Playing for Peace 

 

A play by Bernard Weiner 

revised version (Copyright 2005, 2013 by the author)

Staged-reading premiere 2005 by The Playwrights' Lab, Throckmorton Theatre, Mill Valley, CA.

 

Act 1                                                                                                           1                                                                         

Time: The present. The action begins in what looks like a cell-like enclosure in a basement; there are Palestinian Authority and Hamas flags and a photo of Arafat on the wall. 

 

                                                              P                                                                           

(wearing a ski mask) Unless our comrade is released within (checks watch) four hours, we will be forced to execute you. 

 

                                                              I                                        

 

The government will not give in to terrorists. I will be sacrificed. (beat) If this happens often enough, your leaders have to come up with more creative ways of getting the government’s, and the world’s, attention. Kidnaping and executing civilians is getting old.

 

                                                              P                                                                             

 

You’re just pretending not to be scared. Anyway, you’re not innocent!  You’re a soldier.

 

                                                              I                                        

 

Was I shooting at you? Was I bombing your village? No. I’m in the reserves and wasn’t even on duty. I was just having an espresso in a cafe, watching the World Cup on TV, and the next thing I know I’m knocked unconscious and wake up here, my hands manacled to this goddamn pipe. 

 

                                                              P                                                                             

 

You think because, at that one moment, you were not engaged in violence against us that you are unconnected to the repression and humiliation you bring the Palestinian people daily?

 

 

 

 

 

                                                                                                                                                                           I                                             2                                     

 

When I’m on duty, I am only a soldier, just like you, following orders. I have no say-so in the high governmental decisions that may bring your people harm. 

 

                                                           P                                                                             

 

You fucking hypocrite! When Eichmann used the “I -was-only-following-orders” excuse, you Jews pointed out the immorality of that position and executed him anyway. Now you want to use that same argument to avoid your moral responsibility in how  my people are brutalized, killed, tortured, humiliated each and every day!

                                    

                                                           I                                        

 

And the Palestinians don’t do the same to us everyday -- and to your own people as well? The torture, the senseless killings, the bombings, the knifings, the snipers,  the suicide bombers, the death squads and the like. You make me sick. If my hands were free, I’d strangle you right here, you fucking as---

 

                                                           P                                                                            

 

(with knife to I’s throat) If you weren’t potentially valuable to our cause, I’d slice your throat right now and wash my hands in your blood.

 

                                 M

 

(voice from rear of auditorium) Good, that’s good. 

 

                                                           I                                        

 

(starts to respond) Don’t you guys have anything to offer other than death and destruction? You’re the stereotypical terrorists: bombs where your brains should be.

 

 

 

                                                                                                                   3

                                                             P

 

And your leaders are geniuses, right? All you do is make more Palestinians, and others, more angry and violent every day. You say you’re doing it in the name of “security,” but the truth is you’re more insecure. That’s brains at work?  

 

                                                              M                                     

(MAGGIE comes on stage from front of auditorium; P takes off his mask.)  That’s the idea, that’s what I’m after. You’re finally getting into it. But it’s still surfacy. We need to know these characters as people, as individuals, not just as spokesmen for their respective positions. We talked about that. I hired you two because of your improv skills. Go for it! (SHE returns to his rehearsal spot in the auditorium.)

 

(P and I high-five each other, then aim finger “guns” at each other and chase each other around the stage.)

 

                                                              P                                                                             

 

Hey, Jewboy, come here. I’ve got something to show you. It’s great -- it’ll blow you away. 

 

                                                              I                                       

 

What are you afraid of? I just want to (looks at Director) get personal with you -- up close and personal; you’ll get a real bang out of it.

 

 

                                                              P                                                                             

 

Hey, Jewski, come here. I want to see if you’re sweating...bullets.

 

                                                              I                                        

 

Hey, Raghead. Want to see me play my Glock...enspiel for you? The music’ll really send you. 

 

                                                

                                                4

(They continue to run around and chase/hunt each other, all over the stage, even tickling each other with their finger guns. Finally, out of breath from all the running and laughing, THEY sit on the stage and light up cigarettes.)

 

                                                              P                                                                             

 

Maggie, can we take a wee break? 

 

                                                             M

 

(reluctantly) OK, sure, but just a wee wee one.

 

                                                              I                                        

 

Urine jokes at this hour?

 

                                                               P                                                                             

 

Too much rehearsal, too little sleep. I think we’re fast approaching the punchy stage. 

 

                                                              M                                       

 

Approaching? I  think you guys have been there for at least the past hour.

 

                                                              I                                        

 

This isn’t easy, you know, Maggie.You just sit out there in the dark and tell us what we’re doing wrong -- like a critic. Try coming onstage and acting. We lowly players up here wrestling with our genius, trying to come up with something...what’s the word?... 

