Thoughts and questions about Tolstoy’s War & Peace in Gaza and the war on terror

Thoughts and questions about Tolstoy’s War and Peace in Gaza and the “war on terror”





At an earlier stage in our project when Theatre for Everybody presented their workshop version of their stage adaptation of Tolstoy’s War and Peace it was reviewed in Al Watan (Yaseen, 2015). The review opened thus:


Only on the Said Al Meshal stage in Gaza does the will to peace win over the insanity of war and its afflictions. But the reality that Palestine is living and many of the countries of our Arab nations is different to this. Completely different! Wars are eradicating people and peoples, and there is not a glimmer of hope of peace. (para. 1)


Tolstoy wrote his novel in the 1860s about the events that climaxed in the invasion of Russia by the French Army, led by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1812. The novel finishes with Tolstoy’s portrayal of natural family life that he imagines being resumed after the French occupation has been repulsed. What can it possibly mean to demand peace in Gaza today? There are few places on earth at the current time where it is more sorely needed. What might ordinary family life mean in Gaza today? I remember my colleague and friend, Hossam Madhoun, co-director of Theatre for Everybody, remarking that one war every ten years may be almost acceptable but to have three in that space of time is unbearable. You can’t possibly recover from one before the next is upon you.




In Tolstoy’s War and Peace there are two wars and two peaces. The first war is the campaign fought by the Napoleonic army against the Austrians and the Russians in Moravia in today’s Czech Republic. This climaxed in the Battle of Austerlitz in 1805 and was followed by the Treaty of Pressburg. The French victory was so decisive that the Austrian Empire capitulated and never recovered. This was the recurrent pattern in European warfare up to that time; there was a military build-up, manoeuvres, skirmishes, a decisive battle and a peace treaty. This ordering of the business of war and peace in the European territories was linked to the consolidation of nation-states and had prevailed since the Treaty of Westphalia ended the Thirty Years War in 1648.

It is at the Battle of Austerlitz that Tolstoy’s fictional character, Andrei Bolkonsky, is almost fatally wounded and for some period of time is missing in action. It is during his absence that his wife dies in childbirth and he becomes a father. His departure for the war, and his aspiration to play a heroic and historic role in it, is described by Tolstoy as being connected to his animosity towards his pregnant wife. There is a drive in him towards war that is depicted as being fuelled by an antipathy towards life. His friend Pierre Bezukhov, after the defeat at Austerlitz, in which he plays no part, is driven to drink in his frustration at Russian military officers’ celebration of victory – although the Russians lost alongside the Austrians – and finds himself fighting a duel to defend Andrei’s honour. Pierre’s pro-Revolutionary – and therefore pro-Napoleonic – views are well known. The son of an aristocrat and a peasant, his basic predisposition is towards progress and peace. This friendship of opposites between Andrei and Pierre is the major relationship, and provides the key underlying dialogue in the novel.

The second war in War and Peace is of a different sort than the Moravian campaign. It concerns the invasion and occupation of Russia. The intention of the French Army was to deliver a decisive defeat on the Russians and negotiate an advantageous peace settlement. Tolstoy describes this second war as being completely different and new. The Russians will not make peace while the French are on Russian soil. After the French invasion, there is a dreadful and bloody encounter between the French and Russian armies at Borodino where Andrei is wounded, this time fatally, though he only dies some months after the battle. Meanwhile Pierre becomes a witness to the battle and the war. Napoleon, his erstwhile hero, has now become, for him, a satanic figure. In his determination to encounter his nemesis and assassinate Napoleon, he stays in Moscow after the French occupation, disguises himself as a peasant, promotes and finances armed partisan resistance, is captured by the French, narrowly escapes execution and is eventually freed by “partisan” forces.

In this war of the second half of War and Peace, the Russians refused peace negotiations and made strategic retreats, leaving an almost deserted and burnt out Moscow to the occupying French forces. As the Russian winter set in and the resources of the Russian land were depleted by plunder, Moscow turned from a treasure trove into a trap. The French army, demoralised and softened by its occupation of Moscow, started its retreat back through Russia towards France without having gained a settlement. It was decimated by the attacks of relatively small groups of “partisan” guerrilla fighters. Tolstoy remarks that it is as if the French were engaging in a duel in accordance with the rules of fencing and the opponent, the Russian people, threw away its sword and snatched up a club. The French are bludgeoned to death.




The Napoleonic project exhibited two extraordinary features. Firstly, it was moved by an ideological aspiration to spread the republican values of the French Revolution. Secondly, it created an army from the whole French population. The levée en masse of the French people was the closest thing at that time to a conscript army. The movement of these masses of troops entailed the plundering of all proximate property and land. As the Napoleonic campaign progressed, economic drivers became more dominant than the ideological revolutionary mission. In his invasion of Spain, Napoleon had already been met with guerrilla fighters derived from civilian resistance to occupation. In the campaign in Prussia his defeat of the Prussian army – an army whose structures of command reflected the aristocratic values of the ancient regime and was no match for the more democratically organised French – was a major shock. What Europe was confronting was total war, military combat that involved whole populations. This new form of warfare derived from the military methodology of European imperialist expansion and was brought back home in the Napoleonic campaigns of 1792-1815. Carl von Clausewitz who fought at the Battle of Jena wrote his classic work, On War (1832/1968), as a consequence of the recognition that he made about the changed character of war. This work is the most universally influential theoretical book about war in the modern period and its most celebrated quotation, “War is a mere continuation of policy by other means” (p. 119) indicates that at the centre of this work is a profound examination and re-thinking of the relationship between military and social organisation. There is every reason to believe that Clausewitz advised the Russian commander, Kutuzov, during the Russian campaign. The intensely pragmatic understanding of the interaction between the terrain, the military commander, the government and the people, characteristic of Von Clausewitz, was first put into practice in the Russian campaign against the French.




Will Theatre for Everybody’s adaptation of Tolstoy’s work give any renewed sense of what peace in Gaza might involve? Do different kinds of peace relate to different kinds of war? The “peace process” that is constantly brought into play by Israel, the “international community” and the Palestinian Authority appears to be a waging of war by other means. The theft of land and the humiliation and harassment of the Palestinian population continues. The dreadful privations due to the siege or blockade of Gaza, a prolonged and sustained violence that deprives people of the means of life and deteriorates the immediate environment in which they have to live, the displacement, the destruction of natural resources and environmental amenities, the deep ongoing problems arising from the use of armaments such as white phosphorous – Gaza is not just a war zone but an experimental laboratory for the Israeli arms industry – as well as the psychological and spiritual stress, the ongoing destruction of inner capacities produced by continual exposure to fear and terror, all continue during the “peace process”. I know from my friends there that fear eats the soul. The most consuming fear is not of one’s own destruction but the dreadful sense of powerlessness to protect those that would, in all circumstances, be most in need of your protection, your children.

