Wrestling Jerusalem

Seventeen characters, all played by one man: rabbi, Palestinian woman, Israeli soldier, Muslim…each fully realized in a tour-de-force performance by writer-actor Aaron Davidman. “Wrestling Jerusalem,” screened Oct. 24 at Cinemapolis in Ithaca, is a movie adaptation of Davidman’s one-man show exploring the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The film, and the panel following, were co-sponsored by the Ithaca Coalition for Unity and Cooperation in the Middle East (ICUCME) and local artist Philip Donovan. Nearly 100 people attended.

“What Davidman wants us to do is empathize with all these characters, to step out of our comfort zone and hear what they’re trying to tell us,” said panelist Miriam Elman, associate professor of political science and the Robert D. McClure Professor of Teaching Excellence at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship & Public Affairs. She is also a research director in the Program for the Advancement of Research on Conflict and Collaboration (PARCC) and co-editor of “Jerusalem: Conflict and Cooperation in a Contested City” and “Democracy and Conflict Resolution: The Dilemmas of Israel’s Peacemaking.”

“The film shows a lot of pain and loss on both sides,” said Elman. “It shows multiple representations and we need to hear that. There are no binaries in this film, that’s too simple for Davidman. Everyone needs to step out of  their preconceived biases and the film is pushing us to do that.”

Elman said that in her research on the settler movement, “the vast majority of Israelis who I interviewed in the West Bank were driven by fear, not hate.” The answer offered by “Wrestling Jerusalem,” she said, “is to hold more sane and meaningful discussions, an important start to peace.”

Inbal Shlosberg

Panelist Inbal Shlosberg agreed, adding that “We should do more, like this film does, to show the complexity of the situation. We should talk about the deep inner views of all the perspectives, not just present it as two sides.” Shlosberg is an organizer for Women Wage Peace, an Israeli-Palestinian grassroots movement with members from the political right, center, and left, and including both religious and secular women, together demanding a political agreement to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

As a social worker, Shlosberg said she could really identify with the cycle of trauma that Davidman talked about in the film, trauma passed from generation to generation by both Israelis and Palestinians. Reflecting on the fear and insecurity that is guiding their actions and reactions, she said: “I grew up on the border of Lebanon and I saw a lot of missiles. I felt traumatized, and sometimes unsafe but I also felt resilient because I overcame the trauma.”

Shlosberg worked with the Jewish community next to the Gaza strip during the 2014 war, and spoke about the trauma felt from the deaths on both sides of the border. “Growing from the trauma as individuals, as a community and as a nation is our mission,” she said, noting that after that summer Women Wage Peace was established as a way to transform the trauma into constructive action.

“Dialogue-based initiatives and grassroots efforts are the answer,” Shlosberg concluded. “I encourage you to learn more about and support those kinds of organizations, like Women Wage Peace.”

The Moral Imperative

Margot Brinn and Karryn Ramanujan from the Ithaca Baha'i community

The Syrian civil war has killed almost half a million people. Money donated to help Syrians often can’t reach them.  The medical infrastructure in Syria is in terrible shape. Victims of the war as well as people with cancer and other diseases are unable to get the help they need.

The Ithaca Coalition for Unity and Cooperation in the Middle East (ICUCME) dedicated its first Dinner Conversation of the year to raise money for a hospital that has been able to help Syrians. In the past few years 2,500 Syrians with serious medical problems have clandestinely crossed the border into Israel to receive medical treatment at Ziv Hospital.

While that is a drop in the bucket to what is needed, it expresses ICUCME core values of human-to-human connection, since officially Syria and Israel are still at war. Yet even enemy combatants – men wounded fighting in battles, not just women and children — are being treated at Ziv with the same level of care as Israeli Arabs and Jews are given. The money raised at ICUCME’s Dinner Conversation will go towards supporting the free medical treatment the Syrians are receiving.

After partaking of a delicious pot-luck, the Oct. 3 Dinner Conversation began with Margot Brinn and Karryn Olson-Ramanujan from the Bahai’i community offering a brief introduction to Baha’i history and beliefs. They then distributed quotes for discussion from the Baha’u’llah, who founded the Baha’i in Iran in the 19th century, and explained the technique Baha’i use when considering such passages.

The conversation then segued into a larger consideration of the evening’s theme of the moral imperative. One question discussed – should you offer aid to your enemies who might then hurt you? – inspired one participant to share the Baha’u’llah quote she’d been discussing: “When a thought of war comes, oppose it by a stronger thought of peace. A thought of hatred must be destroyed by a more powerful thought of love.”

Said her discussion partner: You should offer aid to your enemy, because by showing compassion to someone who might hurt you in the future, you could potentially change that future.

Participants also explored their own moral beliefs and the family and social context in which they were formed. They then considered how to balance one’s own well-being with moral obligation. But for one participant, a retired math professor, there was no possible conflict: by being true to one’s own moral soul, helping others was on behalf of one’s own well-being.

After the discussion, participants used glue, scissors, stickers, and felt shapes to create get-well cards for Syrian children being treated at Ziv Hospital. Said one card-maker, “I just want those kids to know someone in Ithaca cares.”