 

                                                              P                                                                             

 

Cheap. 

 

                                                              I                                        

You got it on the first try! (Another high-five amid the giggles)

                                                5

                                                              M

                                      

 

I’m sorry the pay can’t be any higher, guys; we just have to work around that. But getting back to the point: Our Arab and Jewish audiences are quite familiar with the arguments on both sides; to make this play work, they need to  see the characters as real people, not just position papers. They need to come alive for them, so that they can identify on an emotional level. (THEY put out their cigarettes.) So let’s get back to work and try to move into that area, OK? (SHE speaks what follows as she’s leaving the stage.) Imagine it’s dark now. (to I) You’re still manacled but maybe not to the pipe anymore; now you’re manacled by the ankle to the chair. Start sharing more of yourselves.

 

                                                              P                                                                             

 

So what did you do in civilian life, I mean before you became a soldier -- a “reserve” soldier, excuse me.

 

                                                              I                                        

 

You’re going to execute me in a few hours and you want to chit-chat?

 

                                                              P                                                                             

 

Maybe you’ll be freed, you never know. But, in any event, it’s a way to pass the time, isn’t it? Besides, I’d really like to know who you are, how you came to be a killer of my people.

 

                                                              I                                        

 

(beat) I’m a watchmaker, satisfied? I learned the trade from my father, who learned it from his father, who learned it from his father. Our roots go back a long way; we’re an old Swiss family.

 

                                                              P                                                                             

 

Swiss? That’s a good one. How did the watchmaker's son wind up in Tel Aviv?

 

                                                 6

                                                             I                                        

 

My parents immigrated when they were fairly young, after the war. I was born and raised on a kibbutz. You can’t be a neutral Swiss on a kibbutz, next to hostile Arabs.

 

                                                              P 

 

Did you ever know any Palestinians? I mean, as friends?

 

                                                              I                                        

 

I know that’s a trick question, but I’ll answer it anyway. One of my best friends when I was growing up was an Arab boy, Yussef; we played together all the time -- soccer, cowboys and Indians, flew kites -- always beyond the borders of the kibbutz. Actually, I even smuggled him inside once; I gave him some of my jeans and a Stones T-shirt to wear. Nobody even noticed; they just thought he was my cousin.

 

                                                              P                                                                           

(softly) He was.

                                                           

                                                               I                                        

 

I know what you’re saying: How can a Palestinian be an anti-Semite, since we’re both Semites. But I don’t care what you call it; it still amounts to a genocidal war against Israelis, trying to drive us into the sea.

 

                                                               P                                                                             

 

A war against Israeli Jews maybe, but not genocidal. We don’t want all of you to die; we just want you to go away, find another place to live on your own land. But, if that’s not possible -- and many of us have adjusted to the fact that you’re here to stay -- at least to share the land and power with Israeli Arabs and give back the Occupied Territories for a Palestinian state. 

 

7                                                           

                                                             I                                        

 

We fought and died this land, we worked the land -- and turned it into a garden; when you had it, it was still a desert. Even though there’s precious little land to house our people, you want us to give you Palestinians a whole big chunk of it, and let you, with your guns and bombs and rockets and suicide belts, live right next to us. 

 

                                                              P                                                                             

 

Yes, once the peace has been made, that’s exactly what we expect you to do. Just do what’s right. Jews are so self-righteous about being in God’s sight, about always doing the right thing, that it surprised me at first when they behaved just like everybody else, even like fascists sometimes. Now I know better; they’re as barbaric as the rest of the world.

 

                                                              I                                        

 

Does the figure 6 million mean anything to you?

 

                                                              P                                                                             

 

To me, it means that you should have learned some moral lessons about repression and cruelty and treating people like insects to be crushed and -- 

 

 

                                                              I                                       

 

We’re back to square one. (Pause. A quick look in MAGGIE’s direction.) What did YOU do in civilian life before you began building bombs and kidnaping people?

 

                                                             P                                                                             

 

I was a barber -- like you, carrying on a family tradition. Except that I went to university, which nobody in my family had done before. That’s where I learned my English. (pause) My name is Yassir. (pause) What do you call yourself? Are you married? Do you have a family?

 

                                                8

                                                              I                                        

 

Why do you want to know? So that you and your colleagues can find out where I live and murder them, too?

 

                                                              P    

                                                                         

Your family is safe. I give you my word.

 

                                                              I                                        

 

Your word, ha! But I will tell you anyway -- you will never get anywhere near my neighborhood, believe me. My name is David, I’m married, and Sa-- (abruptly does not finish the name)...and we have two children, a boy and a girl. 

