Reaching Across A Divide / by R. Sheth

Reaching Across a Divide:
Lesbian Love Affair Brought Center Stage During Israeli/Palestinian Conflict

March 7, 2005
BY LYNNE HEFFLEY

As a U.N. refugee affairs officer in Jerusalem in the late 1980s, Arab American Jamil Khoury experienced the first Palestinian uprising "literally between the rocks and bullets," he says.

Fast-forward to 2003 and the inaugural production of the Chicago-based Silk Road Theatre Project: Khoury's play, "Precious Stones," inspired by his tumultuous time in the Middle East.

An unconventional romance, it tells of two women in 1989 Chicago, one a married Palestinian exile, the other a lesbian Jewish American activist, who form an Arab-Jewish dialogue group as the Palestinian-Israeli conflict roils the Middle East. Their unexpected mutual attraction sparks questions of politics, ethnicity and sexual identity.

This week, Silk Road will present two free performances of the play, at 7 p.m. Tuesday at UCLA's Northwest Auditorium and at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at Pomona College's Lyman Auditorium.

The touring production is linked to Tuesday's commemoration of International Women's Day, an event observed worldwide to celebrate women's achievements and to focus attention on global and personal issues that threaten women's health and lives. "I've been so influenced by the work of women activists within the Palestinian community, the Arab community and the Jewish community," Khoury said. "Some of the most interesting, important and courageous work on the ground is being done by women who are able to reach out across that divide."

Khoury, a Christian Syrian American, and his life partner, Pakistan-born Malik Gillani, a Muslim, founded Silk Road as a response to post-Sept. 11 reaction to Arab Americans and others of Middle Eastern origin.

In December, American Theatre magazine included the company among a dozen "hot, hip and on the verge" new theater companies to watch.

"Precious Stones," Khoury says, is meant to inspire debate and discussion.

"We've heard from people who wish there was no lesbian content, or that there was more lesbian content and less about Israel-Palestine. [But] the feedback we get so often from people is that it really forces them to assimilate perspectives that were alien or somehow seemed unfriendly."