October 2, 2000, just outside of the Arab village Arabeh in northern Israel: A group of Palestinian protesters demonstrate. Israeli forces are on the road. Seemingly out of nowhere, three police officers run toward a 17-year-old observer of the demonstration. He's wearing a bright green T-shirt with the words "Seeds of Peace" on it. When he sees the officers coming toward him, he begins to flee toward an olive grove. One of the policemen hits the boy with his rifle butt, and the boy stumbles to the ground. A gunshot is heard. Soon after, the police emerge from the olive grove and announce, "You can come and get him now."
The boy who died that day was named Aseel Asleh, and the T-shirt he had been wearing spoke volumes about his identity. He was involved with the organization Seeds of Peace, a group started by American journalist John Wallach in 1993, which brought youth in areas of conflict together to work toward peace. Aseel was thought of as a leader in his Seeds of Peace group and among friends. He was completely committed to conflict resolution and strongly opposed violence of any kind.
Seattle-based writer and filmmaker Jen Marlowe knew Aseel, and his story is depicted in her new play, "There is a Field," which runs in Seattle from Sept. 30 to Oct. 3 at the Shoebox Theatre. Marlowe worked in conflict resolution with Israeli and Palestinian youth for five years, during which time she got to know Aseel and his family. Every word in the script is taken from emails, inter- views with Aseel's family and transcripts. The play premieres here in Seattle, but throughout the month of October it will be staged throughout the world, from New York to Zimbabwe to Jerusalem.
"He was not only a participant [in Seeds of Peace], it became his life," says Marlowe. "He was completely dedicated to the ideas of dialogue and coexistence. He was one of those rare individuals who was confident with his identity and also curi- ous, open and respectful about other people and their perspectives."
Aseel and his family were Palestinians who were also citizens of Isra- el. This particular group tends to be less visible to the American media as well as second-class citizens in their own country. Marlowe wanted to shed some light on this particular group, and does so primarily through Aseel's sister Nardeen.
"It's all through Nardeen's perspective. She's reflecting not just on her brother's murder and how she responds to it, but also her experiences as a Palestinian inside Israel," says Marlowe.
Aseel's story is of course part of a much larger conflict. The demonstration he attended on Oct. 2 is considered to be the start of the Second Intifada, a period of intense Israeli-Palestinian violence triggered on Sept. 28 by then-Israeli op- position leader Ariel Sharon, when he visited the al-Aqsa Mosque in the Old City of Jerusalem. This action was seen as very disrespectful and incendiary, considering the failed Camp David Summit just a few months earlier. Demonstrations erupted in Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza, resulting in many killings of unarmed Palestinians. "Black October" refers in particular to the twelve Palestinians of Israeli citizenry that were killed by Israeli forces during demonstrations that also erupted in Palestinian towns and villages inside Israel.
Marlowe says that she wrote about Aseel's life and death for many reasons. Partly because she knew and loved him, but also because of the crucial way in which his story connects to his community and the larger world.
"For me, it's always about getting to the political through the personal. I knew that this story was bigger than this young man and bigger than his family. Contained in this one story are issues that face the entire Palestinian community."
For example, one performance of the play will take place in Derry, North of Ireland, in conjunction with the families of the victims of Bloody Sunday. Clearly, Aseel's beliefs and his story have universal parallels.
The play's website, www.donkeysaddle.org, advertises "There is a Field" as a "Theatrical Call to Action." Marlowe encourages people to organize informal "living room readings" of her play or translate the script. There are many ways to get involved. Marlowe ultimately wants to get peoples' brains working.
"I want audiences to be left struggling with the questions, a) How am I a part of this? And b) What do I need to do about it? Those are hard questions, and I don't want to offer easy answers."
She also doesn't offer an easy fix to the Israel/Palestine conflict. She believes that any resolution must address the structural inequality in the current system.
"Any solution that's going to work has to be predicated on the idea that all human beings who live there have equal needs and equal rights."