 

                                                               P                                                                             

 

(softly) I am married and we have five children, and a new one on the way. 

 

                                                              I                                        

 

What you can’t win on the battlefield, you may win in the maternity ward.

 

                                                              P                                                                             

 

I have pictures; would you like to see them?

 

                                                              I                                        

 

Yes, let me see the future of our country...(I passes them over) Cute kids.

 

 

 

 

 

 

9

                                                            P                                                                             

 

You make jokes, but even you seem to know that you are serious. We ARE the future, our children will share power with your children. Your days of total control are over, no matter how many rockets you fire from helicopters, no matter how many separation walls you build. (beat) So, if you know this in your heart, why do you keep resisting this future with such violence?

 

                                                              I                                        

 

It is different to know and to want to know. (beat) Besides, as I told you, we are a tiny island in a vicious sea. (looks at photos) Yes, of course, there will be an independent Palestinian state someday; yes, of course, someday Jews and Christians and Muslims will share Jerusalem; yes, of course, someday there will be agreements on water and trade and such. And yes, of course, Yassir, I know that someday I, or my son, or my grandson, will come get a haircut and a shave from you or your son or grandson -- even letting you put the straight razor on our throat. But all that is a long tomorrow away -- thanks to your extremists, and yes, ours as well -- and I know I am living in the world of today. 

 

                                                               P  

                                                                           

We’ve given away so much to get so little, and still you push us away. You Jews. If somebody brought you Hitler’s head on a dish, you wouldn’t take it until you first determined whether the plate was kosher. (pause) So, thanks to Israeli policies and your American government backers, our militants, the ones you call “terrorists,” are stronger than ever.

 

                                                              M                                       

 

(jumps on stage again) Stop! Guys, you were doing so well, giving us a picture of the two sides through these two very human people -- the photos were a nice touch, even if something of a cliche  -- and all of a sudden, you’re back to political posturing again. I know it’s difficult, but the play only will work with Arab/Jewish audiences if the characters are more real. Don’t forget that we have only two weeks before we open in Gaza and then Tel Aviv. 

10

 

Then let’s drop the role-reversals. I get why you wanted us to do that: so the audience can see that I understand the Israeli point of view by pretending to be Jewish. But if what you’re after is heightened believability, then just let me be who I am.

 

                                                P                                                                             

 

If Ibrahim  is going to play himself, then I want to return to myself. I know that it adds an interesting layer to the play-- or at least to the improv process -- but playing a Palestinian makes me feel strange.

 

                    M

 

Sure, you guys could switch back. But, remember, when we set up this project we wanted to demonstrate not only your acting range by playing “the Other,” but also helping to make an important point to our Arab and Jewish audiences.

 

                    I

 

Come on, Maggie, who do you think we’ll be playing to? Members of Hamas and ultra-Orthodox Jewish settlers? Get real! We’ll be doing our show in front of nice liberal Jewish peace activists and Arab academics and businessmen. Those who really should see this play won’t be there.

              M

 

Then why did you sign up for this project in the first place, Ibrahim?

 

                    I

 

(long pause; each sentence delivered more quietly) The truth? I needed the work -- I’m one of the few employed in my large family; maybe I’d get my face known by Israeli film producers. (beat) I felt I needed to get involved, even in a minor way, with helping the peace process; it’s all but dead and buried and I couldn’t stand that, ‘cause my son is growing up in that same dead-end frame of mind. (beat) I needed to meet at least a few Jews I could trust, before I turned into a TOTAL cynic and hater.                                

 

 

M                                                   11

 

Well, that’s honest. And you, Phil? 

 

                    P

 

Also a couple of reasons. I’ve always been impressed with your film and stage directing, Maggie, and wanted to work with you, you know to learn more about acting. (beat) I don't have any children -- I don't even have a girlfriend now -- but I wanted to support the peace process, even if in the most tangential way. (beat) I didn’t know any Palestinians, I mean not closely; acting together might help me break through that barrier. (to I) And, it has, Ibrahim. I know what we’re doing here isn’t going to bring peace to our countries, but even a small step  is better than no step. (Ibrahim nods, and sticks out his hand for a high five, which is returned with little energy.)

                    I

 

That’s us. We told the truth, so what about you, Maggie? You never really told us why you started this project. All we know is your work and that you're Irish. 

 

                    M

 

I’m from Belfast. That should provide a clue. (beat) My brother was executed by the IRA, and my British sister-in-law’s child was caught in a crossfire between Unionists and the IRA. Anything I can do to stop the slaughter between warring tribes, I’ll do. This is my second Arab/Israeli company and I can tell you that it works for audiences -- maybe not big audiences, but the ripple effect does work. My films-- (HER cellphone vibrates.  SHE turns away, listens and says something inaudible. Turns back to the two actors.)