At the end of War and Peace, Tolstoy accompanies his description of peace after the French occupation with thoughts about the deeply destructive impact of militarism. He makes a general analysis of “the army”. This form of human organisation can have more or less impact and influence on the organisation of a society as a whole. In a war, it comes to dominate; in peace, it is diminished. His description is strongly linked to his view of human beings in general, a view that he elaborates at various points in the book and in other works. He describes the human as divided between individual being and collective being. These modes of being impact variously on human social organisation. The individual is capable of generating movements of self-development and behaviour based on intuitive recognitions of truth and these movements are subject to human will. As an individual, the human being lives out a sense of self-determination even though the actual control of their circumstances is illusory. In their collective life, human beings are carried along by mimetic interactions where reciprocal expectations of conformity drive them in ways over which they appear to have no control. This is most clearly and fully expressed at the beginning of “Book Three” of War and Peace, at the point where Tolstoy describes the movement between the war of the first half and the war of the second half. He attributes freedom to the individual aspect and destiny, or necessity, to the other, collective, aspect. He expresses these as different perceptions of time: the personal time of the individual – the series of moments that make up a person’s life – and the collective predetermined time, that appears like a landscape and is associated with complex interactive “swarm” behaviour. The army, for Tolstoy, is an institutionalisation of this contradiction in the human being. He describes the organisational structure of the army as a cone, a hierarchy of command and obedience, where the basis on which someone is able to give orders is the distance that they have from the actual activities over which they give them. This separation of authority from activity – a specific case of the division of mental and manual labour – gives rise to power ascending to the pinnacle of the cone where a man (usually) sits. He, at one point, appears to be a genius though at another – from a different perspective – appears to be a satanic figure. For Tolstoy, the army is an abnegation of human responsibility. As this form of organisation becomes more prevalent, the less control – freedom – people have over their lives and actions.

The people of Gaza live in a permanent state of “unfreedom” because they are subject to intensive militarisation both from the state of Israel and from the organisations of resistance that have been generated in opposition to it. There is a commonplace about Israel that, rather than it being a state with an army, it is an army with a state. This fusion of the army and the state, of war and politics, can be seen as the direct outcome of the ideas of Carl von Clausewitz. European nationalism has managed to export itself, in its most extreme form, and inserted itself into the Middle East. In addition, it is not just the physical impact of the violence of war that makes a difference. The conduct of war, especially by aggression and occupation, provokes resistance that replicates its forms of activity and organisation. In other words, war creates violent imitation that makes adversaries more and more alike.

Surely, there is no other society on earth that knows as much about war – and knows as little peace – as those who live in the farms, villages, towns and cities of the Gaza Strip. Rene Girard, to whose ideas about mimetic violence I have just referred, said in his book about von Clausewitz, “To understand war completely is to no longer be able to be a warrior” (Girard, 2010, p. 148). Does Tolstoy’s War and Peace or Theatre for Everybody’s stage adaptation of it move in the direction of an understanding of war that is helpful to people in Gaza?

War and Peace is a thorough imaginative investigation of war, both in general and in particular. From a psychological or spiritual point of view, this investigation is embodied in the relationship between the two main characters, Andrei and Pierre, and their relationship to Natasha, the fiancée of one and the eventual wife of the other. From an historical point of view, it is articulated in the relationship between the war in the first half of the novel and the “new kind” of war in the second half. What is the logic of this historical progression? Is an ongoing historical direction indicated in the difference that Tolstoy articulates between the two wars in War and Peace?




Writing about this in London I risk having a partial view of these processes. After all, the Napoleonic Wars were, despite appearances to the contrary, fought mainly between the French and British. The British were constantly involved in a process of diplomatic manipulation, setting one side against another but hardly making a military appearance, apart from the war in Spain, before the very end, at the Battle of Waterloo, when Napoleon was finally defeated in 1815. The strategy of conducting war through alliances or proxies is familiar. It was the ability of the English banking system to extend loans with unusual flexibility, in contrast to the more rigid French system, that was constantly making a difference in the conduct of the various campaigns. The economics of war, mentioned earlier in relationship to the Napoleonic balance sheet of plunder, is also evidenced in the connection between the Israeli state project and its ability to steal Palestinian land and property, theft with which its army is directly concerned. It cannot escape anybody’s attention that British wealth, the infrastructurally advantageous position of Britain – which is now almost completely depleted apart from residual financial pre-eminence – is entirely due to military and naval power. The wars that took place in the world between the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 and the start of the First World War in 1914 were predominantly conducted by European powers, plus the United States, against indigenous people whose resistance and endurance has, more or less, been erased from the historical record. These wars had prominent genocidal features. However, the documented history of the development of war is centred in Europe. Since 1945 the Western European powers and the United States have managed to “export” war whilst remaining the major profiting producers of armaments. This gives the bizarre and false appearance of contemporary Europe being a centre of peace. It is as if the whole of the Western world is mimicking the role played by Britain in the Napoleonic Wars, conducting war in other countries by proxy and bankrolling them with armaments. Although Britain has profited from war more than any other country in human history – this role is currently being contested by the US – it has never, since 1066, suffered an invasion. I am not counting the arrival of William and Mary with an accompanying army in 1688 nor the Jacobite armed invasion, launched from Scotland and supported by the French, in 1745. Napoleon, for a while in the 1790s, amassed an army on the French side of the Channel and threatened invasion before deciding to turn his attention eastwards. Almost the same pattern occurred with the threat from the German National Socialist regime under the leadership of Adolf Hitler. He and his army met a fate, similar to that of Napoleon and his army, with his attempt to invade and occupy Russia/the Soviet Union in 1941. The pattern of the European wars of the first half of the 20th Century was set in the Napoleonic Wars. In 1945 with the advent of the Cold War the Western powers went back to conducting colonial wars. However, the Cold War, and the subsequent “war on terror” that in some ways subsumed it, changed the character of war in a way that is similar to that described by Tolstoy in the difference between the Moravian campaign of 1805 and the invasion of Russia of 1812.

The Cold War was a result of the remarkable success of the Soviet Union in the encounter with Germany in 1941-45 plus the extraordinary advance in the destructive capabilities of human weaponry with the development of nuclear explosives. The “war on terror” is a result of a strategy initiated by Israel by means of its influence over United States policy through the neo-conservative group after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1989. This coincided with the end of the war against the Soviet invaders of Afghanistan and the return to their countries of origin of hundreds of trained fighters who had been exposed to the practice and ideas of military political Islam. In the background was the Iranian revolution of 1979 and the formation of the Islamic Republic and this, in turn, was influenced by the formation of Pakistan as a consequence of the British-led partition of India. It is instructive to see how these nation-state forms repeat and echo each other. Particularly important in this respect is to understand the congruence between the Zionist state project and the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) project.




A fundamental impact of the Napoleonic levée en masse, the redirecting of the revolutionary energies of the French people into nation-building and military adventurism, was a reorganisation of the relationship between soldiers and civilians. War and military organisation has played an integral and essential role in the making of nation-states. War is always projected as having definable strategic aims and often the whole effort appears to be imbued with efficiency and purpose. When we turn our attention to what Tolstoy had to say about the way militarisation (preparing for war) is compatible with already existing inclinations in people to form themselves into purposeful groups and act in unison, we can see that war does not just face out towards the realisable objectives that it avows, whether these are defensive or offensive, but faces inwards and engages with the need for people to organise themselves collectively. The standard way a ruling group establishes its hegemony over decisive sections of the population is to generate military activity. In the case of Britain (or the nation-state that was to become Britain after the 1707 union with Scotland) the initial action of the new regime formed in 1688 was to create the coalition army with the Dutch to go to war against France. This was driven by the need to consolidate Protestantism as a key ideological unifier as much as imperial contest. The fact that Britain was, and remains, a kind of theocracy in which religion was used as a test of loyalty and where the monarch was, and is, both the Head of the Church and the military Commander-in-Chief, reminds us of similarities between Britain and Israel. Here it is significant that “chosenism”, the illusion that adherents are God’s chosen people, a kind of extremist racist monotheism, is a central element of the religious ideologies that hold, or have held, these state-building projects together. The key institution of the proto-British regime, the Bank of England, was created in 1694 for the purpose of enabling a public debt to be raised to finance the war against the French. In more recent times Blair’s Iraqi war adventure was a device both to advance the transatlantic alliance as well as a means of gaining the submission of the home population. War-making is the key device in the articulation of “home” policy and “foreign” policy. It is interesting to speculate on the significance of the British governmental reorganisation in the 1790s that established the Home Office and the Foreign Office to replace the Northern Department, responsible for relations with the Protestant states of Northern Europe, and the Southern Department, responsible for relations with Catholic and Muslim states. This articulation of internal policy and external policy continues. For example, immediately after the referendum on membership of the European Union, the UK government led by Theresa May caused there to be a debate in parliament about the development of the Trident system of submarine-based nuclear weapons. In the course of this debate on 18 July 2016, May was asked if she would be willing to kill hundreds of thousands of innocent men, women and children if she was required to do so; she answered yes and was proud of her lack of equivocation. This proclamation had an organisational objective designed to consolidate a consensus and create cohesion within the nation-state, and it was linked to an affirmation of loyalty to the foreign relations partnership with the US.




