Staging Palestinian love story in six Australian cities: Launching Tales of a City by the Sea 2016 national tour fundraising drive

Woven together from the actual experiences of people living under occupation, Tales of a City by the Sea is a journey into the lives of ordinary people in the besieged Gaza Strip.  Jomana, a Palestinian woman living in a Gaza refugee camp, falls in love with Rami, an  American-born Palestinian doctor and activist who has just arrived on one of the first Free Gaza boats in 2008. Their love is met with a relentless string of challenges. Ultimately, Rami must decide between returning to his comfortable life in Texas and staying in Palestine with Jomana. Choosing to stay means leaving his family and career behind for a life ravaged by war, while leaving means not only losing Jomana but also ignoring the plight of the Palestinians.

“[A] nuanced exploration of the myriad ways the occupation affects Palestinians at home and abroad…This gripping play is an act of resistance that implores its audience to take heed.”  ★★★  Rebecca Harkins-Cross,   The Age

Tales of a City by the Sea is about what it means to leave home to create a life in more tolerable conditions, and what it means to stay. It is about relationships between parents who have chosen to leave, and children who want to return. It is about how people in diaspora see their connection to home, and how people at home see them. It is a Palestinian story, but more broadly it is a migrant story.

“A fantastically told story of two worlds colliding. An elegantly simple set […] is perfect for actors Nicole Chamoun and Osamah Sami to excel in their lead roles.”  ★★★★  Harry Hughes,  The Music

The play premiered in November 2014, with simultaneous productions at La Mama Theatre in Melbourne and the AlRowward Cultural and Theatre Society, in Aida Refugee Camp in Palestine. Both productions received overwhelmingly passionate responses from audiences and critics alike.

“The beautiful and passionate voice of Tayah makes the story even more touching…[This play] wondrously gives  hope and prevents you from giving up on Gaza.”  ★★★★  Zeynep Incir, Melbourne Arts Fashion

In 2016, we hope to remount our Australian production at the La Mama theatre in Melbourne and then take it on tour to Adelaide, Sydney, Hobart, Casula and Byron Bay.

Why Support This

Tales of the City by the Sea tells the story of people in terrible situations, living under occupation but it doesn’t define them by their suffering  This is not the kind of story set in Palestine that you hear in the typical every day news reports — we hope to challenge this by telling a story that is not just about the conflict but the experiences of the people who live in and around it.

We believe that sharing Palestinian stories represents a key step towards peaceful and just resolution to the conflict and that a view into the realities of life under occupation has the power to change hearts and minds and that is why we feel it is important that this story is told.

Tales of the City by the Sea will feature a diverse cast and crew and help realize our hopes to see the diversity of Australia represented on the Australian stage. Our cast and creative team include both recently arrived migrants and multigenerational Australians. We have roots in Palestine, Lebanon, Iran, Iraq, Poland, Malta, Italy, Egypt, and Chile.

Funding is the greatest challenge faced by this project, which is why we are asking for your support.

The premiere last year was a co-share, this time, we want to be able to properly remunerate actors and artists involved in bringing this story to the stage. Your contributions go towards supporting a production that deeply values and wants to support its artists.

How the funds will be used

We already have lots of wonderful in kind support such as accommodation but we are committed to paying our artists proper wages.  We will also need to cover production costs for set and costume design,  transport for equipment and cost of travel for the cast and crew.

Raising this money will allow us to commit to the first leg of the Australian tour which means remounting in Melbourne with our artists on full wages regardless of money raised through tickets. That means any revenue raised through tickets will go on to support next leg of tour.

Upcoming Event:

So, let’s kick off our fundraising drive with this exciting event.  Please join us on the rooftop of the Arcadia Hotel and help bring Tales of a City by the Sea to six Australian cities in 2016. Enjoy a BBQ, experience live Arabic music, watch some amazing performances, meet the cast and crew, and dance the night away!

Get your tickets here 

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Short video: La Mama Artistic Director Liz Jones on staging Palestinian theatre in Australia

Tales of a City by the Sea, a Palestinian story of love, separation and beautiful resistance will be staged in Melbourne November 12 – November 23 at La Mama.  Here is why:

TIMES:

NOVEMBER 12 – NOVEMBER 23
Wednesday 6.30pm
Thursday 7.30pm
Friday 7.30pm
Saturday 7.30pm
Sunday 4pm

Venue:

La Mama Courthouse
349 Drummond Street Carlton
03 9347 6948

TICKETS

Full $25
Concession $15
Phone bookings: 03 9347 6142

BUY TICKETS

Tickets can be booked up until 4pm on the day of the performance, otherwise try your luck at the door.