 

                    M

 

(SHE’s pale. Quietly.) My husband just saw on TV. Five suicide bombers, dressed as Orthodox rabbis, blew themselves up this morning...(gulps) in the Old City public market. (gulps again). More than 200 are dead, hundreds more injured. (looks at PHIL) All reservists are being called to active duty. (long pause; they all slump to the floor)

                    

                                                    I                                                      12

 

Phil, if -- 

                    P

 

Ibrahim, don’t! I just need to be quiet right now. 

(long pause)

 

                    M

 

What will you do, Phil?

 

                    P

 

What do you mean? I’ve been called up. I’ve got to go. 

 

                    I

 

Right. The Israeli Army is going to launch major retaliation attacks on who knows what Arab village or country, and our peacenik Jew here is simply going to follow orders. You have other options, you know.

 

                    M

 

He’s right, Phil. There are the refuseniks, who won’t carry out violence against Palestinians in the Occupied Territories.

 

                    P

 

That’s not me, Maggie. I’m not that strong. I could never take being called a traitor by my family, my community, my country. (to  I) And meanwhile, you’ll leave and join a Hamas cell.

 

                    I

 

I...how can...? I never in my wildest imagination ever thought of that possibility  -- until right now. Thanks, friend, for the suggestion. (HE aims his hand, like a gun, at PHIL.) Perhaps we’ll meet again in the theater...of operations. (P glares at I and is about to say something.)

 

    

 

                                            13

                    M

 

Wait a minute, guys -- we can make a differ-- 

 

                    P

 

And while we’re making our safe little art, playing for peace, hundreds of people a day could be slaughtered by the forces that really matter in this world -- those who hate.

 

                    I

 

Make that hundreds on your side and thousands on ours. When the Israeli defense forces retaliate, it’s not an eye for an eye, but a village for an eye.

 

                    M

 

It doesn’t have to be that way. 

 

                    I

 

Just cut the preaching crap, Maggie. You don’t even belong here. Just let us do what we have to do.

 

                    M

 

If that’s the way you feel, Ibrahim, maybe I should leave. Maybe we should all just give in to the mad buggers who hate and kill here. Leave and give it up totally, and go make big corporate money.

 

                    P

 

Maybe you should, Maggie. It’s finished here. This project is doomed, maybe was doomed from the start. You can’t teach peace to people who live for making war. 

 

 

 

                                                

 

14

                    M

 

Look at yourselves. You two were willing to work on the show as long as nothing major happened. But the minute reality intrudes its ugly head, you’re heading for the barricades. Now that’s commitment! Running just when what you’re saying is most needed. (beat) Don’t you understand? They want us to quit, both your extremists. There will be more Palestinian suicide bombings, and worse; the Israeli government will fire rockets into Palestinian communities, and worse. Deal with it. (beat) We don’t get to bear peace after nine months of labor. Raising peace takes forever, and there are slidebacks. Get used to it. (Neither P nor I react; beat) Ah shit, maybe I should just leave now, before it all falls apart, before we rip each others’ hearts into shreds. (SHE walks off the stage, toward the back of the auditorium; we can hear her breathing heavily, weeping quietly, at the rear of the auditorium.)

 

(long silence. P and I glare at each other. long silence)

 

                    P

 

(puts on his ski mask and walks to apron, where HE delivers line to where M is standing at the back of the auditorium) You Christian hypocrites, always siding with the Jews. Is it fear of being called an anti-Semite? Are you simply overwhelmed by your fear of the worldwide Islamic revival and you’re afraid of having to fight the Crusades all over again? Or maybe it’s -- 

 

                    I

 

Oh, come off it; picking on Christians and Jews isn’t going to get anything accomplished. If you Palestinians really want to help the peace process, stop the corruption -- all that international money going into Swiss bank accounts -- and use that money to get factories set up in Gaza and the West Bank, with real  jobs, so you won’t have to be so dependent on the menial work available in Israel. In other words, get your fucking act together.

 

 

 

                    

                                                  P                                                           15

 

Pick ourselves up by our bootstraps, is that the idea? You want to tell us where to get any boots?

                                                

                    I

 

Learn how to manufacture them, you lazy dogs!

 

                    P

 

No wonder people hate the Jews! You’ve got yours, and to hell with anybody else!

 

                    M

 

(from the auditorium; very emotional) Good, good. You’re on the right track. Let’s work from there, let’s take it back to the personal.  

 

(As MAGGIE walks back toward the stage, lights begin to fade. The last image we see as the lights slowly fade to black is of  P and I , at opposite ends of the stage, aiming their hand-”guns” at each other.) They are trying to smile, they are trying not to cry. #

 

End of Act 1.