Shadia: Play shows us all sides of the conflict

The Palestinian-Israeli conflict was one of the first crises I knew about growing up.

And if you're Middle Eastern, Muslim or Jewish, the conflict is probably one of those things you can't escape.

I would love to be able to tell you exactly what I think. But I won't.

Instead I'll tell you this: I've studied it extensively, read about it, written grad school papers about it and know each side. There are more than just two.

I encourage you to set your emotions aside and find a good, objective source to read about each side. Then make up your own mind.

When I heard about a play in Los Angeles regarding the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, I was hesitant to watch it or write about it at all. But several people told me it was a good show.

I thought using "Sarah's War" to write about the conflict would be a way to address it without making it about politics.

The play, produced by Freedom Theatre West, is about a 23-year-old American woman who decides to join the International Solidarity Movement in the Palestinian Territories. She first goes to her uncle, who's Jewish, to ask for monetary support, but he passionately refuses, cites rocket attacks on Israelis and tells her to go to medical school or find another way to make a positive difference in the world.

She goes anyway.

Sarah's story is not fictional. There was a woman named Rachel Corrie who once decided to join the International Solidarity Movement in the Palestinian Territories.

In Gaza, Sarah faces Israelis, who view her as a terrorist sympathizer, and Palestinians, who believe she's a spy.

And that's where I noticed the great service this play is doing for audiences, and also for those who might see only one side of the conflict.

One character is an Israeli Defense Forces soldier who wants to be a teacher and feels conflicted about serving, but has also lost his father in a suicide bombing. His friend, a religious Jew, warns him not to enlist and tells him that once in, there's no going back.

He tries to get approval to serve in a less sensitive area, but that request is turned down by his superior, who tells him his options are very limited and they include military prison.

Then there's Sarah, who's tormented over the 8-year-old Palestinian girl and many others like her who get killed by the Israeli military, the bulldozers that keep taking down Palestinian homes and, of course, the olive trees.

There's also the young Palestinian woman who doesn't understand why Sarah would risk her life and tells her that over there, they're like ghosts whose lives don't matter to the outside world.

There are Sarah's parents who have to deal with what happened to her.

There's the elderly Palestinian woman who wants to help, but trembles in fear when the bombs start.

There are also those, from each side, who are used to everything as is.

It was hard for me not to sympathize with each one of those characters. I know that each one of them lives.

It's why this conflict is not a matter of black and white.

But I do think there is a way to solve it, if we put our emotions aside, don't use the conflict for political gain and start understanding that those in the middle of it, on each side, are human beings who deserve a home and deserve to live without fear.

I have a picture on my Facebook with a Palestinian boy and an Israeli boy walking shoulder to shoulder.

A few years ago, I tagged my friends and wrote this under the photo:

"I've tagged my friends in this picture because I believe that in all of us there's hope for peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Hope that a Palestinian can walk shoulder to shoulder with an Israeli. Hope that their children will live a peaceful life full of sharing and friendship. A long life. A deserving life. A life where they can dream under the falling stars and fulfill their dreams. I'm optimistic and I believe I will see it happening in my lifetime. I hope all of you believe, too."

MONA SHADIA is a reporter for Times Community News. An Egyptian American, she was born and raised in Cairo and now lives in Orange County. Her column includes various questions and issues facing Muslims in America. Follow her on Twitter @MonaShadia.

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