Please allow plenty of time to arrive at our venues, as we have a no latecomers policy.

Email from Gaza: Tales that must be told

Friends, this week our eyes were glued to our laptops watching in disbelief yet another horrible attack on the people of Gaza. We worried about our friends, partners and loved ones.  Within theTales of a City by the Sea production team we worried about our partners in Gaza, our director Ali Abu Yassin and our representative in Gaza, Aya El-Zinati. Aya is a young dynamic and talented film maker and journalist who is the epitome of the human spirit we try to convey in our play. Before the war broke out, she promised to make a new video for our project. Imagine our surprise when she sent this email yesterday with a link to the video she completed while listening to the sounds of the falling bombs outside her window. With her permission, we are proud to share her email as it offers a deep insight into life in Gaza.

Email from Aya

How are you?

I imagine this is not the right time to even talk about this but I know I have work to do. True, I’ve only slept two hours in the last three days, and I’ve been away from home most of the time but I have been thinking of you. I’ve been wondering how can I produce the video (Trailer for Tales of a City by the Sea) and what if something happens to me and I (die) before finishing it.

So, every day at dawn I try to do more edits and I don’t know but I hope this time you will like it. Please believe me I’ve tried my best to do it better than the first cut. If you don’t like it and we remain alive I will do a better one for you.

What is important is that I want to tell you a few stories we hear about the martyrs in Gaza. I want to tell you so you know what Gaza love stories are like in reality…in war… in these conditions.

On the first day when 8 people were killed, one of them was from the Qassam brigade. His name was Abdlerahman AlZamly. He was engaged to a lady, maybe you’ve seen her in some of the photos that went viral as she was saying goodbye to him. They were engaged for a long time and couldn’t get married because they were waiting for the Rafah crossing to open and for cement to come into Gaza so they can finish building their house. All they needed was one ton of cement. Of course there were no crossings open and even if they were to open and if cement came in, they may not have afforded it because it would have been five times its actual worth.

Yesterday, the Kaware family was martyred in Khan Yunis. Their house was bombed. Eight members of the family were killed and neighbours injured some have serious injuries. When I went to report it I almost had a breakdown. I told the photographer to take photos. My stomach turned. But I tried to be strong…to be normal.

Yesterday a very young man Fakhr AlAjoory was martyred on his motorcycle and the scene was horrific. Before he was martyred he wrote a status on his Facebook: ‘when I die, some will mourn me, some will feel relieved, some will remember me forever, some wont care, but that’s o.k. it is enough for me to be going to a better place’.

Last night they bombed the Hamad family. The family was sitting in their garden drinking coffee at night. The missile landed suddenly and the problem is the whole family died except for the youngest child, 5 years old, he is now orphaned and with no one left to take care of him.

My father is a maintenance engineer at the hospital and because of the emergency situation there he doesn’t come home much. I try as much as possible to check on my mom at home in between my work shifts. Anyway, as I was walking to our house, I saw lots of nervous people in the street, some were running it turned out the neighbours were told to evacuate their homes because it will be bombed in ten minutes. I ran to my mother and told her to hurry up and leave. I told her they’re bombing the house next door. The problem is if a missile lands next door our entire house will be destroyed. I kept begging her to leave but she insisted on staying. She said she would never leave her home. I kept begging there was no time…I stayed with her preferring to die with her than to live and mourn her death. Can you believe the missile landed but did not explode? The authorities came and they carried it away. So we’re still alive.

There is no safe place in Gaza at all. Every place is a target. This means Israel is bankrupt and has no list of targets so it just bombs sporadically at civilian structures. Despite it all, the poor people of Gaza still go out into the street, they buy food for Ramadan, they make kenafah and katayef for desert and they try to live the spirit of the holy month.

