Israeli performance artistNoa Baum calls herself a member of the “peace camp,” but it was still difficult for her to hear the stories of a Palestinian friend in which Baum’s people were not victims or heroes, but occupiers. In the hope of recreating what was for her a deeply humanizing experience, she brings tales from both sides of the ongoing conflict to life at Trinity September 10 in “A Land Twice Promised,” one of three local performances this week.
Could you tell me a little bit about the title?
To me, part of this whole conflict, at the heart of it is two people claiming the same piece of land; two narratives each claiming theirs is the truth and the other is the propaganda. The whole purpose of my performance and what I’m trying to do is get people to start listening to each other and to acknowledge that maybe there’s a story on the other side. Also, so much of it is anchored in this idea that this is ours because the land was promised to us. In each of our narratives we have that.
On your `web`site you talk about your Palestinian friend Jumana `asking` you, “How was it for you growing up in Jerusalem?” and you suddenly realize the very different relationship you have to some of the same things.
You know when you listen to the story of a friend there’s this empathy going on and you kind of imagine how would it be for me. On the other level it was like, those people who are terrifying for her are my people, and that hurts, that’s hard. I think it’s hard for a lot of Israelis. Israel is not a uniform country, it’s very, very diverse, and there’s a lot of political variance and opinions, and there’s a lot of people that are very conflicted with the government’s policies, and there’s a lot of people that carry a lot of conflict and pain — their kids are doing things that they don’t necessarily want their kids to be doing. And a lot of people, even if they agree that we have no choice and we have to do it, don’t like what’s going on.
Even with the love and trust that was there, you wrote that there were times that `your conversations` would become very tense and difficult. How did you move past those moments?
One of the things that was amazing for me was that when we talked we would talk about memories, but we would also get into discussions, and we would talk about things that I grew up with as truth, and she would say, “Wait a minute, that’s Zionist propaganda, that’s not how it was.” And she would say things, and I would say, “That’s not how it was, that’s Arab propaganda.” And we started realizing that we would get to these places where we would become very defensive of our own truths the way we grew up with it. But I don’t know what it is — as women, she would say, “Look, we’re getting defensive,” and we would laugh and we would continue to talk. I’ve never had that with men.
You mentioned women talking about their children doing things they don’t agree with, and I think perhaps for Westerners looking at the conflict one of the hardest things to understand are the suicide bombers. Do you feel like you gained some greater understanding of young people being willing to make that sort of decision?
I have an understanding into the level of despair and hopelessness that people live in, but I had that even before I met her. I can’t claim that I understand it, or that I support it in any way, because I don’t, but as much as one can understand violence, to that extent I can understand it. I think we both shared that. I don’t think it’s something she supports, but maybe for her, because it came from the despair of her people, she understands more where it comes from. •
Baum will perform “A Land Twice Promised” at Trinity’s Chapman Auditorium at 7:30 p.m. Monday, September 10. At 3 p.m. Monday, she’ll present “Wisdom from the Heart” at the University of the Incarnate Word, and on Tuesday, she’ll perform “Building Bridges to Peace” at noon at Madison Square Presbyterian Church. Events are free and open to the public. Contact Rachel Walsh at (210) 499-0613, or visit Noabaum.com for more info..