The rhythms of life on the Israeli side of Gaza border
By David E. Kaplan
A planned dance performance on the Gazan border reminds me of the Gulf War of 1991 when Iraq were raining Scud missiles down on Israel and maestro Zubin Mehta raced back from New York to conduct concerts. “I had many obligations in New York that should have prevented me from coming, but I couldn’t imagine not being here,” he said at the time, while he was director of the New York Philharmonic. He conducted full-house concerts keeping his gas mask nearly as close to him as his baton, “just in case!”
“Can you imagine,” he told this writer in an exclusive interview on the occasion of his 80th birthday in 2016 in Tel Aviv, “Scuds where dropping out of the sky, possibly with chemicals but this did not deter Israelis from wanting to hear classical music.”
It sent a powerful and poignant message not to the likes of Saddam Hussein – a waste of time – but to the people of Israel who were asserting, despite the dire situation, their grit and love of culture.
Fast forward to the present and again that characteristic is being expressed by Liat Dror‘s Sderot-based dance company which is staging a performance on the Gazan border to express “our humanity” in the face of living under constant attack. “It’s my responsibility to put on a show even under rocket fire,” says a proud and defiant Liat, artistic director at the Sderot Adama Dance Company.
So, what is daily life like, living “Under Fire”?
Senior social work supervisor at Ben Gurion University in the Negev (BGU), Yehudit Spanglet is a post-trauma specialist who established the Connections and Links Trauma Center, a mobile unit that frequently brings her to Sderot – a city under fire.
“Without question there are hundreds of people in Sderot and southern Israel who live in a state of continuous trauma. Not only from the rockets which fall, but also from the booms of the Iron Dome defense system; which thankfully intercepts most of the incoming rockets. The blasts which resound in the sky can continue to echo in a person’s ears long after the attack. Many victims of trauma live in fear, even during extended periods of ceasefire. Every time the siren wails and people have to run for cover, the trauma damage from previous attacks is reinforced.”
She cites a visit to Sderot when the city came under attack, and outside on a street, “a woman stood paralyzed, staring up at the sky. Her neck had frozen in fright when the warning siren sounded. Before she could reach a bomb shelter, the missiles of the Iron Dome exploded, seemingly over her head. Her husband didn’t want to take her to the hospital in Ashkelon, so we slowly walked her home with her head still gazing up toward heaven. When she was back in her house, after speaking with her for half an hour, her neck muscles loosened and finally her body relaxed.”
Caught In Crossfire
In defiance of this situation of unrelenting danger for Israelis living near the Gaza border, a dance troupe from the Sderot Adama Dance Company will be staging a performance to emphasize what it is like to be caught in the crossfire – not only of aerial missiles but of “duty, humanity and the importance of the self.”
Liat and her partner Nir Ben Gal, say their new show titled “Love Is Strong as Death” will convey what it means to dance under rocket fire and create art under the thunderous sounds of air-raid sirens and the pounding booms of the missiles.
“Life near the Gaza Strip.” says Liat, “is constantly presenting us with difficult questions regarding the value of art when it’s not exhibited in a museum or safely appreciated in an air-conditioned theater hall.”
The dance company’s latest work balances the situation of national pride and the need to personally defend one’s people – hence the inclusion of martial music in the musical score – but also the human desire for personal space.
“This meeting between the two is very real in my everyday life in the studio,” reveals Liat. It began with her experiences serving in the IDF (Israel Defense Force) “and continued with the very difficult experience of being a parent to soldiers.”
She says the show tackles the real-life questions “of choosing love over war, of dealing with a complex reality and of accepting others – be it a spouse, a neighbour, or someone with opposing political views.”
She asserts that life in Sderot always highlights these questions and “keeps me on constant alert.”
While dance instructors anywhere else in the world might be concerned over issues of students facing personal problems or being ill, Dror is anxious:
“Will we be able to rehearse? Will we get to finish that rehearsal or will the rocket sirens go off? After all, it’s my responsibility to put on a show even under rocket fire.”
She says the troupe uses recordings of “live music from past performances,” including “laughter from the audience, the creaking of the chairs and the sounds of breathing by those present.” To Liat, “it’s a form of correspondence, both with our past, and with its relevance to what’s going on right now in Israel, Sderot, or any place where the gaps are greater than the chance for peace.”
Music To Our Ears
When Israel was at war in Southern Lebanon in 1982, Zubin Mehta brought the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra a few kilometers across the border into a Lebanese tobacco field. “We erected a stage under a tent and played for a group of local Lebanese citizens.” After the concert, said Mehta, “the concertgoers rushed the stage to hug the musicians.”
Reflecting years later, “How I would love to see that sight again today,” said the Maestro, “of Arabs and Jews hugging each other. I’m a positive thinker. I know that day will come.”
* Featured Image: From ‘Love is strong as death’ (Photo: Gal Dor)