Dublin Theatre Festival (from 26 September to 13 October) is Europe’s oldest specialised festival that was established in 1957 to bring together artists, theatre-makers, and audiences from Ireland and around the world. The festival is also one of the key post-WW2 events established to foster tolerance and cultural understanding between nations. However, Dublin Theatre Festival is well-known for its firm and unwavering commitment towards peace and human rights. It has a long list of inspiring artists whose work showed a clear-cut and consistent position on the current regional and international conflicts, and played a decisive role in putting the question of human rights and human dignity in the forefront of the human values that guide all nations regardless of their cultural or historical differences. This year, the festival offers a unique way of addressing the Palestinians’ suffering through representing Justin Butchrer’s Walking to Jerusalem. The play is a creative, artistic work that condemns Balfour Declaration, which was a public statement issued by the British government in 1917 during the WW1 announcing support for the establishment of a “national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine, which was then an Ottoman region with a small Jewish minority.
Walking to Jerusalem is a theatrical narrative that chronicles a six-month walk from London to Jerusalem in the name of Palestinians in 2017. Obviously, 2017 marked three major anniversaries for the Palestinian people: the centenary of the Balfour Declaration, the fiftieth year of Israel’s military occupation of the Palestinian Territories, and the tenth year of the blockade of Gaza. Hence, to show their rejection of all the notorious acts exercised by the Zionist entity, Justin Butcher, along with 10 companions and another hundred joining him at different points along the way, walked from London to Jerusalem as an act of solidarity. They walked 3,400 km for 147 days across 11 countries, three seas, mountains, rivers, and soul-stirring landscapes from the green fields of Kent to the desert dust of Jordan, discovering both the Roman roads and the refugee routes with all their perceived dangers. Butcher’s on-stage performance retraces every step, oasis, and bump in the road in front of a live audience, using a mixture of live performance and a video montage of live footage from the trail. This combination of live performance and projected film allows Butcher to convey his experience in a realistic way, interweaving his face-to-face experiences and the political realities in order to depict a live picture of the Israeli government. It shows Israel’s continuing acts of enforcing severe and discriminatory restrictions on Palestinians’ human rights, restricting the movement of people and goods into and out of the Gaza Strip, and facilitating the unlawful transfer of Israeli citizens to settlements in the occupied West Bank.
Certainly, this positive attitude of the festival towards the Palestinian cause is in compliance with the political stance of the Irish state that supports the Palestinians in their fight for self-determination and freedom. On 9 April 2018, for example, Dublin City Council was the first European capital to vote in favour of resolutions endorsing the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel, calling for the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador. In fact, the Palestinian issue has long occupied a place in the Irish consciousness due to the evident parallels with the Irish national experience, which has a long history of fighting a revolutionary war against the British occupation. This apparent sentiment was clearly expressed by the renowned Irish novelist Sean O’Faolain in 1947. He rejected the comparison between the Irish and Zionist struggles, and asserted, “If we could imagine that Ireland was being transformed by Britain into a national home for the Jews, I can hardly doubt which side you would be found.” Doubtless, despite of all the commentaries that try to take the play out of its context, Walking to Jerusalem or A pilgrimage to Palestine, as many critics like to call it, brings a message of compassion to the Palestinian people, and an urgent and impassioned plea for justice in the Middle East.
Marwa El-Shinawy holds a PhD in American theatre. She is a member of the Higher Committee for the Cairo International Festival for Contemporary and Experimental Theatre