New Park Theatre show Crossing Jerusalem marks first anniversary of 50 day Israel-Gaza war

Playwright Julia Pascal tells Anna Behrmann about the difficulties of addressing the Arab-Israeli conflict on stage.

British playwright and director Julia Pascal is staging Crossing Jerusalem, thirteen years after its inception at the height of the second Palestinian intifada, or uprising.

Her seminal play follows an Israeli family for 24 hours in March 2002 as they cross Jerusalem and their personal tensions collide with the wider conflict. Its new staging marks the first anniversary of the 50-day Israel-Gaza war.

“Many of the issues between Israelis and Palestinians are really current,” Pascal says. “The idea of a two state solution seems to have vanished. There’s less hope now than there ever was, and perhaps people’s attention has shifted to what’s going on in Syria and Iraq, and Israel seems a smaller problem, but Israel’s problems are still very public.”

Pascal’s grandparents were Romanian Jews, and her father was a strong Zionist. “The importance of Israel was very central in my childhood,” she says. “And then there were times when I thought that Zionism was not a good thing. I have now listened to so many people and heard so many sides that I kind of think everybody’s wrong.”

Even faced with such a controversial issue as the Arab-Israeli conflict, Pascal believes she can be unbiased. “As a writer you’re not there to provide political answers,” she says. “I have to be neutral and hear things on both sides, and to reflect voices that might disturb me as a Jew. And by listening to one another, we understand each other.”

Pascal previously lived in Israel and has visited the Palestinian territories. She speaks fluent French and believes that this has helped her remain incognito and cross taboo political lines. “I’ve interviewed Arabs who don’t know that I’m a Jew – I hear stuff that wouldn’t have been told to me if they knew,” she says.

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Crucially, Crossing Jerusalem is a play about ordinary people. “It’s very much a family story – the family’s life is political because they live in Israel,” Pascal says. It’s important for her that the play dispels stereotypes and that the audience “see the land and the cities as places where people live normally, with all the contradictions of everyday.”

Inescapably, however, life is different in Israel. “During the Intifada you didn’t want to go into a supermarket because of bombs going off,” she says. “So very simple acts like walking, or having a coffee, or taking a bus become dangerous.”

Crossing Jerusalem is at Park Theatre August 4th - Aug 29th. For tickets:

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