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No Laughing Matter
By Ray Hanania — In the post Sept. 11th world, I learned several things. It is easier to hate a stranger than to hate someone you know. And, anger often appears as “hate” when coupled with excessive fear and lack of knowledge. There is a rising sense of hatred, of “anger gone wild” in America against Arabs and Muslims because of Sept. 11. And there seems to be a growing resignation among Palestinians and Israelis that peace and compromise are no longer possible.
Peace and compromise are always possible. What has changed, though, is attitude. People are discouraged by the unending violence, the failure of the peace process, and the increased negative rhetoric and speech. Do we just stand by and allow extremists to control us? Or do we take unorthodox steps to remind everyone that we are both human beings and that peace and compromise are in fact the only alternatives to the conflict and violence?
After Sept. 11, I decided to turn to the most powerful form of communication that exists between human beings. Humor. Not just any kind of humor, but stand-up comedy. Stand-up comedy is a controlled kind of humor, involving social satire and sometimes biting commentary, which not only seeks to entertain but to deliver important messages.
Humor alone can’t resolve conflicts like the decades-long Palestine-Israel conflict, but it can change attitudes. It can restore a person’s belief in the humanity of the other people. It can cause people to see each other in a positive way that can nurture improved relations. If people can laugh together, we can live together.
I first tested the theory in a show in East Jerusalem in Oct. 2004, at the residence of the American Consul General. More than 75 Israelis and Palestinians attended.
To press the need to bring humour to Palestinians and Israelis, I co-founded with Israeli comedian Charley Warady the Israeli-Palestinian Comedy Tour (www.IPComedyTour.com), also appearing with Israeli comic Yisrael Campbell and African American Jewish comedian Aaron Freeman.
In January and again in June, we performed 10 shows in Israel for mixed but mostly Israeli audiences, and in East Jerusalem for mostly Palestinian audiences. In May, The Israeli-Palestinian Comedy Tour performed in Toronto, Canada for more than 1,200 people, mostly Jews and Palestinians.
There has been some opposition. Some Israeli comedians said they couldn’t appear with me because it might harm their careers.
For Arabs, appearing on stage with “Israelis” is considered haram (against values) and is not the same as appearing with “Jewish comedians.” Five Arab organizations cancelled my scheduled performances for them in the two weeks after returning from the first tour in Israel and Palestine. Other Palestinian and Muslim comedians have blacklisted me from their festivals and TV shows.
I don’t mind the rejection because the acceptance is overwhelming.
After the 2004 show, the consul general said it was “the first time in three years” Palestinians and Israelis had come together in the same room. After the Toronto show, the auditorium’s entrance filled with hundreds of Palestinians and Jews who actually talked and laughed together.
We need to do more of that.
During the January tour, a suicide bombing in Eilat made us question whether we should continue. We decided we had to continue because we would not allow one terrorist or a group of extremists to control our lives.
The violence of a few should be reprimanded to the few. We must strive to believe that the majority of Israelis and Palestinians who are not involved in the violence are people who are angered and frustrated but not necessarily hateful of others.
We went on with our shows reminding audiences that the terrorists and extremists do not speak for the majority of Palestinians or Israelis, continued with a second tour of the wartorn countries in June, and will return this November for more Palestinian and Israeli comedy shows.
We can have compromise and peace if we stop demonising each other; one of the best ways to do that is through humor.
And that’s no joke.
This post has already been read 54 times!
Hanania loves to write about American Arabs in politics, and focuses on Arab life in America.
Currently, he writes weekly columns on Middle East and American Arab issues for the Arab News in Saudi Arabia at www.ArabNews.com. He writes on American politics for the Des Plaines Valley News, Southwest News-Herald, The Regional News newspaper and the Reporter Newspapers. He also writes for the online websites TheArabDailyNews.com and NewsAmericaNetwork.com (Illinois News Network at IllinoisNewsNetwork.com).
Palestinian, American Arab and Christian, Hanania’s parents originate from Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Hanania began in journalism as an activist publishing Chicago’s first English-language American Arab Newspaper “The Middle Eastern Voice” from 1975 through 1977. In 1976, he was hired by the Chicago community newspaper The Southtown Economist (Daily Southtown) and in 1985 was hired by the Chicago Sun-Times and covered Chicago City Hall for both. In 1993, he launched the “The Villager” Newspapers which covered 12 Southwest Chicagoland suburban regions. In 2004, he published “The National Arab American Times” monthly newspaper which was distributed through 12,500 Middle East ethnic food stores in 48 American States.
Hanania is the recipient of four (4) Chicago Headline Club “Peter Lisagor Awards” for Column writing. In November 2006, he was named “Best Ethnic American Columnist” by the New American Media;In 2009, he received the prestigious Sigma Delta Chi Award for Writing from the Society of Professional Journalists. He is the recipient of the MT Mehdi Courage in Journalism Award. Hanania has also received two (2) Chicago Stick-o-Type awards from the Chicago Newspaper Guild, and in 1990 was nominated by the Chicago Sun-Times for a Pulitzer Prize for his four-part series on the Palestinian Intifada.
Hanania’s writings have been published in newspapers around the world. Formerly syndicated by Creators Syndicate, Hanania also has written news, features and Opinion Columns for Al Jazeera English, the Jerusalem Post, YNetNews.com, Arab News, Saudi Gazette, Newsday in New York, the Orlando Sentinel, the Houston Chronicle, The Daily Star, the News of the World, the Daily Yomimuri in Tokyo, Chicago Magazine, the Arlington Heights Daily Herald, and Aramco Magazine. His political columns are published in the Southwest News-Herald and Des Plaines Valley News, Regional News and Palos Reporter newspapers in Chicagoland. Hanania is the President/CEO of Urban Strategies Group media and public affairs consulting which has clients in Illinois, Florida, Michigan and Washington D.C.
Hanania is Palestinian Christian from prominent Bethlehem and Jerusalem families. His wife and son are Jewish and he performs standup comedy lampooning Arab-Jewish relations, advocating for peace based on non-violence, mutual recognition and Two-States.
His Facebook Page is Facebook.com/rghanania
Email him at: RGHanania@gmail.com
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