War is a form of social organisation that poses objectives that are functions of the cohesion of the society undergoing the process of militarisation and war-making. By looking at war as a social practice, taking account of all the activities, processes and material practices that make it actual, and not restricting the view of it to the unleashing of weaponised hostilities, we can see more easily what its purposes and motivations are. This is particularly important in more nuanced examples of warfare like the Cold War and the “war on terror” where there is less focus on directly destructive activity but where violent impacts are held in suspension. Daniel Feierstein’s (2014) study of genocide adopts this practice-based approach and in doing so he gives proportionate attention to the activity of mass killing by looking at the other practices that make this killing possible. He draws attention to the impacts of these practices on the perpetrating group and makes it clear that the motive of the movement towards genocide is the need for cohesion in this group. He bases his analysis of genocide on Raphael Lemkin’s (the inventor of the word) definition: the imposition of the “national pattern” of one group on another group (Lemkin, 2005, p. 79). This means also that the genocidal process itself defines, clarifies and structures this “national pattern”. Each activity or action in the genocidal process is related directly and instrumentally to the requirement for specific forms of unity within the perpetrating group.

It is as if the war-making and genocide processes are enforced mimesis. The implications of the reciprocal nature of violence are most cogently elaborated in the work of Rene Girard. In Violence and the Sacred (1977), he works out the dynamic connection between organised violence and the sacred. Sacrifice is how the sacred is constructed by violence. In describing the structure of the army Tolstoy points out that it is never the size or mass of the army that determines its success. It is not the sheer quantitative strength. He says there is a factor x that is decisive. He is constantly asking what is the force that moves large human groups, that drives history. Those internalised ideas that take the form of figures, personages, icons, divinities, beliefs and values that people are willing to die for are, of course, also what people are willing to kill for.

War cannot happen without violence. But, for example, the Cold War has shown us that this violence can be virtual; it doesn’t have to be unleashed to be effective. This is similar to the “war of observation” described by von Clausewitz (1832/1968, p. 246) and the “war of positions” described by Antonio Gramsci (1971, p. 495). I’m not saying there was no violence committed in the conduct of the Cold War but the violence that was threatened was different from the violence that was carried out. This is an outcome due to the technology of modern weapons. It is also to do with the prominence of ideology – in other words, the constitution of what is sacred – in contemporary organised violence.

If the mass conscription of the Napoleonic army meant a fundamental change in the relationship between the soldier and the civilian, if what was involved was a militarisation of the whole population, and if the logic of this development reached a new level of intensity in the 1939-45 World War, then how has this logic been carried through into the Cold War and the “war on terror”?

If the Cold War was conducted in order to affirm the cohesion of the capitalist system and present communism and socialism as an alien “other”, the “war on terror” is conducted in order to guard “our way of life” against militant Islam. For the West, this “war” has become the most important way in which consent to the power of the ruling elites is gained and affirmed. Our “way of life” is defined and held together by it. It is a major pillar of our modernity. However, it is overlaid and underpinned by the remnants of the Cold War. Although the preparation for its introduction was carried out in the decade following the collapse of the Soviet system, it was launched in the period after 11 September 2001. At this point the leader of the most powerful nation in the world could, with a degree of credibility, assert that “you are either with us or with the terrorists” (Bush, 2001). This was a global call, a call to the world’s population to take sides. From a political point of view this drew a new line in the definition of loyalty, allegiance and identity. And this line was drawn in the most private spaces of all participating individuals and it had potential impacts on every single living moment and on every action of the populations of the world. The success of this strategy is in no way a foregone conclusion. However, so many events can be spun into the narrative that it describes. The Syrian civil war and the refugee crisis, for example, have been quickly used to re-enforce its basic message.

The most important dynamic in a “war” strategy and the measure of cohesion towards which it is directed is the unity between “home” policy and “foreign” policy. It is clear how well-designed the “war on terror” is for this purpose. It consolidates international alliances and enables international “police” actions where technologies and information can be shared. It is also a way of both fuelling and obscuring racism. Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri (2005) have pointed out that war in our contemporary world takes the form of a global civil war, a war of the rich against the poor. The issues of organised violence, racism, inequality and injustice are now so clearly linked that the ruling elites’ storytellers must make extra efforts to prove that the issue is one of ideology. It is the implicit obscuring of distinctions between active militant operatives, Muslims, refugees, migrants, suspicious-looking people and the poor, that is a crucial part of the terror being generated by this “war” strategy. Also, significant is the move away from “army” organisation and popular conscription and towards mercenary privatised security organisations. Enlistment in the “war on terror” has consisted of calls to engage in shopping and retail activity in defence of “our way of life”. People are commended for bravery and are honoured for carrying on as normal.




What are the problems of resistance in these circumstances? Hardt and Negri advocated “war against war” (2005, p. 67). We know that the radical and personal politics espoused by Tolstoy had a formative impact on Gandhi’s formulation of liberation strategies based on “satyagraha” and civil disobedience. The Palestinian people have themselves come up with innovative resistance movements like the tactics of community resistance and organisation employed in the Intifada of 1987-1993 and also like the mass civil disobedience implicit in the current Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement.

Is what is happening in Gaza an aspect of the “war on terror”? How does this global strategy relate to what is happening there? The armed state that is initiating and perpetrating the organised violence is dependent for its existence on the actions that it carries out in Gaza. They are a part of an array of strategies that isolate and harass separated populations of Palestinians in different ways. As the development of war has progressively obscured the relationship between soldiers and civilians the strategy of “collective punishment” has become more and more practically influential. As soon as a military entity develops from, and then conceals itself within, a resisting population this tool becomes relevant and effective. The emergence of partisan guerrilla warfare simultaneous with mass conscription brought this form of combat to prominence. Collective punishment assumed a notoriously crucial role in the German army’s suppression of resistance in the territories occupied during the Second World War and it was used with devastating effect in gaining the submission of the Jewish communities during this period.

Daniel Feierstein (2002) has published a remarkable analysis of the application of collective punishment by the German occupation forces on the Jewish ghetto in Vilna (Vilnius), Lithuania. It relates to the dilemma faced by Itzik Wittenberg, the commander of the ghetto’s partisan armed group (the Fareynikte Partizaner Organizatsye, FPO), who capitulated to pressure due to the threat of collective punishment and gave himself up to the Gestapo in July 1943. Feierstein’s analysis pointed to the problematic isolation of the FPO from the population of the ghetto and the equally problematic collaborationist role of the Judenrat, the Jewish Police Force. The events he described preceded the disintegration of the resistance movement and the annihilation of the ghetto’s inhabitants. Parallels can be drawn with the Israeli “collective punishment” strategy in the isolation of, and siege carried out on, the population of Gaza. This is especially relevant in the context of the actions taken by the Palestinian Authority (PA) in effectively supporting Israel’s blockade. Of course the difference is that the armed group, Hamas, is also the political governing power in Gaza and the collaborationist PA is operating mainly outside the “ghetto”.

