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.