What upsets me the most is that the situation in this city has become so painful. There are many who don’t have enough to buy food. And on top of that, there is war and destruction. Many live on handouts or borrowed money. Some people built their homes from borrowed money only to see their homes destroyed and with their home gone, so goes everything else they have. No one seems to understand the depth of our pain. Is it not enough we’re losing ourselves, losing our lives, losing our future, and outside, the rest of the world carries slogans ‘Gaza under attack’ or ‘Gaza under fire’ but listen first about what is really happening in Gaza. Some people even post the wrong photos from Syria or from Iraq this made the international media discredit what’s really happening here and this played to Israel’s advantage. But believe me what happened here in the past three days is a massacre.

What also really upset me and frustrates me is that no one is telling our stories. Our real human stories. They talk about us as enemies or they reduce us to numbers and statistics.

I am sorry I’ve given you a headache with my rant. But I really wanted to talk to you and tell you our stories.

I’ve been in Gaza for nine years now and in that time I’ve lived through three wars. Each war has many stories. If I don’t die in this war, I will write a book about those three wars….hahaha…I remember how innocent I was when I came here and how this place made me a human being. Seriously. I think as much as I am tired of being in this place, it has given me life.

All my friends outside Gaza call me and message me. They are worried this time I will get killed. One friend said ‘Promise me Aya you will not die. If you do I will be very upset with you’. They say if you need anything … I said yes…I’ve ran out of coal for my water pipe…I can’t smoke sheesha now. hahaha….:)

Pray for me.

Here is the video.

Poetry, Palestine and the Language of Resistance – An interview with Samah Sabawi

SEPTEMBER 20-22, 2013
by DOUGLAS VALENTINE

Samah Sabawi is the honored guest in this, the fourth installment in my Political Poetry series at Counterpunch.

Previously, I interviewed Sowetan Lesego Rampolokeng, whose hard-hitting poetry, including “bantu ghost”, expresses the outrage black South Africans still feel over the horrors of apartheid forced upon them by white supremacists.

Samah Sabawi, a poet and political activist, has likened Gaza to an “Israeli-controlled Bantustan.”   She has known the alienation and despair of a refugee since the Israelis forced her parents (and thousands of other Palestinians) to flee their homes in Gaza in 1967.

Now a Palestinian-Australian with Canadian citizenship, Sabawi is the author of three plays — Cries from the Land, Three Wishes, and Tales of a City by the Sea.  She has also co-written the book The Journey to Peace in Palestine: From the Song of Deborah to the Simpsons.

Sabawi’s poems deal with Israeli oppression of the Palestinians, often from the empathetic perspective of someone not directly on the scene with her comrades.  She expresses the plight of nearly two million people in the concentration camp called Gaza, as well as the millions of lost souls in the Palestinian diaspora.  In her poem, “Defying the Universe”, dedicated to her husband Monir, she asks:

Are your loved ones trapped behind the wall

Do they need the army’s permission

For their prayers to reach the sky

For their love to cross the ocean

And touch your thirsty heart

Are your loved ones trapped

Do you yearn to be in your family home

And when you call, do they always say

“we are fine, alhamdollelah”

Does it surprise you that they are whole

While you… are broken

Must they always worry about you

Urge you to have faith in your exile

Must they always pity you

For not breathing the air

Of your ancestors’ land

Must they always comfort you

Even when the bombs are falling

Do you ever wonder who is walled in

Is it you…or is it them

And when it finally dawns upon you

That their dignity sets them free

Do you feel ashamed of your liberty

Israeli oppression of the Palestinians takes many forms.   As Sabawi recently explained in an interview with Joe Catron, “The currency used here (in Gaza) is the new Israeli shekel, the IDs all the residents carry are issued by the Israeli interior ministry, all births go through the Israeli national registry, the essential products are all Israeli in this captive market” (“Israel’s Gaza Bantustan,” 5 January 2013).”

Sabawi is part of a new generation of Palestinian thinkers who insist on reclaiming the discourse and reframing the language used to assert Palestinian rights.  For her and many others of her generation, language is an essential tool in the struggle for liberation.  She writes in her poem “Liberation Anthem” “I’ll craft new words of expression/ outside of this suffocating language/ that has occupied me/ Your words/ are like your walls/ They encroach on my humanity.”

Sabawi rebels in her poetry against adopting a language she sees as complicit and dictated by the occupier.  She insists on using words such as “apartheid” and “ethnic cleansing” to describe the reality of life in Palestine.  When a newspaper editor recently deleted these words from an op-ed she submitted saying they were “too strong,” she responded with this:

Words!