Collective punishment is generally pertinent to the “war on terror”. The Israelis can create a narrative whereby the whole population of Gaza, in their tacit support of Hamas, are terrorists. Even talking to people who are relatively well-informed it is surprising how this story is internalised as a kind of assumption. The argument would be that the people’s support, and therefore their responsibility, is proven by the absence of any popular uprising against Hamas, the “terrorists”. This “guilt by association” is a familiar aspect of this strategy and of the “war on terror”. For example, when murders are committed by people from the Muslim community and an association between them and a militant Islamist group is established the whole Muslim community is silently (or not so silently) accused.

The collective punishment of the Gaza population is part of a war with strong genocidal features that Israel, driven by the need to hold the Zionist project together, is waging against the whole Palestinian population. The Israeli “national pattern” is being structured as it is being imposed on the Palestinians simultaneously with the co-ordinate destruction of the Palestinian “national pattern”. It is worth asking what are the roots of Israel’s “national pattern” and what genocidal processes may be traced in it. Gaza gets the sharp end of the array of strategies applied to different, deliberately isolated, communities. This isolation process has been programmatically agreed by the PA. The war on Gaza is mainly carried out through blockade. The target of the attack is every aspect of human life in the Strip. The intensity of the attack is disavowed, creating a situation that is then spun as a humanitarian crisis, whereas it is a crisis that has been deliberately created as a prolonged act of war.

What can possibly constitute a strategy for peace or even a “war against war” in these circumstances? Can any human population withstand this level, and duration, of attack? Are not divisions bound to occur in the solidarities that hold social life together in Gaza?




The stage adaptation of War and Peace made under the direction of Erwin Piscator and performed at the Schiller Theatre in Berlin in 1955 that has influenced Theatre for Everybody’s own adaptation is very much a work shaped by the Cold War. It is a dramatic call for peace. It finishes with the death of Andrei from the wounds received at the Battle of Borodino and omits Tolstoy’s description of the “natural” family-life and the “peace” achieved in the marriage of Pierre and Natasha. However, it does suggest that the answer to the difficult questions that it asks, lies in core human activity: “Let us begin at home”, it advises.

The ending offered by Tolstoy of a return to natural domestic peace after the French occupation is based on his assertion that war is an unnatural human activity. In the age of the “war on terror”, especially in a war zone like Gaza, the war is carried right into the heart of the home. The relationship between warrior and civilian is abolished and this brings the warfare closer to genocidal processes. I know this from my friends there; their descriptions of the impact of war tend to centre on the transformation of family relations. A recurrent theme, as already mentioned, is the feeling of powerlessness to protect their children. This engages with a very deep sense of vulnerability. The feeling that the home, and the powerful place women have there as the foundation of peace, has been destroyed. War has penetrated the most intimate human space.

I have no answers. The perspective opened up by Tolstoy is based on the idealisation of women. Natasha, the third key character with whom both Andrei and Pierre fall in love, is a figure of beauty, vitality and peace. This objectification affirms a patriarchal view of humanity. I can see this but I can find no active way of making this idea helpfully active. She is the prize and the object of the activities of the men, the potential mother, an emblem of love. This accords with how war is structured in Western culture. Rene Girard (1977) would have us believe that the impulse towards war lies in mimetic rivalry and envy. The issue of gender and sexuality is at the centre of the pursuit of active peace.

The Piscator stage adaptation ends by placing responsibility for human life not on fate or destiny but on human action. Our fate is not given, it is made by us. I recall the great theatre practitioner Augusto Boal sending us a message of support for Az Theatre’s War Stories project: “Peace yes, but passivity no!” The human action that is being advocated here is not that which lies solely inside us, but rather between us. Is it possible to create a space where human beings can feel, think and reflect on their humanity? Our Gaza Drama Long Term project (Az Theatre, 2017) seeks to extend that space to include people in London and Gaza. Our circumstances, here and there, are so different that it is as if we are looking down different ends of the same telescope. I can think of no better place for responsibility and deep living to be sustained but in the shared space that holds together inhabitants of “war-producing” countries and “war-receiving” countries in a common space of creativity and reflection. The activation of this space between us is the life-blood of the real international community, the people of the world.



Az Theatre. (2017). Gaza Drama long term project. Retrieved from

Bush, G. W. (2001, September 21). Speech to Congress.

Feierstein, D. (2002). The dilemma of Wittenberg: Reflections on tactics and ethics. West Lafayette, IN: Purdue University Press.

Feierstein, D. (2014). Genocide as social practice. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.

Girard, R. (1977). Violence and the sacred. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Girard, R. (2010). Battling to the end: Conversations with Benôit Chantre (M. Baker, Trans.). East Lansing, MI: Michigan State University Press.

Gramsci, A. (1971). Selections from the prison notebooks (Q. Hoare & G. Nowell Smith, Eds. & Trans.). London, UK: Lawrence and Wishart.

Hardt, M., & Negri, A. (2005). Multitude. London, UK: Penguin Books.

Lemkin, R. (2005). Axis rule in occupied Europe. Clark, NJ: Law Book Exchange.

Tolstoy, L. (1957). War and Peace (R. Edmonds, Trans.) London, UK: Penguin Books. (Original work published 1869)

von Clausewitz, C. (1968). On war (J. J. Graham, Trans.). London, UK: Pelican Books. (Original work published 1832)

Yaseen, M. (2015). War and peace: Wrestling in Gaza. Al Watan. Retrieved from




Jonathan Chadwick is Director of Az Theatre. He is a founder member of Paddington Arts, a former Artistic Director of the Vanguard Company at the Crucible, Theatre Foundry, Meeting Ground, and Associate Director of the Theatre Royal Stratford, East London. He wrote and directed for Foco Novo and directed for 7.84, the Glasgow Citizens, the Half Moon in London, the London Film School and the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. Jonathan has also worked in Australia, Canada, USA and Romania, all at major drama academies. His work on Az Theatre’s War Stories project led him to work with the United Nations Office of Missing Persons and Forensics in Kosovo. In 2011 he became a Master of Science in Ecological Economics at the School of Earth and Environment, Leeds. He started work as an Assistant Director of the Royal Court Theatre London, after being educated at Midhurst Grammar School and Cambridge University.


Al Watan review of Theatre for Everybody’s War & Peace May 2015

Review of Theatre for Everybody’s workshop version of their stage adaptation of Tolstoy’s War & Peace presented at the Al Meshal Cultural Centre in Gaza City on 9th May 2015

War and Peace fight against each other in Gaza

Only on the Said Al Mashal stage in Gaza does the will to peace win over the insanity of war and its afflictions. But the reality that Palestine is living and many of the countries of our Arab nations are different to this. Completely different! Wars are eradicating people and peoples, and there is not a glimmer of hope of peace.

Our director Na’im Nasr is a tender human being, dreaming wishfully of peace and wants the people of Palestine and the world to be blessed with it. That’s why his wonderful play ‘War and Peace’ expresses a raging desire for peace to come and for the abominable wars to vanish. His hope is in the individual person and it is impossible for his desire to be realised.

Yesterday Theatre for Everybody presented a play based on ‘War and Peace’, the most well-known novel of Russia and the world’s most famous writer, Leo Tolstoy. It was written more than a century ago and speaks about Napoleon Bonaparte’s occupation of Russia and the killing and destruction he perpetrated. The cruel Russian winter defeated Napoleon and he left the Russians to enjoy peace.

