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Arts Program Makes Israeli And Palestinian Youth Hopeful For Future


This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Jacki Lyden. Michel Martin is away. As we know, cease-fire arrangements have failed between Hamas and Israel, and violence continues to flare, threatening all-out war. More than 200 Palestinians, according to Gaza health officials, have been killed and one Israeli, to date. And it make some of us, though, think about how over the decades, many have sought common ground and understanding. In 2001, I interviewed the late Kashmiri poet Agha Shahid Ali, who was collaborating with Israeli-born poet Izhar Patkin in New York. Shakid was a wonderful poet. One of his lines from his last collection, the Veiled Suite, is I wait for him to look straight into my eyes. This is our only chance for magnificence. He died of brain cancer before Patkin's installation could be finished. Now, in his take on their shared work called the Wandering Veil, Izhar Patkin has a series of rooms up at MASS MoCA in Massachusetts. It's a good setting for the group Artsbridge, which brings together Israeli and Palestinian young people to work on creative projects in the U.S. Patkin talked to two of them last week. Izhar Patkin joins us from our bureau in New York. Welcome to the program.

IZHAR PATKIN: Well, thank you Jacki.

LYDEN: And also joining us from member station WAMC in Albany are two young members of Artsbridge. Palestinian, Yazan Assad, is a facilitator and former participant, and Ofri Peretz from Israel is a current participant in the program. Thanks for joining us.

YAZAN ASSAD: Thank you. I'm glad to be here.

OFRI PERETZ: Thank you - happy to be here.

LYDEN: We're happy that you came. So, Izhar Patkin, maybe you can begin. I know that you talked to the Artsbridge youth in front of an installation work of your own at MASS MoCA. Describe for us a little bit what that installation is - would you please?

PATKIN: It's a very massive show but at the heart of it is my collaboration with the great late Kashmiri poet Agha Shahid Ali. There are five rooms in the show, (Unintelligible) rooms painted onto veils and each room is an adaptation of another poem of Shahid. The two veils naturally turned images into, kind of, ghostly images and it suited very well many of the subjects that Shahid and I were interested in. Subjects of loss, of destiny, of memory, of love and death.

LYDEN: And I just want to say I was able to interview you and Shahid just before he passed away. He was certainly someone who promoted dialogue, especially when it's difficult, especially between Muslims and Jews.

PATKIN: Yes he was. And he did it in the most deep and lighthearted way equally.

LYDEN: So, Ofri Peretz, you are 16 years old, why did you want to participate in the Artsbridge program this summer?

PERETZ: Well, I always had the tendency to look in more to the meaning of art. And I think art is a beautiful language that can say anything, can go through the most shut down hearts and I think that is exactly what we need in our conflict in Israel, from what I have seen in my short 16 years. People just don't listen to each other and that makes us drift apart and not care about the others hardships and hurt.

LYDEN: And Yazan Assad, I know you're 22 now, how old were you when you got involved with Artsbridge and why did you want to get enrolled.

ASSAD: It was in 2008, the first time - it was the very first year of Artsbridge, and I was 16 at the time. And when I first heard about Artsbridge I, like my very thought was, OK, I've been living here for 16 years and I - I've never spoken to anyone from the other side. So, I decided just to take a step up and to sign up for program and just to go there and hear what the other side has to say about all of this, the conflict, the situation, the region.

LYDEN: Where exactly are you from?

ASSAD: I am from place called Qalandia, which is in Palestine, the West Bank. And it's basically a very large checkpoint built on - next to a refugee camp and I live like very close to that checkpoint.

LYDEN: Ofri Peretz, obviously you've come to the U.S. from Israel, you must have made that decision sometime ago. How have the events of this summer effected your decision and effected your time here.

PERETZ: For one minute I do not regret to decide to participate in such a program and I think It's even more important to participate in a program like this - in times like this. You know, because when you're in Israel, I think it's more comfortable to sit in distance from Palestinians and heart this type of difficult news, but when you are together, when you experience daily life together, when you live and see those people every day, you see the new face - the human faces behind the conflict. You know, the human emotions, the feelings. You learn how to really listen.

LYDEN: Where do you live in Israel?

PERETZ: I live in the North part Israel, about 15 minutes from Hiafa.

LYDEN: And what are you hearing from your community there.

PERETZ: I hear that 40,000 people have been drafted to the military and in my city there have been attempted kidnaps, which kind of, dismantles my sense of security for the people that I care about in that area. There have been some rockets from Lebanon that I know. Other than that, the news pretty much the same.

