Jerusalem is a city on the edge. One of the oldest urban civilisations in the world, and a holy site for three major religions, it has in recent times become characterised by conflict.
Control of the city is one of the central issues in the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which remains not just a dispute over territory, but one of identity.
Set against this backdrop is Julia Pascal’s 2003 play, Crossing Jerusalem, which is being remounted this month at the Park Theatre.
Directed by the writer herself, the play takes place over a 24-hour period, capitalising on the ephemeral atmosphere in the city.
“There is a sort of low-level anxiety in Israel constantly,” she says. “Love, sex and death are raw and present there all the time.”
Pascal is an atheist, attending a non-religious state school in Manchester and ‘marrying out’ of Jewish society. But she still considers herself Jewish in a cultural sense.
She wrote the Crossing Jerusalem following the Second Intifada, the Palestinian revolt against Israel that lasted from 2000 to 2005.
Her research saw Pascal masking her Jewish identity and venturing into the Muslim quarter of Jerusalem, speaking French as a decoy to find out the truth of what life was like there.
“Being a writer is like being a spy,” says Pascal. “As a ‘French person’ I was told things I never would have heard a as Jew.”
This is where she discovered details of the relationships depicted in the piece.
These include a Jewish woman’s love for her Arab servant, acts of horrific violence perpetrated by both sides, and unusual culture clashes such as the Christian Arab who will host anyone at his restaurant as long as they can afford to eat.
It is these apparent inconsistencies and contradictions that Pascal always seeks to draw attention to in her writing. She tells me that the only Jewish plays in London are anti-Zionist and that the nature of the conflict in the Middle East is over-simplified, supporting an “easy political dogma”.
Her considerable body of work declares a fearless appetite to challenge these received opinions and an eagerness to expose the complex and uncomfortable truth.
And this play is no different. It is an insight into a strained and complex world of family ties, prejudice, religious obligation and above all humanity.
As Pascal says: “The more we know about each other, the safer the world is.”