The play also discussed the French Revolution, its impact on Russia, ruled over by an aristocratic monarchy, and the conflict it created there between those who were convinced by the Revolution’s principles and the Russian feudal class. Soon the reality of the Revolution and those who benefited from it becomes clear. The novel has hundreds of main and secondary characters and would require 40 hours to be performed. But Theatre for Everybody workshopped the play and cut it down to 6 characters and 40 minutes. This was done by the artists, Hossam Al Madhoun (translator) and Na’im Nasr (Director).

It was a wonderful piece of work. Na’im Nasr did a brilliant job directing and acting and he was joined by the cream of our artists and they were: Haya Ashour, Baha’ Al Yazji, Jamal Al Rozzi, Hossam Al Madhoun, and Mohammed Sha’sha’a. They all outdid themselves. They are all experienced and capable and possess a theatrical agility. Their movements were drawn precisely and their performances were skillful. Their entrances and exits from the stage were a pure work of art. They made us imagine they’d left the stage, but they were still on it – but it was as if they were absent. In terms of direction this was something new and distinct. The set was simple but added a great deal to the work as did the costumes and props. The choice of international (world) music was also another reason for the success of the work. Hazem Al Abyadth participated as technical director. The lighting enhanced the action and was used precisely.

My greetings to the wonderful audience who enjoyed the work and lived it from beginning to end – following the unfolding events rapt, involved; their silence was a song of the play’s success. I applaud the committed effort which brought this difficult work to light and into being. And I hope that the funds are found so that the work can be presented for longer.


UNFORESEEN call for videos for HERE THERE EVERYWHERE events

Call to young artists for videos to be shown at HERE THERE EVERYWHERE events P21 November 2017

This is a call to young arts practitioners to submit videos that are:

no longer than 15 minutes long

-any genre: drama, dance, music, spoken word, animation, visual art etc.

-responding, or relevant, to the themes: ‘freedom’, ‘the future’, ‘desperation’

Az Theatre (London) and Theatre for Everybody (Gaza) are forming an online community of young (18-30 years old) creative’s in theUK and Palestine.

We will show selected works at a public viewing plus Gaza-London video link discussion at P21 Gallery in London in November 2017.


Send your submission of work or expression of interest to



Skype calls and prison visits

What I told my friends, Hossam and Jamal, Co-Directors of Theatre for Everybody in Gaza, after our last Skype exchange:

Whenever we speak on Skype I always have the feeling that there is something I haven’t said.  Some crucial piece of information or point of discussion has been missed.  It’s a very strange feeling.  Maybe it is a deep feeling of how we are subject to forces that are beyond our control.  Before we talk I always have this sense of urgency. I think to myself:  I must talk to Hossam and Jamal and clarify this point and organise this event or that event.  I guess I want us to be effective and I’m worried about how organised we can be.  But to talk is the most important thing.  Keep talking.  Keep making exchanges.  Keep throwing up a little bit of light in these dark times.  Are they so dark?  Sometimes I become confused about what our lives consist in.  Hamas, Fatah, the Qataris, the Turks, the Conservatives….We have to live in history as well as live in our houses.   It scares me when one thing doesn’t relate to another.  Here we have as little control as you do.  I don’t know how to make sense of it sometimes and I am left with an overwhelming sense of pity’.

Hossam’s reply:

‘In 1992, I was in prison for 9 months for throwing stones at Israeli soldiers and writing graffiti on walls against the occupation. On the 15th of each month there were family visits. It used to start at 10 am to 3 pm. Each prisoner had 30 minutes only. Every prisoner was preparing himself. We struggled to get showers, only 7 showers and 7 WC for 300 prisoners. Each prisoner reserved special clothes for this occasion and they prepared themselves as if it was their wedding. It was the most important day.
My family visited me only twice during the 9 months. They were poor and they were busy trying to secure their living. They just didn’t know, couldn’t know, the value of visiting me in prison.  But these two times, it is not easy to explain, for me, they told me that I am still alive, that I am not left alone, that one day I would get out, that I would be free.  These two visits enabled me to stand strong and tolerate the slow time passing.
Can I tell you, my friend, that when you call me, I have just the same feelings of the visit I was expecting from my family. I know that you are there for me, thinking about me and ready to support  me when I feel despair, when I feel weak, when I feel like giving up. Thank you, my friend, for being part of my life.
By the way, in prison I met the theatre for the first time in my life, or theatre met me there, but this is another story.’



We need volunteers to work on our HERE THERE & EVERYWHERE: GAZA – LONDON events

Our HERE THERE & EVERYWHERE: GAZA – LONDON events will be happening at P21 Gallery in King’s Cross London between Tuesday 7th November and Saturday 11th November.

Az Theatre has a ten-year (2009 – 2019) cultural exchange partnership with Theatre for Everybody in Gaza (you can read about our GAZA DRAMA LONG TERM project:

In the autumn our partners, Theatre for Everybody, will be presenting their world premiere Arabic stage adaptation of Tolstoy’s WAR & PEACE to audiences in Khan Younis and Gaza City.  Here in London we will be running a series of events that will link up with Gaza during this period.  You can read about our approach here:

All the work in the UK on this project is being done on a voluntary basis and is being led by professionals.

Our programme is intensive and tries, in a short time, to make as much contact between people in Gaza and here in the UK. There are some ‘performance’ slots, a number of videos and films on video will be shown, the majority of events will be conversations between people here and people in Gaza. There will be an exhibition of work devised and designed by Hazem Harb and Louie Whitemore.

We need three or four people to volunteer to do the following:

  • Marketing and Publicity: working through media, social networks, print to ensure that new and habitual audiences get access to the events
  • Front of House: ensuring ticketing, reception and front of house is organised, communicating the programme of activities on site.
  • Programming: ascertaining availability, contacting and co-ordinating the performers and speakers
  • Curating: managing the installation and animation of gallery space.
  • Production: ensuring performers and speakers have what they need, that the skype calls are efficiently and effectively organised.

The very most basic ground-work of the organisation of the installation and programming has been done. See draft programme.

The space is well-equipped, has good wifi, projector and screen.


Contact Jonathan Chadwick on 020 7263 9807 or




Please contact Jonathan Chadwick: or call 0207 263 9807.


Islington North Dramatic Arts Group workshop sessions in May

This new dramatic arts group is developing wonderful work.

The sessions in May are:

Thursday 4th May at 7pm
Thursday 11th May at 7pm
Sunday 14th May at 2pm
Sunday 28th May at 2pm
Upper Hocking Hall, Whittington Park Community Centre, London N19 4RS
All sessions are 3 hour sessions.  The cost will be £5 per session.
The process over the next weeks will be concentrated on discovering what our first production will be.
By the end of May – at the session on the 28th – we will decide what our first production will be.  We will aim to produce it in September.  We will need to carefully organise the work over the summer.
Here are some comments form participants in the first creative session on April 6th 2017:

“I felt completely in the moment, while also challenged but just as much it was pleasantly exciting”

“It’s funny how I started off really nervous which created a lot of tension in my body and by the end of the workshop feeling relaxed and centred. It’s amazing to acknowledge that the process of Change and by pushing through your fears. I can achieve anything. But of course this takes practice”.

“I found it interesting on many levels and also rather joyous, not scary, although I thought it might be, and I 
definitely want to go to the next one. Highly recommend it to anyone who wasn’t able to attend.”

“The whole session felt like a very gentle introduction to some of the focus and understanding we need for a dramatic group”.

