A comedian Israelian activist, Noam Shuster Eliassi: Don’t worry I’m only here 7 minutes, not 70 years……

By Andrea Tucci,

Noam Shuster-Eliassi was a rising star among Israeli-Palestinian peace activists. She has spoken at conferences around the world, urging his generation of Israelis to chart a more progressive path. In the past she had considered the idea of entering diplomacy or politics.

She speaks fluent Arabic, Hebrew and English. The historical awareness, education, and linguistic fluency he acquired have given Shuster the ability to challenge today, through satirical comedy, systemic power imbalances between Israelis and Palestinians and between Israel’s European Jewish elite and Middle Eastern Jews.

  Shuster-Eliassi’s comedy isn’t just about politics. But it’s about identity: her identity, which is the most multifaceted thing you can imagine. She calls herself “half” and is half Ashkenazi and half Mizrachi (Ashkenazi Jews are of European origin; Mizrachi Jews are of Middle Eastern or North African origin). Raised in Israel’s Arab-Jewish intentional community, ” Neve Shalom – Wahat al Salam- Oasis of Peace”.

Shuster-Eliassi often tells the story of her family’s first Saturday in the new community, when her grandmother Mizrachi came to visit: “My grandmother couldn’t understand why my mother had intentionally moved to live with the Arabs. The grandmother said: “Come into the house and close the door tightly, there are Arabs outside! ‘”

In 2017, her career took a sudden turn, how? she started telling jokes.

These lines allowed Shuster-Eliassi to explore the nuances of identity and their interplay in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in a way that peacebuilding never has. She believes that comedy can open the hearts and minds of Israelis, Palestinians, Jews and Arabs in the diaspora to an alternative reality.

The turning point came in 2018 with a set at the 1001 Laughs a

Palestine Comedy festival, founded a few years earlier by Palestinian-American comedian Amer Zahr. It was a risky booking: she was the first Jewish Israeli to perform at the festival and her name wasn’t even on the promotional material. On stage in occupied East Jerusalem, Shuster broke the ice with her opening line: “Don’t worry, I’m only here for seven minutes, not 70 years,” referring to Israel’s presence in the region.

“I was crying afterwards, the laughter and reception I received was overwhelming,” she says.

1001 Laughs Palestine Comedy festival

“I really want the audience to leave my shows with something that is beyond my capabilities,” she says: “There is no future for Israel and for the Jews without the involvement of the Palestinians.

This unleashed a wave of support and secured television slots on Israeli news channels. She was awarded New Jewish Comedian of the Year in 2019 at the JW3 Jewish Comedy festival in London. Then the pandemic turned everything into a “cancellation party”,

When she caught Covid she was sent by the Lebanese-Canadian director Amber Fares, to a quarantine accommodation (immediately nicknamed Hotel Corona) which became part of an experiment in coexistence with Israeli Jews and Palestinians. During this period, a strong bond is created between the cohabitants. “It was a radical getting along,” Shuster says. “In every decision made, the choices made by the people of Hotel Corona have been oriented towards unity rather than separation.”

Shuster’s quarantine trip presented logistical challenges for the film’s director, who says Shuster’s appeal lies in her ability to use her Jewish-Israeli comedic persona to spark debates that might otherwise be shut down. “Noam is a perfect example of a political ally, and that’s really important,” she says. “It transcends this conflict and can be applied to other movements, such as BLM (Black Lives Matter).

During the recent escalation of violence, many Israeli voices opposed to Israel’s bombing of Gaza have been marginalized and subjected to verbal abuse. But it’s in those moments of political isolation, Shuster says, that she feels most compelled to speak out. As she says in Reckoning with Laughter: “There is nothing radical about calling for equality between Jews and Arabs.

Well, then let’s finally open these doors!

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