A new play tells the story of Aseel Asleh, one of the 13 Palestinians killed by police inside Israel at the start of the Second Intifada. Playwright Jen Marlowe is bringing it to black colleges in the U.S. in the hopes of connecting two struggles.
Before his death, Palestinian teenager Aseel Asleh dedicated himself to his Jewish Israeli friends. As a loyal alumnus of Seeds of Peace, a coexistence summer camp, he was convinced that the promise of peace lay in forgiveness and reconciliation.
More than 15 years after he was killed at the age of 17 by Israeli police, a play about his life and death is being used to foster a very different dialogue. “There Is a Field” explicitly aims to build connections between movements for Palestinian rights and racial justice in America. It is presently on a tour that focuses on historically black colleges and universities in the eastern United States.
Aseel was shot to death in his hometown of Arrabe in the early days of the Second Intifada, while demonstrating in solidarity with Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza. He was one of 13 Palestinians – including 12 citizens of Israel – killed inside Israel in a single week in the notorious “October events” of 2000. He was killed and buried in a Seeds of Peace t-shirt.
Jen Marlowe had been the boy’s camp counselor. In search of a way to honor Aseel’s memory and cope with the grief that shook her community, she set out to write a play about his life. “There Is a Field” took shape over the next 15 years, finally premiering last month in New York. The play is styled as a documentary, comprised of artful transitions between family members’ reflections, materials from the investigation into Aseel’s death, and emails he left behind. (An early digital native, he spent hours online corresponding with his fellow “Seeds.”)
Much changed over the course of the play’s 15-year journey to fruition. Investigations into the killings closed without a single indictment, despite damning findings of excessive police violence by the government-established Or Commission. Relations between Israelis and Palestinians on both sides of the Green Line devolved to their all-time present low. As hopes for peace dwindled, so did the credibility of dialogue-based programs like Seeds of Peace. And a new protagonist took Aseel’s place in “There Is a Field.”