LYDEN: Is there anyway Yazan, that your art is going to reflect what's going on or what. Was there an incident that drew you in when you were a teen?

ASSAD: Well, for me I'm a film facilitator at Artsbridge and of course film is also a very powerful way of showing what you want to say about the situation or the conflict or what you want to say about the subject. Just now actually, in the Artsbridge we - the students began their filming process and there are - they had lots of struggles, you know, just coming up with ideas. At some point each one of them will just be sitting down and saying, we should show the Israelis like this and we should show the Palestinians like this and we should show - how are we going to show that this a Palestinian and how are we going to show that this is an Israeli, you know - this. And also like We should film here, we shouldn't film here because this will show, like, a pro-Israeli place or as a pro-Palestinian place, you know. By the end all of them, by the end of the argument got to a compromised and managed to come up with an amazing script that they're starting to film tomorrow, hopefully.

LYDEN: So it's difficult 'cause everything gets coded and everything is code for something else.

ASSAD: That's pretty much what happens at some point, yes.

LYDEN: Izhar, was there and impulse like that behind your collaboration with Shahid.

PATKIN: The impulse to decode? For sure, for sure. That's at the heart of making art poetry. One of the interesting moments when talking with the kids from Artsbridge, is when we entered one of the rooms, that's a big painting painted on two veils, very ethereal. The room is after poem by Faiz Ahmad Faiz, which Shahid had adapted to English. It's called "You Tell Us What To Do" and what I did in that room is a scene that happens on the beach, between Tel Aviv and Jaffa, between the new Jewish city and the Arab city. And on that beach I paint on the veils the ghost images of both Jewish refugees coming into Palestine from Europe in the 40s and of Palestinian refugees escaping on the beaches of Gaza in the second Intifada. And they were both presented there as equal ghosts, ghosts being unresolved emotions. It's not a news story, it's not a didactic story, but it's there as a painting and as a metaphor.

LYDEN: And not something that the populations would often see in the same space.

PATKIN: And it's one of the few moments, you know, being art, where the threat is taken out of the equation and you can just see the images and just take it in.

LYDEN: So, Ofri what do you plan to do in Artsbridge this summer or when you return to Israel? Are you apart of the film or are you making some other kind of work?

PERETZ: I am part of the film.

LYDEN: What's the name of the film going to be?

PERETZ: "The Dawn Of Fear."

LYDEN: "The Dawn Of Fear."

PERETZ: Yeah, we have decided that we want to focus on our piece about the conflict in your head. How is this - does that affect real conflicts going on. Because we believe that it's 50-50, you know, it's 50 percent the attitude that you come to and 50 percent what really goes on. So the plot will follow three characters, Palestinian, an American and Israeli, each one of them doing everyday activities and they are hit with certain sounds that make them split back into traumas of the past. For example the Israeli character will slid back into flashback of missiles being launched in his house. The Palestinian character will slip back into a flashback of soldier coming into his house at the middle of the night.

PATKIN: (Unintelligible) this is the first I heard of the name of the move, "The Dawn Of Fear" which is terrific. And it reminds me of the moment where Shahid and I decided to do this collaboration between a Muslim and a Jew. And we thought, Muslim and a Jew should meet on the veil. And we called our collaboration, our working title was, "Veiled Threats." So, It kind of - their title takes me back to that moment of the beginning of our collaboration.

LYDEN: Before I let you go, I'd like to know, we don't know as were sitting here what the news cycle will continue to be and the news has been grim and anxiety provoking. Does a program like this one give you some hope as you think about going home? Ofri?

PERETZ: It doesn't only give me a little bit of hope, I think that a greater person of me has once said that the future is what you make of it and the best way to predict the future is to make it. I think that a program like Artsbridge, that really gives you the ability to listen and it's difficult by the way. It can also give you the ability to believe in yourself and the people that you carry around with in this journey, to change the reality. So I think the future will be great.

LYDEN: Yazan?

ASSAD: If I think that there's no hope I wouldn't have been in this program for six years now. The program happening here is by itself, is part of hope, despite everything that's happening in the region.

LYDEN: Ofri Peretz and Yazan Assad are members of the group Artsbridge. We thank you so very much for coming in. It was fantastic to talk to you.

ASSAD: Thank you.

PERETZ: Thank you.

LYDEN: And Izhar Patkin is an Israeli artist and activist with a current show, "Izhar Patkin: The Wandering Veil," which you can see all summer at MASS MoCA in Massachusetts. Thank you Izhar.

PATKIN: Thank you Jacki. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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