I stand dispossessed

No congress behind me

No statesmen surround me

No lobby to breathe hellfire

No media eager to appease

No three-ring circus

Of intellectual jesters

Academic clowns

And policy experts

Who truly do not see

the big elephant in the room

No legal acrobats

Dance for me

On a thin rope of decency

No politicians

Juggle oppression

And human rights

On my behalf

No trips to boost careers

For MPs and their wives

No propaganda movies

No radio broadcasts

No myths

No lies

No hasbaranites

No army,

No country

Not even one leader

To believe in

All I have are my words

To tell my story

My voice

To demand justice

But you tell me

My language is too strong

While speaking and writing forthrightly about the horrors of Israeli oppression, Sabawi maintains strong connections with anti-apartheid Israelis, and she advocates reconciliation and understanding.  But she believes that reconciliation can only begin once the oppression ends.  Consider the following lines from her poem “Liberation Anthem”:

To the people of Israel who fear our freedom:  Don’t be afraid, we will liberate you too.

This is my rendition

Of an anthem to be sung

That day you and I

Will stand side by side

Shoulder to shoulder

Watching a new dawn

Wipe away

Decades of hate and savagery

The day I rise

From the ruins of your oppression

I promise you I will not rise alone

You too will rise with me

You will be liberated

From your tyranny

And my freedom

Will bring your salvation

Given the total support of the US Government for Israel, there seems to be no other rational alternative.   And yet, Palestinians politics is marked by deep divisions, not least between Hamas and Fatah.  Sabawi’s goal is to overcome the divisions between Israel and Palestine, and among Palestinians, not by proselytizing or demonizing people, not by humiliating or obliterating, but by discovering a common human bond. As Sabawi says:

I am more than demography

I’m neither your collaborator

Nor your enemy

I am not your moderate

Not your terrorist

Not your fundamentalist

Islamist

Extremist

Militant

Radical

I am more than adjectives

Letters and syllables

I will construct my own language

And will defeat your words of power

With the power of my words

In her poem “Against the Tide” she pledges “I will not delight/ In the suffering/ Even of those/ Who oppress me.”

I recently asked Sabawi about her poetry, the poetry of Palestinians, and the political situation in Gaza.  I noted that perhaps the most frustrating form of psychological oppression Palestinians suffer is the total antipathy of the United States Government.   The US blocks every vote to condemn Israel at the UN, it provides Israel with the weapons and means of its oppression, while the mainstream American media suppresses and distorts the facts, even rationalizing the mass murder of 1400 Palestinians in Gaza in 2009 as necessary for Israel’s security.

DV      Gaza is a Bantustan, but the many nations seem to have turned their backs on the Palestinians, although, in contrast, much of the world joined in the boycott of South Africa.  This is largely due to the fact that Palestinians have been thoroughly dehumanized by the Israeli-AIPAC propaganda machine.  Can poetry help to overcome the prejudice that many Americans have?    Is translating from Arabic to English part of the problem?

SS         Humanity doesn’t always respond instantly.  The world community is often slow to react in the face of oppression and injustice especially when it is being perpetrated by powerful state actors and driven by corporate greed.  But history has taught us that no tyranny can last forever and that the people will always overcome oppression.  To use your example of South Africa, it actually took a long time for the world to take a stand against the apartheid regime.  Think about it: white supremacy over South Africa began with the arrival of the early Dutch settlers as far back as the mid 1600s and institutional discrimination against the indigenous population began in the early 1900s.  The Boycott movement against South African Apartheid didn’t start till the late 1950s and it took world governments years and for some even decades before they made a stand.  So, when you’re looking at the timeline of the Palestine/Israel conflict in comparison and especially in the last two decades you will see that Palestinians are in fact gaining the support of the world community at a much faster pace perhaps this is so because we have more direct and instant modes of communication at our fingertips.

So yes, the world may have initially turned its back on Palestinians and even adopted the Zionist discourse of blaming and dehumanizing the victims but times have changed and we have come a long way.  Palestinian solidarity is growing and the overwhelming show of support at the UN for an observer seat for the state of Palestine last year if anything has illustrated the isolation of Israel and its allies in the face of a world community that is sympathetic to the Palestinian cause.

Now you ask if poetry might contribute to this in any way.  I guess I would say that art in all its forms can have an important role to play in humanizing people and conveying their story.  Art can serve to inspire and instigate change.

