Experience of ethnic profiling in Israel inspired actor to write new London play

Actor Tariq Jordan has drawn from his own experience in being detained in Israel as the basis of his debut play about a Palestinian-Israeli love story

Tariq now

A new play set in the occupied West Bank is due to open in London, inspired by the writer's real-life experience of being detained and interrogated in Israel.

Ali and Dahlia, the debut play by actor Tariq Jordan, 34, focuses on the love story of a Palestinian-­Israeli couple that begins during the construction of the separation wall.

The seed for the play was planted in 2014 when Jordan, who was born in Manchester to a Russian-Jewish mother and Iraqi-Muslim father, visited Ramallah to work with the Ashtar Theatre Company. In an experience not uncommon for people with Islamic surnames, Jordan was stopped on arrival at Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion Airport by Israeli security, who were puzzled when he said he was also Jewish.

Tariq as a kid

But this was nothing new. Growing up in Britain, people had always expressed polite surprise when he revealed that his mother was Jewish and his father was Muslim. "People's first reaction is always: 'Wow how did that happen?' I remember as a kid thinking, it's quite nice but should it really be that surprising?" Jordan tells The National.

The incident that inspired the play

At Tel Aviv airport, Jordan was taken into a holding area where he was subjected to 12 hours of interrogation. "It was profiling, ethnic ­profiling," he says. He was repeatedly brought into an interview room alone for questioning by a detention officer who demanded he denounce his Jewish roots.

"He kept telling me: 'You're not a Jew, so don't call yourself one.' That was very difficult to hear when you've got someone that you don't know trying to define you," Jordan recalls.

Describing himself as British with both Jewish and Muslim heritage, Jordan was raised more by his mother's side of the family, who emigrated to the UK from Russia in the early 1900s. "I like my heritage. I'm non-practising but I'm proud of my cultural heritage," he says.

He kept telling me: 'You're not a Jew, so don't call yourself one.' That was very difficult to hear when you've got someone that you don't know trying to define you.

During the interrogation, the officer took Jordan's phone from him and searched through his contacts, asking him who everyone was, where they were from and what religions they practised. Jordan recalls the moment when the officer found a contact in his phone named "Lebanese Ali".

“It got slightly comical at one point. He turned my phone around to me and said: ‘You’ve been lying to me, you told me you didn’t have any connections in Lebanon’. He turned my phone around and said: ‘Well, who is this?’

I said: 'You've put that on my phone. This is ridiculous'. "But then, suddenly, I realised who it was. It was actually a kebab house called Lebanese Ali from when I was at university 10 years earlier that was still in my phone.

“It was ­ultra-paranoia.

The worst thing was that the detention officer found it vile that my Jewish mother had me with a Muslim. He could not accept that."

'I have hope for the future'

Eventually the authorities let him go, but his detention in Tel Aviv has stayed with him. In Ali and Dahlia, Jordan says he was keen to explore the challenges faced by two people who want to be together but are divided by a wall and decades of religious conflict.

"Ali and Dahlia meet in 2002 as the West Bank wall is being constructed and we follow their lives over 15 years together," he says. "Where they live is only a 40-minute walk away from each other. One is in the West Bank and one is in Israel, yet they are divided by this wall. And it's almost impossible to meet each other unless they have permits."

Reflecting on his 12-hour detention, Jordan says he is glad to have experienced it. He feels the hatred shown towards him by the detention officer was one that has been taught rather than something the officer was born with.

 Jordan even hopes that he will be able to visit both the West Bank and Israel again one day.

"I have hope for the future and as a storyteller I believe you have to try and pose questions to audiences so they can seek out the right answers," he says. 

Ali and Dahlia runs from  until April 14 at The Pleasance Theatre in London