Showering Israel with humor

Once Israeli and Palestinians begin to see each other as human beings again… it will be easier to bridge the gap of differences.Humor clearly is a common denominator between the two warring Palestinian and Israelis sides, but our ‘Israeli-Palestinian Comedy …

Once Israeli and Palestinians begin to see each other as human beings again… it will be easier to bridge the gap of differences.Humor clearly is a common denominator between the two warring Palestinian and Israelis sides, but our ‘Israeli-Palestinian Comedy Tour’ proved this past month that it can also break through the fanatics who try to hold the two communities hostages with hatred and extremism.

The show swept through five performances that were hastily organized by myself and my new found friends, Israeli comedian Charley Warady, Yisrael Campbell (who I introduce as ‘Zionist Entity Campbell’) and Sephardic Israeli Shachar Chason, a popular young star on Israel’s Channel 10 TV who is from Yemen. Also partnering with me is veteran comedian and Second City pro Aaron Freeman. The troupe performed shows at the popular west Jerusalem nightspot The Syndrome, which was packed to the rafters on only two weeks notice of the show being organized.

That show was followed by one in East Jerusalem at the American Colony Hotel that was SRO also. Many Palestinians attended this show while the first was mainly an Israeli audience. We spoke and performed for the high school assembly of the Anglican School, which included Israeli and Palestinians and the children of foreign diplomats. And the students most of all were enthusiastic. The Palestinian students surrounded me and repeated a message I hear far and wide in my community: “We’re tired of the old losing ways, the hatred, the anger, the back-stabbing, the divisiveness and the failure to do something positive.”

I couldn’t agree with them more and I was determined to break the ridiculous and stupid taboo that prevents Palestinians from performing in Israel Israelis.

We then did shows at Tzavta in Tel Aviv, and to help drive home the point we were making, Yisrael (I just call him ‘Z’ for short) and I staged a spoof where we appeared to be fighting (It’s on YouTube). Most people who saw it think that ‘Z’ and I are really fighting after I make a joke about Tel Aviv being ‘Occupied Territory’.

That’s because people only believe that when Palestinians and Israelis come together, all we do is fight. And the Israeli-Palestinian Comedy Tour proved that to be wrong. We can come together and do something positive that was overwhelmingly endorsed and supported by Palestinians in the West Bank and in Israel, too. And Israelis, conservative and liberal, also came together to see the show.

We ended the show at Jerusalem’s Kol Haneshama Synagogue where we started with seating for only 80 and then moved it to the larger theater where more than 250 people stood in long lines to pack the place SRO again.

One reporter asked the tough question, noting I am American born, Warady is American born, Yisrael is American born, Aaron is African American Jewish and Shachar is Yemeni born. How could we claim to be Palestinian and Israeli? Good question but irrelevant. The fact is when I walk through Israeli security, you can bet they are going to stop me because I am a Palestinian. And when Charley, Yisrael, Shachar or Aaron walk through Arab customs – if they were to even be allowed into an Arab country – they would definitely be criticized as being ‘Israeli’.

The purpose of the shows is to break through the phony glass ceiling that the extremists use to hold our community hostage with hate and fanaticism. They like to tell everyone what to do, what to think and how to act, and they end up violating all of their so-called rules. Worse, their strategies of rejection and denial and refusal and criticism have FAILED, FAILED, FAILED.

Suicide bombing homicide has only worsened not helped the Palestinian cause at all. In fact, the violence has undermined the Palestinian cause throughout the world, and has resulted in a rising tide of religious fanaticism and failed ideology. Hand-in-hand, rightwing Israeli policies have used Palestinian failures to justify horrendous policies that are rightly decried but never prevented by Palestinian political movements.

Palestinians and Israelis need to take back control of their lives from the extremists and the best way to do that is to allow the people to see each other as human beings. And humor and standup comedy – which is a new form of comedy in the Arab and Islamic Worlds – can help achieve that goal. Once people begin to see each other as human beings again, rather than as enemies and statistics, it will be easier to bridge the gap of differences and achieve a two-state solution which is the only possible solution to the conflict.

Of course, that means many professional activists will be out of a job when peace arrives because so much of the activist community is driven by the need for work. They unintentionally fuel the conflict because the conflict is an industry and they would all be out of jobs. They could see the end of the conflict as a great opportunity to find newer more positive employment, but that means giving up on a system based on handouts, suffering and exploitation, rather than on talented strategies that result in successes.

Shachar is hilarious, and instead of speaking Hebrew, his first language, he struggled successfully to do his jokes in broken English. The young guy is amazing and very talented as a comic. Warady and Campbell are phenomenal. Warady is the host of ‘Israelisms’ a weekly 1 hour pod-cast. Campbell is an Orthodox Jew who adheres to his religion as vigilantly as many Orthodox Moslems and Orthodox Christians.

The shows were covered by media across the world, although the Arab World was a bit short. That’s not unexpected as most Arab media have a hard time saying the word ‘Isra… Isra… Isra… eeel.’

Check the web page out and watch for future shows in your area because the Israeli-Palestinian Comedy Tour is going international with a return engagement in Israel, and plans to do shows in Bethlehem, Ramallah, and in Cairo and Amman.

(Reprinted with permission of the author)