Who can deny that the poetry of Mahmoud Darwish for example offered many in the west a window into the lives of Palestinians; their pain, their aspirations and their yearnings?  Although Darwish’s poems were written in Arabic, they were translated into many languages and served as a bridge between Palestine and the rest of the world.

Of course language can be an obstacle but I think that the Palestinian experience is a universal one and so is easily translated.  We are a people disposed standing up against tyranny and oppression, fighting for a just cause.  This resonates with people in any language.  Here are a few lines from one of my favorite Darwish poems:  “Who Am I, Without Exile?” (translated by Fady Joudah)[i]:

A stranger on the riverbank, like the river … water

binds me to your name. Nothing brings me back from my faraway

to my palm tree: not peace and not war. Nothing

makes me enter the gospels. Not a thing … nothing sparkles from the shore of ebb

and flow between the Euphrates and the Nile. Nothing

makes me descend from the pharaoh’s boats. Nothing

carries me or makes me carry an idea: not longing

and not promise. What will I do? What

will I do without exile, and a long night

that stares at the water?

 

DV        Palestinians have no power over their oppressors.  They are powerless to stop the settlements.   At the slightest hint of uprising, the Israelis come down like a storm troopers.  But Palestinians do write poetry – or have the Israelis tried to stop them from writing poetry too?

SS         For the Israeli Zionist project to succeed in asserting legitimacy and presence on the ruins of Palestinian homes and lives, it needed to do two things: make the Palestinians invisible to the world by denying their existence (‘a land without a people for a people without a land’), and/or in the event that they become visible, demonize them by manipulating the discourse – for example, by emphasizing Palestinian violence and terror while undermining and ignoring Palestinian non-violent resistance and the reality of occupied vs. occupier. This is why Israel views Palestinian culture with great contempt. After all, Palestinian artists and cultural figures tell the stories of their people and by that they reflect a reality through their art that Israel would rather conceal.

So yes, certainly Palestinian culture, like all other facets of Palestinian life, faces tremendous challenges under Israeli occupation. Palestinian cultural figures were first targeted by British and later by the Israeli authorities. Some were assassinated, others were imprisoned or banished into exile. Amongst the artists and intellectuals assassinated by Israel are writer Ghassan Kanafani (Abukhalil 2012) and poet and intellectual Wael Zuaiter (Jacir 2007).

The attempt at erasing Palestinian culture was clear during Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982, when Israeli forces looted and confiscated the accumulated national archives of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), which included valuable and rare collections of films and other Palestinian cultural artifacts (IMEU 2012).

Today, Palestinian cultural figures under Israel’s occupation are caught in an intricate and multi layered system of oppression.  For example, Human Rights Watch issued a report (27 July 2012) accusing Israel and its security arm the Palestinian Authority of  “trampling on the rights of Freedom Theater’s staff,” adding “[a] theater should be able to offer critical and provocative work without fearing that its staff will be arrested and abused.”
The HRW statement referred to Israel’s ongoing system of arbitrary arrests and detention.

Of course it is important to recognize that repression does not always ride on a military tank. The worst kind of repression is one that manifests itself inside colonized minds desperate to present their craft to the world and aware that their success hinges on their ability to be on the good side of their political masters. I mean artists find it challenging enough in rich societies to make a living out of their art, so imagine when you are stuck in a Bantustan where most people struggle to feed their families. That’s where the role of the PA and international donors raises some questions about which artistic projects receive funding and which ones don’t; which artists are given a platform and which ones aren’t. For the most part, Palestinian resistance has through the years overcome such challenges and Palestinian artists both inside Palestine and in Diaspora continue their effort to liberate Palestine one poem, one painting, one novel and one song at a time.

DD       In your poem “Verses and Spices” you talk about how “Growing up/ My father’s poems/ Ran through my veins/ Like blood/ A necessary life ingredient/ A rhythm that kept my heart pumping.”   Your poems stress the crucial importance of language in resolving problems.  In this poem you speak specifically about your father’s poems.  Please tell me a little about traditional Palestinians poetry and which Palestinians poets American should, or can read today to get a better understanding of the situation in Gaza.

SS        Your question asks specifically about “traditional Palestinian poetry” but I actually grew up with a wide range of Arab poetry. We weren’t raised to see “Palestinianism” as distinct from Arab nationalism.  We the Palestinians were part of the Arab world and took pride in that. Our definition of Palestine back then was also based on nationalism: one secular state for all three religions. That was the mantra of the PLO in the early 1970s.  Much has changed since and we have become factionalized and sectarianized beyond recognition.