“In many ways, this sums up what I love about theatre: its incredible ability, through play and imagination, to reenact our development as human beings, from a stage when we were just totally self-absorbed to one when we come to realise other elements affecting us and consequently open up to them, letting them modify us and adjusting ourselves to them. Theatre has a very unique ability to tap into our growth process and reproduce it, taking us back to our primitive roots, as it were.”

Look at the first leaflet used to call the group together


HERE, THERE & EVERYWHERE: new stage in our Gaza project

The new phase of our GAZA DRAMA LONG TERM project is called HERE, THERE & EVERYWHERE.


The occasion for the creation of a ‘live events space’ is the production in Gaza in late September 2017 of Theatre for Everybody’s adaptation of Tolstoy’s War & Peace. This is a stage in GAZA DRAMA LONG TERM, a ten-year cultural exchange project between Theatre for Everybody (Gaza, Palestine) and Az Theatre (London, UK).

The keynote of this stage of our project is ‘connections’. As Angela Y Davis points out in her most recent book FREEDOM IS A CONSTANT STRUGGLE (Haymarket Books 2016): “The tendency has been to consider Palestine a separate – unfortunately too often marginal – issue” p.11

Nelson Mandela said: “We know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians”

In the Native Americans Rise protest against the Dakota Access Oil Pipeline in March led by the Sioux from the Standing Rock reservation the chant went up: ‘Occupation is a crime, From Standing Rock to Palestine’

Our aspiration is to unite different forms of expression and engage with connections between struggles in Palestine, the UK, in Ferguson, Missouri, in Diyarbakir, Eastern Turkey and elsewhere. This entails a strategy of ‘intersectionality’, ‘efforts to think, analyze, organize as we recognize interconnections of race, class, gender, sexuality’ (Davis op cit. p.18)

Never has it been so clear that the issues raised by the Palestinian struggle for freedom is at the centre of our own political and social discourses.

Theatre for Everyone in Gaza are producing a first ever Arabic stage adaptation of Tolstoy’s War & Peace in Gaza.  This is a part of the ten year cultural exchange partnership between Az Theatre and Theatre for Everybody.  There will be over fifteen performances.  Well over a thousand people in Gaza will be involved as producers, participants or as spectators. 

Our ‘Live Events Space’ at P21 Gallery, King’s Cross London will run presentations, performances (poetry and spoken word), panel discussions, live video links with Gaza and elsewhere, have video screens with interviews with Gaza, space for information about Gaza and also about Theatre for Everybody’s new adaptation of Tolstoy’s War and Peace.  We want to link up with, echo, reverberate with this event in Gaza.  We want to provide insight into what is happening there…and here.  We are calling our space, HERE, THERE & EVERYWHERE 

HERE, THERE & EVERYWHERE will tune in to differences and similarities between UK and Palestine and focus on ‘war on terror’, the ‘international civil war’ in which so many of are implicated, look at the relationship between ‘war-producing’ societies and ‘war-receiving’ societies. This space will be co-created by our partners in Gaza, Palestine.”


We are looking for people to come and work with us on a voluntary basis to help our campaign to raise money for our work and organise our ‘live events’ space.


We are in partnership to present our ‘live events space’ at P21 from 7th-11th November 2017

Support HERE THERE EVERYWHERE, read more. Or simply click on the donate button on the right!





Permission to Narrate Gaza by Ilan Pappe in ‘Gaza as Metaphor’ and thoughts about regime change


Reading Ilan Pappe‘s essay in the ‘Gaza as Metaphor’ book I began to believe that he was answering a question that I had asked myself. Don’t we in the UK need a new kind of activism? See my “Activism and Az Theatre’ in the Az Theatre blog.

His essay called ‘Permission to Narrate Gaza’ is one of many wonderful contributions in this volume edited by Helga Tawil-Souri and Dina Matar but Pappe’s was the contribution that really caught my attention. Here is an extract. He is responding to Edward Said’s call for Palestinians ‘to extend their struggle into the realm of representation and historical narratives’:

‘One can continue Said’s journey by challenging further the historical narrative and by questioning the hegemonic discourse on Palestine commonly employed by the powers that be. This questioning has to insist on including the historical context and new terminology when discussing the 2014 attacks on Gaza and the overarching question of Palestine. The new terminology can be presented best as several pairs of antinomies: the former in each pair representing a redundant term to be replaced by the latter more apt one. Occupation versus Colonisation; Peace Process versus Decolonisation; Peace Solution versus Regime Change; Two States Solution versus One Sate Solution; Israeli Democracy versus Israeli Apartheid; Israeli Defence Policy versus Ethnic Cleansing (and, as we shall see, Genocide in the case of Gaza)’ p.159 Gaza as Metaphor

He is summary and is concerned with breaking down illusions, of moving beyond the accepted given narrative of the situation. He is redefining the space of thought. I feel his reasoning has dimension. But, at the same time, he is summing up what has already been articulated. And the thoughts are based on recognising what is happening in Gaza.

I am particularly interested in his use of the idea of ‘Regime Change’. See The Specifics of British Regime Change and Is Regime Change a Paradigm Shift?

What was the first building block on the way to founding this new vision, what he calls a new ‘penning’? He is comparing the power of the pen with the power of the sword. Maybe it starts with a critique of the accepted thinking. Usually faced with the situation there in Palestine you meet ‘facts on the ground’. These facts on the ground are the arguments that set out the space, determine the basic ideas, the terms of the debate. Normally these facts and ideas send your mind round in circles. They make it not make sense.

The ‘two-state solution’ arises from the initial partition of the land in 1948 that was validated by the United Nations. The logical corollary of this partition is that the two peoples should live in separate spaces. He quotes sardonically the Robert Frost poem about ‘good fences making good neighbours’.

The next proposition is that the Peace Process should lead to the foundation of the Two States. This is a piece of double-think or, at any rate, it is the generation of thinking as a smoke screen. The Israelis are ‘pretending’ that they are not appropriating Palestinian land, most significantly the land which they occupied in 1967. So the next idea that hits the floor and smashes to pieces, is that what they are doing is ‘occupying’ the West Bank and Gaza, that what is taking place is an ‘occupation’, as if this is envisaged by the perpetrators as a time-limited process and that the ‘occupiers’ are planning to withdraw. Of course the ‘withdrawal’ of colonies from Gaza is a part of this feint. We are asked to believe that this was a part of the ‘occupation’ ending.

Already by criticising the Two-State solution, the Peace Process and the Occupation, the ground in view, and the mind, starts to clear. If these were pictures that obscured the real view then it is necessary to knock them down and dispense with them. The Peace Process is the biggest feint. There can be no peace without justice. It cannot be that a ‘peace’ can be constructed as if there has been a war between two parties whose conflict has reached a conclusion.

I have recognised for some time that the Peace Process is a fake game and finally knowing this was simultaneous with recognising that a genocide was happening. I don’t agree with Pappe that this is only happening in Gaza.

Of course, my use of the word genocide is specific. It is genocide in the strictest meaning of the word. This is as I understand it: genocide is, according to Raphael Lemkin, the Polish lawyer who invented the word and defined what it meant, the destruction of a human group. This idea of ‘human group’ often refers to an ethnic group, a ‘people’ but it can be any identifiable group. This means that the group has to be capable of being identified and the process of identification must be an integral part of the genocide itself. The victim group in a genocide, as such, may not exist as an identifiable group before the genocidal process begins. It may lack definition and a part of the genocide is to clarify this definition.

Understanding why genocide starts with the identification of the victimised ‘human group’ and does not start with the scale of the killing (the actual physical destruction of the group) is important because it clarifies the fact that the process does not start from the attributes of the victim group but rather with the requirements of the perpetrator group.

