Page last updated at 08:10 GMT, Monday, 7 July 2008 09:10 UK

Jerusalem Diary: Monday 7 July

By Tim Franks
BBC News, Jerusalem

Maysoon Zayid
Maysoon has a decent-sized role in Adam Sandler's latest film


This is how I always begin a pre-recorded interview. "For the top of the tape," I say, "may I have your name and how I should describe you?"

The other day, Maysoon Zayid won the prize.

"I'm a Palestinian Muslim virgin with cerebral palsy, from New Jersey, who is an actress, comedian and activist," she replied.

Maysoon says she is not qualified to do anything other than comedy. She is a classically trained actress, and was a "contract extra" based in America, becoming slowly aware that she was never going to be given a line of dialogue.

If you can get the person across from you to laugh, they probably won't kill you
Maysoon Zayid

"It became very obvious to me that in the United States of America, a fluffy ethnic disabled chick was never going to get a job unless she did stand-up."

She spends four months a year in the Middle East, partly running a programme for children in Palestinian refugee camps, partly performing her comedy routine in English and Arabic. She was the first female stand-up, she says, to appear in Jordan.

The material is tailored for the audiences. In the United Arab Emirates, she emulates Bill Cosby in cleanliness: no swearing, no sex.

"I do a lot of stuff about my dad and my aunt and how it is to be a single Palestinian woman in my 30s, and how my family relates to that."

She steers clear of anything "too challenging" about politics or religion. "The UAE has so much money you never want to insult them."


Her prominence, as a Palestinian comedian, has led her to a decent-sized role in the new Adam Sandler film, You Don't Mess With the Zohan.

The film premiered last month in Los Angeles, and opens next month in the UK. It follows the exploits of a crack Mossad agent who fakes his death in order to pursue his dream of becoming a hair stylist in New York.

Maysoon is evangelical: "It's a very dangerous film. It's the first time that they've attacked the Palestine-Israel subject in such a comedic way."

Which leads me, in the compulsively downbeat reflex of a journalist, to ask what place comedy has in the home of conflict.

"I was dating a Lebanese Christian Riverdancer who was gay," she replies. "And I didn't know it and I was very upset and I'd tell my friends and they'd crack up, and eventually I would crack up too."

She believes there is an analogy: "Palestine-Israel is such a ludicrous issue."

Her point is that the conflict is played out with the sophisticated paraphernalia of the developed world, and yet "everyone approaches it in such an illogical way that it's almost clown-like".

Maysoon says that it is not just that the issue can be comedic, but that comedy itself can exert a power. "If you can get the person across from you to laugh, they probably won't kill you."

Tim Franks' Jerusalem diary will return in September after a summer break.

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Israelis and Palestinians DO laugh a lot about this conflict (at least I know we Israelis do). What else can we do? We only need to start laughing at it together...
Daniel, Even Sapir, Israel

It's refreshing to say the least to read a story that depicts young Palestinian women, who are openly passionate about the cause of Palestine and its people, humanly without somehow demonizing them. It's important because it's a more representative depiction of the larger majority of both young Palestinian women and men. Look forward to reading more about Maysoon as she advances in her career and hopefully about many other young Palestinians struggling against all odds to fullfil their worldly aspirations and dreams. Thanks for sharing.
Nasr, Ottawa, Canada

A comedian with so many taboos? And the artistic freedom gained is on 'vile' US turf. Arab cultural oppression so obviously present should not be overlooked despite the commendable effort to laugh at a few things.
Shosh, Haifa, Israel

Charlie Chaplin put it this way: tragedy is life in close up, comedy is life in long shot.
Banana Skin, Geelong, Australia

I had the great fortune of seeing this woman on television one evening. I was actually losing my breath from laughing so hard at some of the things she was saying.
John-Paul Rosario, Alexandria, VA

What a refreshingly upbeat and determined young woman - and what an example to those useless corrupt old fossils and sociopaths that perpetuate the conflict!
Adrian , Dubai, UAE

As a Jew and ultimately a supporter of Israel my comments may seem strange to some. It is very refreshing to see an act such as hers and I wish her the best of luck. I particularly like her openness about her background and sex/abstinence, and the way she has succeeded regardless of the odds stacked against her. We need more celebrities like her and maybe the world would be a better place.
Sam, Cambs

I was pretty against watching the movie "You Don't Mess With the Zohan"! I resisted the idea because I felt it was a betrayal to watch an Israeli Mossad and laugh about it... Then I discovered it included a Palestinian figure(portrayed in a positive sense) and started thinking that sometimes comedy can be the bridge in times of conflicts!
Mohammed Rustom, Chicago, USA

"I was dating a Lebanese Christian Riverdancer who was gay, and I didn't know it" - uh, which "it" was the upsetting part that she didn't knowl? That he was gay, that he was Christian, that he was a Riverdancer? That's funny. Ending war requires re-humanising "the enemy". It's easy to kill someone who "isn't like us". Remind your enemy of your shared humanity and it's harder to perpetuate a war.
Alun Jones, Woodinville Wa, USA

The Zohan movie is hilarious, and it speaks volumes about people have more in common than not. We can get along if we can laugh at ourselves. The situation on the ground is absurd, and it requires folks to shake their particular absurdities on both sides. The idea of 'sides' then becomes absurd. Great movie, great actress, great message.
Marcos, DC, USA

Of course all conflict is serious and grim, but if we can find ways to laugh together, we can expose the stupidity of killing each other through comedy, without taking offense at the comments. Maybe then, when we laugh together at the same jokes, we can see that we're really more alike than different. It's a beginning, an attempt to do something decent and innocent in the middle of a bad situation. Don't knock it. It might work.
David Derby, Windsor Locks, CT, USA

She's a sweetheart.
John B. Min, New York City

She is right about the role of comedy in a conflict. If the Athenians could laugh about their civil war with Sparta more than two thousand years ago, surely Palestinians and Israelis can do the same.
Philip, Thessalobiki- Greece

If all comedy is based on someone else's suffering, then the endless Israeli/Palestinian conflict is absolutely hysterical.
MrSatyre, Fairfax, USA

Comedy and the laughter that ensues, promotes peace and happiness.
Ameen Kohanyi, FL, USA

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