It is true I grew up in a house of verses and spices. Poetry was always present at every meal and every gathering. My father, Abdul Karim Sabawi, a distinguished Palestinian novelist and poet, tried to introduce me to classical Arabic poetry such as Al Mutanaby and Omar Alkhayam but apart from sounding lyrical to my ears, that type of poetry didn’t really capture my heart. The language was too formal, too clever and too distant in time to feel real.  It also reflected a ‘male’ view of the world, which as a young girl and later a woman not only alienated me but at times even offended me.  It was when my father recited modern Arab poetry like that of Mahmoud Darwish (Palestinian), Nizar Qabbani (Syrian), Amal Donkol  (Egyptian) and especially Salah Jahin (Egyptian) that I would tune in and pay attention.  My father encouraged me to navigate my way through his large collection of poetry books. Modern Arab poetry varies in style but I found myself gravitating toward poetry that conveyed ideas and not just showcased linguistic prowess. For example Egyptian giant Salah Jahin ‘s quatrains made use of colloquial everyday simple Egyptian dialect to communicate complex philosophical ideas:

The rich man was buried in a marble tomb

The beggar was buried in a hole with no coffin

I passed them by and marveled to myself

 Both graves emanate the same stench

My father’s own poetry also ranged in style. Some of his poems were in colloquial Gazan dialect while others in sophisticated classic Arabic.  His poetry reflects the quintessential Palestinian experience, which at its core is a universal human experience of loss, dispossession and exile. To give you an idea of the spirit of my father’s poetry, here is one he wrote that first morning he woke up in 1967 to find himself a refugee in Jordan.

Erasure

When you were parched

We quenched your thirst

With our blood

Now

We carry your burden

Disgraced

We cry in shame when asked

Where do you come from?

Dishonored we die

 

If only the stray bullets

From the occupier’s guns

Were merciful

That they pierced through our legs

It only they tore through our knees

If only we sunk in your sand

Deep to our necks

If only we got stuck

And became the salt of your earth

The nutrients in your fertile soil

If only we didn’t leave

 

The gates of our hearts

Are wide open to misery

Don’t ask us where this wind is blowing

Don’t ask us about a house

Or windows

Or trees

The Bulldozers were here

The Bulldozers were here

And the houses in our village

Fell…Like a row of decayed teeth

 

They haven’t colonized Mars yet

And the moon is barren

Uninhabitable

So carry your children

Your memories

And follow me

We can live in the books of history

They’ll write about us…

“The wicked Bedouins

Landed in Baghdad

They landed in Yafa

They landed in Grenada

Then they moved on

They packed their belongings

And rode on their camels

They didn’t leave their print on the red clay

And all their artifacts

Were faded

With the passing of the years”

 

Does anyone in the world really care?

Does anyone care?

What difference does it make

To be an Arab…

A Native American…

Or a dinosaur

SS       So as you can see, poetry was always a part of my life. But I never thought of integrating it into my activism until one day when I saw a YouTube video of Suheir Hammad reciting her poem ‘First Writing Since’ in New York in the aftermath of 9/11. This was a milestone in my life. First of all, I was so happy to hear a captivating articulate Palestinian woman poet at last! But more than that, her poetry was not written in Arabic and translated into English. Hammad’s poetry comes out in English and is effective and authentic and real.  This brings me to my next point: Palestinian writers today are a diverse group of people with countless citizenships who speak many languages and who are able to use a variety of mediums to reconstruct their national identity and to communicate their stories of exile.  So when we talk about Palestinian literature in the modern sense we must acknowledge that it now transcends linguistic and geographic borders.  It was Suheir Hammad who helped me come to terms with my own identity crisis. Yes, I can be Palestinian and I can write my poetry in English.

DV        Please tell me a little more about where you live and what you’re doing now.

SS         I live in Melbourne Australia and I’m currently working toward the production of my recent play Tales of a City by the Sea. The play was inspired by a collection of poems I wrote during Israel’s assault on Gaza in 2008/2009.  It is set to be staged at La Mama’s Courthouse theatre in Melbourne September 2014 and I am so blessed that La Mama has agreed to be our presenting partner for this production.  We hope the Arabic version of the play will premiere at the same time in Gaza and in the West Bank.  I am also working on a poetry book with Palestinian writers Ramzy Baroud  andJehan Bseiso  along with some incredible artists. So next year is looking like a very busy artistic year for me.