In the first movements of the operative definition of genocide when it was incorporated into the United Nations Convention on Genocide framework Lemkin struggled to maintain the political rather than only the ethnic definition of ‘human group’. In the wake of the Second World War when this process of formulation was undertaken considerable pressure (yes, an early example of the Israeli ‘lobby’) was brought to bear to ensure that the ethnic definition was primary.

This political consideration makes us mindful of the requirements of the perpetrator group rather then the characteristics of the victim group and brings attention to the fact that identification is a key part of the genocidal process. I believe it is this specific understanding of genocide that has been developed by the work of Daniel Feierstein. In his book Genocide as Social Practice he outlines five stages of Genocide.

Two main things are important in this. One is that mass killing is only one phase of genocide. It may be the final phase. The most important overall objective is the ‘imposition of the national pattern of the perpetrator group on the victim group’. Secondly, this work draws attention primarily to the characteristics of the perpetrator group. These characteristics amount to a need for social cohesion and the genocidal process provides a means of social reorganisation for the perpetrator group or society.

So there can be emerging or proto-genocidal movements. For example, during the Thatcher government years there was move towards a kind of ‘genocidal’ mentality when she designated the miners (or at least the active resistant sector of the National Union of Mineworkers) as ‘the enemy within’. This is like an internal declaration of war. Similarly, during the regime of the Argentinian junta there was an internal war against ‘subversive’ and political opponents of the regime. Daniel Feierstein draws attention to the parallels between the practices of this regime and the national socialist regime in Germany in his book.

Whereas I would resist the definition of genocide as simply and solely mass killing it is difficult to accept a definition that excludes killing or excludes the tendency towards mass killing. Processes of exclusion, the creation of ‘the other’ or of an enemy, appear to be endemic to human society so when does an exclusionary process of social organisation become genocidal?

One significant factor is the cohesion a group gains from considering itself more advanced or superior. It has to do so in relation to another group. It is this distancing itself from the other human group that is a crucial moment in the genocidal movement. The erasure of the other human group ‘as a group’ becomes the means of securing the identity of the genocidal group. What occurs is a specific relationship between different specific technologies of power, or techniques of social organisation, imposed on one group and the impacts, in terms of social cohesion produced, for the other group. Each stage of erasure is co-ordinate with each stage of cohesion.

It might be true that the moment of actual mass killing is the moment of self destruction for the perpetrator group. There has to be survivors of the victim group for the perpetrator group to have the ability to impose its ‘national pattern’.

The mass killing is an end game. This is the significance of Feierstein’s devastating observation that genocide is endemic to modernity. After all, modernity must be the point of arrival for advanced human groups as they distinguish themselves from those less ‘modern’ than themselves.

This brings our attention to another important aspect of what Ilan Pappe is saying. Having replaced Occupation with Colonisation, Two-State Solution with One-State Solution, Peace Process with Decolonisation he goes on to argue for Regime Change. He connects the need for regime change to the apartheid and settler-colonial nature of the Zionist regime.

This brings me back to the exploration of new activism with which I started. I said that Ilan Pappe concerns himself with changing the narrative and thus making an intervention with the power of his ‘pen’ in relationship to the Israelis powerful ‘sword’. What does the counterposing of these two forms of human power bring to our attention?

Why does the turn or change that he is pointing to open up key tactics and key strategic demands? What perspectives are opened up by BDS (Boycott, Divestment Sanctions) and the co-ordinate emphasis on the Right of Return. These are aimed at Regime Change

He is saying that the core of the current regime in Israel needs to change. It is not just a question of changing government policy. Policy change does not go deep enough. It is the basic premise on which the policy is constructed that needs attention.

Feierstein describes the genocidal process as consisting of a number of stages. Though these stages are chronologically ordered, some of the stages could take place at the same time. One of the stages, the last, is ‘symbolic re-enactment’. He describes this as the portrayal of the events of the genocide as composing the two absolutely distinct groups (we know from the historical record that such distinctions are not so absolute): innocent victims and diabolical perpetrators. These two groups, manifesting as absolute opposites of each other, assume a symbolic function as they enact a basic mythic story. And thus this story impels and motivates correlative action.

All ‘national patterns’ or national stories, narratives, are symbolically enacted in the construction and institutionalisation of the instruments of policy. For the symbolic enactment to take place the figures or characters in the story have to be recognisable and therefore both specific and general.

Augusto Boal says in his book The Rainbow of Desire, enacted stories can be related to in modes of varying qualitative intensity. He gives the key points in an array of perceptual responses from identification, to recognition and to resonance, pointing out that elements of these appropriative reactions can be fired simultaneously. It could be said that responses to a symbolic enactment of a genocide may have to operate at multiple levels for the actions that correspond to it to have effective force.

Several stories with different but related personages may reformulate and play out a basic mythic pattern, rather in the way that Ted Hughes in his book, Shakespeare and The Goddess of Complete Being, tells us that Shakespeare, along with other poets, articulate a key mythic formulation through a multiplicity of narratives.

If the basic story that the Israelis are able to tell, which is a symbolic re-enactment of a genocidal process in which they cast themselves as absolute victims, then what is the basic story of the UK national pattern? What are the components of this story?

From where can regime change emerge? The sense that I get from Ilan Pappe’s work is that the process of regime change must be accompanied if not preceded, by a new narrative. From what well-spring does this restructured narrative come?

It must come from profound and basic needs felt by the human beings who participate in such movements. Of course material circumstances such as appetite, hunger, need for shelter and so on may well play a part but it is demonstrable that these material exigences can equally work against the renewal that is envisaged in a change of regime.  The needs must exceed these material requirements.

Human beings are creatures whose actions are intentional. We hold ourselves together through the intentions that we formulate for ourselves. Thus we are creatures, but creatures who are political and mimetic. We formulate our intentions through language and this is a social tool. We collectivise our intentions but only so long as the mimetic processes, that hold us together as a group, can operate effectively. These understandings of the nature of human group behaviour have been explored by writers as diverse as Elias Canetti, Wilfred Bion and Rene Girard.

In order to co-ordinate and form our intentions, which are always experienced individually though formed collectively, we must engage in the organisational processes of symbolic enactment. How precisely symbolic enactment operates and is effective in social organisation may, at first sight, seem complicated.

It is perhaps by understanding how this structuring of stories takes place that new narratives can begin to be developed. It is at times when the old stories send us round in circles that this restructuring feels necessary. When the restructuring feels necessary we start to reject the old story and begin to look with interest not just at new stories but at how these stories operate. This, in turn, leads us to looking more closely at the basic parameters of human experience and at the sources of desire. To understand the way in which stories operate on us, we need to look at how we are in that stage of our lives that is pre-verbal.

This may be taking us too far from Ilan Pappe truly enlightening essay.

Does this new activism have implications for Regime Change here in the UK? We can compare the foundation of the state of Israel with the foundation of the UK state. One is immediately met with differences. The Israeli state was founded in 1948 through an armed land grab, a military appropriation of territory. This securing of occupied land is the prevailing raison d’etre of the state. Although the initial land grab and the subsequent land grab in 1967 were sudden and dramatic, the building and sustaining of the Israeli state project is a long-term venture. The sudden moments of change may give rise to, or make more apparent, a prevailing narrative or sustaining myth. This may have a relationship to the ‘national pattern’ that Lemkin refers to in his definition of genocide. Does the UK have a prevailing narrative, sustaining myth or national pattern that is comparable with Israel’s?

