Drama and political discovery
Meryl Streep was magnificent as Mother Courage, the lead character in the Bertolt Brecht play of the same name, which was the subject of a documentary film recently shown at the Oak Street Theater. Likewise, Emily Gunyou Halaas was magnificent as Rachel Corrie in the recent “last ever” production of the local Emigrant Theater.
Rachel Corrie was a far cry from Mother Courage, who survived selling sundries to soldiers in the European Thirty Years War (1618-1648), and at the same time was raising her three children. Rachel was a real person—a young American volunteer who was in Palestine trying to prevent Israeli soldiers from bulldozing homes of Palestinians. She was killed in 2003 by a bulldozer operator who ran his machine over her twice—once forward and then in reverse.
The Emigrant Theater production was followed by a discussion. I was prepared for passionate remarks about the politics of the Palestine/Israeli conflict, such as those made a few nights previously. I was trying to gather my thoughts to speak as forcefully as possible about the plight of the Palestinians—surreptitiously drying my eyes and sniffing a bit—when I began to feel the deep silence. I was amazed. A few people had drifted out, but the bulk of the audience remained—silent. I have had similar experiences after an especially moving play, but such moments are rare.
“Doesn’t anyone have a question or a comment?” asked the facilitator. Again silence. “I have one,” I said. “I speak and write about the horrors of war, but my words cannot begin to produce the same effect as that which I’ve witnessed here tonight. The power of art—of drama in particular—to present a compelling argument far outstrips the written word.” With this the spell was broken and others began to speak but more about the play itself than the message.
Rachel’s story is that of the mostly unknown conflict in Israel/Palestine, which is at the heart of today’s Mideast conflicts—comparable to the fight between David and Goliath. The Palestinians have neither planes nor army. Some have explosives and guns, but the vast majority of them have no weapons whatsoever.
The media coverage of not only the conflict but almost any event concerning the region is presented from the Israeli viewpoint. This is not surprising in that Israel uses public relations firms to ensure this. There is no way the poverty-stricken Palestin-ians could provide any counter force.
Some facts are hard to dispute. The Israelis have allowed Palestinians to live on only 22 percent of the land they originally occupied at the close of World War II. But even this small amount is being reduced by a 30-foot-high wall, separating Israel from Palestine, located and encroaching on Palestinian land. In addition, the Israelis continue to build settlements on land ceded the Palestinians by international treaties. The water allotment for each Israeli is four times that of a Palestinian. This has proven disastrous to Palestinian farmers. An estimated total of 24,000 Palestinian homes have been bulldozed since 1967, escalating recently to more than a 1,000 every year, Far more Palestinians have been killed in the conflict than Israelis. For example, during the Second Intifada, there were 5,300 Palestinians deaths compared to 1,000 Israeli deaths.
This injustice is what led to the death of Rachel Corrie and it is this kind of massive injustice about which Mother Courage speaks.
Both blamed indifference for the continuation of conflict.
It is this indifference of well-meaning and good-hearted Americans which does not demand change and keeps our country, the most powerful nation in the history of the world, engaged in massive worldwide wrong-doing and armed conflicts.