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There was a woman on the Freedom Bus, a middle-aged social worker from New York, who wanted to see Playback Theatre of this sort practiced by Israelis and Palestinians together, sharing their stories and thereby learning to coexist. She reported to me at one point, however, that she’d asked one of the actors about this idea, and the actor was not interested.
The Palestinian-American literary critic Edward Said once observed of the many polite dialogues he participated in that, “as the weaker, less organized party, the Palestinians could not really benefit from the uneven exchange.” Under occupation, the likely effect of such productions is the further pacification of the losing side. The activists we talked with in the West Bank asked not for dialogue, but for more bodies at protests, and more boycotts, divestments and sanctions against the occupation.
Said described the problem of diplomacy — also a kind of dialogue — in geographic terms: “They had the plans, the territory, the maps, the settlements, the roads: we have the wish for autonomy and Israeli withdrawal, with no details, and no power to change anything very much.” On the Israeli concrete wall that lines the border of the Aida Refugee Camp, someone painted these words of Nelson Mandela’s: “Only free men can negotiate.”