristy places I’ve ever been, but they do it nicely with a very pleasant walk way along the coast, plenty of comfortable restaurants and bars and not too much blarring music.  But its difficult to escape the fact that most people come here for the diving, not the Egyptian culture.