Many questions arise from these thoughts. Is the regime that reigns over the major part of Palestine comparable to the regime that reigns over the British Isles? They are very different in size. One started in 1948, the other could be said to have started in 1688. This last detail is, for example, open to question. Did what we can identify as the UK regime not start before that date? How much of the basic institution-building took place during the Tudor period. Certainly the Reformation and the political break with Roman Catholicism could be considered to be the starting point for the regime. Also the arrival of the Norman institutions in 1066 might similarly be considered thus. Equally, the advent of the 1832 Reform Act or that of 1867, or the battle of Culloden in 1745 or the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 may mark major points of no return or major starting points.

In fact, what you consider the key characteristic of the regime will determine what you believe the starting point might be. To some extent what you consider to be the starting point is dependent on your sense of what is happening in the current situation. Isn’t this to do with the fact that the social formations we are describing are not static entities? They are combinations of processes that are unfolding and developing.

On the one hand, this seems to be true and, if it is true, it must apply to both the regime in Palestine and the regime in the British Isles. On the other hand, it seems to be actively and immediately true in the case of the Zionist regime that it is facing a more violently contradictory situation.

Is this to do with the relationship of forces working on the internal development of the country and those working on the external development. By all accounts, Israeli society is held together by a deliberately engendered state of fear. This means that the whole society is constantly in a state of war. So the level of intensity and fragility of the social processes aimed at cohesion and security is very high. This is reflected absolutely in the level of dependence on external support. This means that there is a direct relationship between these internal and external tensions.

Both regimes are client states of a larger political entity but the level of dependence of Israel is much higher. Both regimes are colonialist. The colonial processes in one are ongoing and have yet to stabilise themselves whilst in the other, the colonialism is more of an historical factor. In this sense they are at different stages of development. The Israeli Zionist state project may be historically short-lived. The British state project has been sustained for at least 400 years (depending on your definition). There is also a relationship of what might be called precedence. Britain was the former colonial ruler of Palestine and before that the Ottoman ruled there. As Israel’s star waxed so Britain’s waned.

This reminds us of a kind of succession in the movement of history. The political forms are transposed from one player to another in a movement of variation on a theme of conformity. One state becomes like another state in order to match it. Then there are movements when one ‘model’ of statehood has hegemony and other states conform. This also must be to some extent the case with the relationship between Israel and the UK but more so with the relationship of Israel to the USA.

This means that all states are held in place in relationship to all other states and, once in a while, a state or group of states breaks away and forms a new movement. In this sense the internal constitutions of states appear to arise, at best, from the will of the people but are as much determined by the structure of the states with which they are in relation.

This dynamic between external conformity and internal aspiration is the tension that holds the structures in place. Both the regimes in Palestine and in the British Isles are ‘structured’ or held in place by their relationship to the hegemony of the USA. Of course these relationships are very different. You might think, at first sight, that Israel is more dependent on the USA than the UK is. However this may not be simply the case. This interconnectedness also means that regime change in one related political entity can be causally related to regime change in another. Regime change in one country can trigger regime change in another and it might also be true that regime change in one country is unlikely without regime change in another.

What Ilan Pappe is saying is that effective resistance starts with resisting the narrative that the dominant power is effecting or enacting. This potentially avoids the reciprocal structures that can lead to the emerging social movements being incorporated and stifling resistance. It involves ‘moving the goalposts’ or creating a new paradigm. This is why he is concerned with ‘replacing’ occupation with colonisation and peace process with decolonisation and so on.

Isn’t there an equivalent paradigm shift warranted by the politics of the UK? Is there a way of expressing it that is as simple and clear? Is there a tactical equivalent to BDS? Since these political regimes are connected isn’t the struggle for BDS indirectly a movement of resistance to the regime in the UK? Resistance is connected to regime change through a keener mode of activism: refusal.

I am grateful to Ilan Pappe for his provocative essay, to the editors of Gaza as Metaphor. We clearly need to seize on what is at the core of our problem in our own society and this will give us the breadth of perspective necessary to change the narrative and re-write history.





Theatre For Everybody and GAZA DRAMA LONG TERM who are they and what is it


Jamal Al Rozzi and Hossam Madhoun are the Directors of Theatre for Everybody with whom Az Theatre have a ten-year (2009-2019) cultural exchange partnership.  The current phase involves working with a group of 18-30 year olds in Gaza on drama and creative writing and the production of an original contemporary stage adaptation of Tolstoy’s War and Peace. Plus a workshop in London of international artists, including Jamal and Hossam.  This will be based on the extract from the meditation by John Donne that begins: ‘No man is an island’ so we are calling this the NO (HU)MAN IS AN ISLAND workshop. (more about this below)


Our exchange partnership is called GAZA DRAMA LONG TERM. It developed from Az Theatre’s WAR STORIES project which worked with companies from Algeria, Palestine, Serbia, Kosovo, Italy and the UK and at theatre festivals in Romania and Turkey from 2002 to 2007, supported by the European Cultural Foundation and the Arts Council England.

It set out to create cultural exchange between artists and audiences in Gaza and London, to break down isolation and cultivate solidarity and to do so through creative work.  It has created a model of participatory production and has refused to seek support from any government organisation.

GAZA DRAMA LONG TERM has generated work in four phases since 2009: GAZA GUERNICA, GAZA: BREATHING SPACE, GAZA OPENING SIGNS and WAR & PEACE: GAZA (PALESTINE)/LONDON (UK).  It has organised numerous public events in the UK some of which have connected live with Gaza through Skype.

It has been supported by financial contributions from 100s of individuals and over 50 UK theatre artists (including Harriet Walter, David Calder, Maggie Steed, Tara Fitzgerald, David Lan, Jennie Stoller, Philip Arditti, Deborah Findlay, Caryl Churchill, Hassan Abdulrazzak and many more) have made creative contributions and appeared in person at our events that have attracted 100s and 100s of audience members.  It has worked with over a hundred young people in Gaza and has explored theatre for those with hearing disability there and in London as well as linking theatre talent in both places.

It has engaged with London venues: Rich Mix, Soho Theatre and the Globe Theatre and has received support from International Committee for Artists Freedom, International Performers Aid Trust, British Shalom Salaam Trust,  Street Theatre Workshop. It has worked alongside Culture and Conflict, the Shake! Community from Platform Arts.

We are looking for a group of young people here in the UK to make an exchange with the young people there who have come together around and activist journalist project: We Are Not Numbers.  And we are looking for funds to do the War and Peace production and the NO (HU)MAN IS AN ISLAND workshop.

The NO (HU)MAN IS AN ISLAND workshop

A six-day workshop bringing together international stage artists with members of the Theatre for Everybody group from Gaza.

This is a key stage in the ten-year GAZA DRAMA LONG TERM project (2009-2019), a cultural exchange partnership between Az Theatre London and Theatre for Everybody Gaza.

The NO (HU)MAN IS AN ISLAND workshop is planned to happen in London in January 2017 and will offer audiences one or two presentations of work created and devised by the 10 participants directed by Jonathan Chadwick.

The aims of the workshop will be to:

Provide a creative interaction for the artists from Gaza, to meet and work with artists from the UK and other regions
Create as wide an access for audiences in the UK to this major international cultural exchange project.
Provide the GAZA DRAMA LONG TERM project partners with the opportunity to develop plans for the closing phase of the project within an inspirational context.
Act as the central event for the artists from Gaza to meet other groups and individuals who have supported the work (International Committee for Artists Freedom, British Shalom Salaam Trust, International Performers Aid Trust)
Work with other institutions and organisations (e.g. University of Manchester IN PLACE OF WAR project, University of Coventry Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations, British Actors Equity, British Arab Centre) to offer a platform for them to share experiences of working, living and creating theatre in Gaza.