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.”
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.”