A “Forbidden Conversation” on Israel and Palestine

Emma Pettit – Students and faculty gathered over baklava on Saturday February 18th in the multicultural house before guest artist Gili Getz’s autobiographical performance. Getz focused on the resistance and discomfort surrounding the divisive discussion within the Jewish community over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Getz is an Israeli-American artist based in New York City, published in all major Jewish journals there. His performance, entitled “The Forbidden Conversation,” referenced his work as a photographic journalist in Israel, his own e orts to discuss Israeli issues with his family, and the way he has observed tension over the topic in his work.

His work seeks to destigmatize the controversial conversation, which Getz describes as “usually so contentious, destructive, confrontational, violent, antagonistic, toxic, and full of angry diatribes.” For this reason, many choose to opt out of the discussion entirely.

As a young photographer, the camera helped him “make sense of the contradictions” he observed in the war in Gaza. Getz was able to be “protected by the glass of the lens” and then return to the lab to process the film and digest the violence. Through his poetic rhetoric and animated performance, he narrated his experience as a photographer of his time: “bodies all around me click badly burnt body of a child click…later in the lab looking at the photo I felt numb.”

Getz spoke to his father about the conflict during his time in Israel. In a heated discussion between them, Getz admitted to crossing a line, feeling hurt, and entering the forbidden aspect of the conversation where the rules of civility in arguments were broken down. The emotional response triggered pain and trauma of years of Jewish struggle for his father. Nevertheless, Getz encourages opting into the conversation without rules or restrictions while empathizing with the other person. He wants different generations to discuss Zionism, and realized when he challenged his father’s ideas he was questioning his Zionist dream.

After his performance, Getz asked the audience to raise their hands if they too have felt a tension surrounding the “forbidden conversation” in their communities and to share their narratives. The Jewish students in attendance voiced a spectrum of opinions, but Kerry Honan ’17 spoke from personal experience and explained that too often one’s observations are characterized as anti-Israel or anti-Zionist if they are not 100% positive.

Chaplain Rob Spach further opened up the conversation by asking if there were parallels within the Muslim community about a hesitance or tension surrounding the conversation. Students echoed a similar lack of communication in their communities over the violence and historical identity rooted in the conflict. Organizations such as New Ground are helping by creating open spaces for American Muslim and Jewish communities to engage in authentic communication and mutual cooperation. These groups believe that Islamophobia in the Jewish community and anti- Semitism in the Muslim community should be confronted and dismantled.

Getz agrees, “We need to learn to talk to people we disagree with for our own benefit,” especially in light of the Trump administration’s waffling on a two-state solution and Israel’s wave of settlements in the West Bank. The last part of conversation included an overview of the intricate politics of the Palestine/Israel debate.

Waleed Alkoor ’19 enjoyed Saturday’s event. “I don’t often get to see the emotional narrative of the other side and get to connect with it…. My grandparents and parents are Palestinian refugees, and it is hard to look at another perspective when the subject in question has caused your family so much pain and difficulty. Recently, I have been more open and reading stories from the other side. It is one thing to learn about the conflict in class as a historical or political event rather than a personal family history.”

Alkoor especially appreciated when Getz asked how many students felt uncomfortable talking about this around family. The Palestinian national identity has become so politicized that Palestinian art or athletes are seen as a product of the political climate of the country instead of independent agents. It is difficult to disclose one’s Palestinian identity without being asked about the conflict or judged based on the history.

Alkoor sees this within his own community. When he speaks to his grandmother, controversy often leads to emotional reactions: “I don’t know how I would even begin to convince my grandmother that Israel is a free and legitimate state when she was literally dragged out of her house for not being of a certain religion.”

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict continues to weigh on our local and national community, and Getz’s performance opened up a forum that began to free the tension students experience.