‘It’s our act of protest as artists, to be on the right side of justice’

Naples, Italy – On the stage of the small Zona Teatro Naviganti, an independent theatre in the heart of Naples, a red line divides two teams.

Each side hurls insults and accusations at the other as they record the number of victims while the sound of bombings and cries for help rings out.

This is the opening scene of Inshalom, or the absurd match, a dark comedy by director and playwright Maurizio D Capuano, who wanted to tackle the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian war.

The play was staged this past weekend, as Europe remembered the Holocaust.

“If we have to remember the victims of a genocide, it’s important to do it today more than any other day,” Giuseppe Brandi, one of the show’s actors, told Al Jazeera.

“In Italy, it’s called the ‘Day of Memory’ so if we forget what happened in the past how can we avoid committing the same mistakes in the present? Our intention was not to cancel what happened in the past, but put it into perspective and compare it to what’s happening in Gaza on this very day.”

He said the group behind the play sought an opportunity “to make the audience aware of what is currently happening in Gaza”.

“It’s our act of protest as artists, to be on the right side of justice,” he said.

The performance took place after the International Court of Justice ruled that Israel should prevent acts of genocide in Gaza, the Strip which is reeling from an increasingly horrific onslaught.

Almost four months ago, Israel began bombing the densely packed enclave, which is often described as the world’s largest open-air prison, killing more than 26,400 Palestinians to date, among them tens of thousands of women and children.

Israel’s campaign began after Hamas, the group that governs Gaza, attacked southern Israel. On October 7, that fateful day of escalation, 1,139 people were killed in Israel.

Capuano said he was aiming for “profound humanity” with the play.

“I tried to represent the conflict from a small-scale dimension, from tiny daily skirmishes to the many disagreements that could easily be resolved through a daily peaceful dialogue on both sides.”

Inshalom – a portmanteau of the Arabic word “inshallah” (God willing) and Hebrew word for peace, “shalom” – portrays Palestinian Nasser and Israeli Shlomo, played by Brandi, as fictional soul-counters.

Stuck in an imaginary soul-counting border station along the Gaza Strip, their task is to keep count of the number of bodies after every attack.

Other characters include a United Nations representative, an Italian journalist, Israeli soldiers and Palestinian civilians.

Capuano, who plays Nasser, wrote the script about eight years ago, at a time when he felt frustrated by the media’s coverage of the conflict.

Italian TV stations, he said, were shallow, announcing death tolls with no analysis or context.

His pitch was commissioned as an educational project for schools but was later rejected because of the language used, with some disagreement over defining Palestinian victims as “martyrs”, or using the word “fighter” instead of “terrorist”.

But Capuano wanted to stay true the reality of the conflict, including the terminology used by each side.

As the conflict dominates global headlines amid Israel’s relentless war on Gaza, the show has found a wider audience.

Protests rage in Italy

Like much of Europe, Italy officially supports Israel, but rampant social media coverage of the Palestinian plight has boosted public sympathy and understanding.

Pro-Palestinian demonstrations have been held in several cities, but were banned on Holocaust Memorial Day in Rome and Milan.

Several people who protested in Naples in the morning attended the Inshalom show at night.

“It’s a show that makes you cry, makes you laugh and the satire they use doesn’t make it any less poetic, and that’s something not to be taken for granted in the theatre scene these days,” said Giuseppe Cerrone, a Naples local.

Capuano said his play does not take sides.

“It wants to be on the side of humanity and although this logically means being on the side of the oppressed, we also want to highlight that we are not against Israelis but against what the Israeli government is doing to the Palestinians,” he said.

Capuano tried to develop Israeli characters such as Shlomo with complexity. He initially mirrors the government’s narrative but later becomes more human and proclaims that “even only one dead person is a tragedy”.

“Beyond historical issues and the obvious Israeli military superiority, no one is right if deaths continue,” Capuano said. “Bringing Inshalom on stage is an act of denunciation and resistance.”

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