Interview of Dominique Caillat
by François Rochaix (director)

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F.R.: What has changed since your first stay in the region in 1997 and the most recent one in 2007?

D.C.: Objectively: nothing. Palestine is occupied, Israel is threatened, peace is light-years away. Subjectively: everything! Israeli pacifism is almost dead, Palestinian civil resistance exhausted. Until 2006, there was always some sort of dynamic for a future of peaceful coexistence. But too many dreams have been shattered; too much blood has been shed. People on both sides seem to be reverting to atavistic traumas. They become indifferent or more radical and allow extremists to lead the way. On the 40th anniversary of the occupation, less than 3000 peace activists gathered on Rabin Square. The days when over 100’000 demonstrators regularly came here to demonstrate, chanting and waving banners, are over.

The problem comes mostly from above: for the first time, there truly doesn’t seem to be any partner on either side, who might be able to impose peace. Ehud Olmert, who was elected to withdraw Israeli soldiers and settlers from the territories made instead war against Lebanon and lost. The Israelis, who realize that their powerful army can destroy but not protect, are traumatized. Meanwhile, the slicing up of Palestine through a wall, barriers, settler roads and tunnels goes on at full speed and settlements are constantly being expanded. For their part, the Palestinians are engaged in an internal war of factions between the secular, corrupted Fatah and the religious, fundamentalist Hamas. This is a great victory for the Israeli right-wing, which has always endeavoured to divide the Palestinians and so weaken them. It is common knowledge that Israel greatly facilitated the emergence of Hamas. Now the very success of Hamas is used to justify the politics of occupation and colonization. Worse still, the foreign powers that have an influence, the US and Iran, use the region as a training camp for their own undeclared war and prevent any significant progress towards peace. (Earlier this year, the Americans forbade the Israelis to respond to constant requests for negotiations from the Syrians). There is no reason to rejoice. And yet, I assure you that people on both sides are utterly fed up. They want to have normal lives, living in freedom and security. But what can they do? The mood here is one of disillusion.

F.R.: The journalist is yourself, isn’t she, or at least part of you? I feel inside Christine a utopia, a dream, the sad hope of a solution. Am I right?           

D.C.: I suppose so. I come from a family where one discussed world politics from morning till evening. Thus the heroes of my childhood were great figures of the time like Martin Luther King John Kennedy, the former French “Résistants”, Solzhenitsyn, but also the entire Jewish people, and by extension also the Israelis, in whom I naively saw a crowd of Asterix-like freedom-fighters resisting all the Romans of the world. I had encountered Israel as a child through the biblical myths, and my interest only grew with time, fed by horror of the holocaust and admiration of the Zionist experiment: victory over anti-Semitism, socialism apparently realized, growing a “garden in the desert”…I discovered the Palestinian suffering rather late, when I came to present my play Goodbye Butterfly in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv and was confronted with the world of occupation, terrorism and violent reprisals. At the time, I immediately made friends in the left-wing peace camp. They were the ones who informed and guided me through the maze of the conflict, eventually encouraging me to write. They are the “engine” so to speak, and the motivation behind all my research. I have tried to give them a voice the way I can: in two plays and a book. To me, they are the other, real Israel, very close to my childhood dreams. With time, I also built a network of friends and acquaintances on the Palestinian side. This land, this war, its protagonists are familiar to me. I believed in peace in 95, just before Premier Yitzhak Rabin’s murder. I had some hope in 2000, when Barak and Arafat seemed close to an agreement. But now I find it hard to believe that peace can be achieved without violence: how can one possibly force 260’000 armed, fanatic settlers out of colonies that are spread all over the West Bank? (Not to mention the 200’000 in East Jerusalem, who will never leave).

As for identifying with Christine, I did not plan it. I wanted to write a political play that would explore the human reality behind the headlines; I wanted to use the stage in order to reflect upon a major conflict, in which the West hast clear responsibilities and which is deals with some of the most burning issues of our time: nationalism, identity, terrorism, religion, war of civilisations.           

But I was practically swallowed by the events: in the course of my research, I was confronted with such contradictory testimonies and experiences that I sometimes felt I was losing my marks. So I ended up writing a very personal text, to find my own way. I felt it was more interesting to share my doubts with the public than hammer in any anti-occupation manifesto. Which doesn’t mean that the play is neutral: on the contrary, it very much reflects the ideas of the Israeli peace camp and Palestinian civil resistance.

F.R.: You are inhabited by this region and its drama. You have just written a play (État de piège), a book (La Paix ou la mort) and you are preparing a major article for “Le Temps”. Are these different means of expression related to one another?

D.C.: Yes, of course. The Middle-East conflict has so many layers, rather like an archaeological site. It immerses us in an ancestral history going back 3000 years, it dramatises many of the great issues of our time and it reminds us of the adventurous, arrogant and sometimes criminal experiments of the sorcerer’s apprentices of world politics today and in the past. No other region in the world produces so many contradictory passions.

The play allows me to show conflicts and transmit emotions without being over-explicit. The book is more like a literary documentary: it is based on the interviews I had from 2002 till 2007. The newspaper article offers, in a compact form, the point of view of a civil person on the situation today.