I’d like to end with a poem that inspired my recent play. It is dedicated to the Free Gaza Movement and the victims of the Mavi Marmara:

Tales of a city by the sea

The landscape constantly changes

Only the sea remains the same

Salty…

Fluid…

Mysterious…

Moody

A consistent presence amid the chaos

Its whooshing waves whisper tales

Of occupiers that have come and gone

Crusaders, tyrants and warlords

Riding on their horses

Riding on their Tanks

Riding on their F16 fighter jets

Always riding through

Leaving their footprints

And part of their history

Leaving their artifacts and ruins

Leaving fire and debris

Always leaving…

Only the sea remains

A cure for the trail of broken lives left behind

A landmark untouched by human greed and destruction

Oblivious to war occupation and aggression

Defiant to the rules of man

It embraces the shores of a battered city

It makes a mockery

Of those who try to break its spirit

Those who think they can contain

Its one and a half million beating hearts

It laughs in the face

Of that big iron wall

There is no limit to the sea’s audacity

It breaks the siege every day,

One defiant wave at a time

Connecting Gaza to the rest of the world

And connecting the world with the Shati refugee camp

If you stood with your back to Gaza facing the sea

You can imagine you are some place else

Beirut, Barcelona, Alexandria or Santorini

You can dream of the promise of what lays

Beyond the horizon

Countries, continents the whole world is out there

If only you could ride the sea

If only your body was bullet proof

If only your boat was made of steel

If only your dream was real

The landscape will change once more

Only the sea will remain the same 

Its whooshing waves will whisper new tales

Of occupiers that have come and gone

June 2010 Melbourne Australia

DV  Thank you very much, Samah Sabawi, for this incredibly informative and moving interview. 

Please visit Samah’s website talesofacitybythesea.com to read more about Palestine the culture, the politics and the people, and to get more updates on her play Tales of a City by the Sea.

Samah can also be reached on twitter @gazaheart

For information about Doug Valentine and his Political Poetry series, visit his website www.douglasvalentine.com or email him at dougvalentine77@gmail.com

One of Samah Sabawi’s poems will appear in the forthcoming anthology With Our Eyes Wide Open: Poems of the New American Century (West End Press, March 2014).  Please email John Crawford at jcrawfor@unm.edu for information about pre-ordering the anthology.

Notes.


[i] Reprinted from The Butterfly’s Burden (2007) by Mahmoud Darwish, translated by Fady Joudah. Used by permission of Copper Canyon Press,www.coppercanyonpress.org.
Source: The Butterfly’s Burden (Copper Canyon Press, 2007)

Brilliant and inspiring: “Martin Luther King in Palestine” promo

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The Economist: A theatre of protest “The Island” opened to packed audiences in Palestine’s Jenin refugee camp

ADAPTED from South Africa’s Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was jailed under apartheid, to an Israeli prison cell, Athol Fugard’s play “The Island” has opened to packed audiences in the Jenin refugee camp on the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Confined to a concrete floor set in a sea of sand, two cellmates keep up their morale by rehearsing a production of Sophocles’s Antigone, in which a woman chooses to die rather than obey the king’s decree not to bury her brother, a political dissident. “You won’t sleep peacefully,” Antigone tells the king when he condemns her to death.

Despite its transposed setting, the play retains its poignancy. Almost every Palestinian on the West Bank has a brother, father or husband whom the Israeli authorities have, at one time or another, locked away. At present, 4,500 are behind bars. Jenin may have the highest rate of any town. Imprisonment has become a male rite of passage, as well as a place of higher education: many opt for distance learning at Israeli universities.

Ahmad Rokh, one of the actors in “The Island”, who has served four prison terms, was first put inside at the age of 14. The refugee camp in Jenin was a prime source of suicide-bombers during the second intifada (uprising) that lasted from 2000 to around 2005. Nearly a decade on, it has recovered a sense of humour. The audience laughs at the prisoners dressed in drag.

The theatre has had to overcome a troubled phase. Two years ago its founder, Juliano Khemis, a half-Palestinian, half-Jewish actor, was killed in circumstances that neither the Israeli nor the Palestinian authorities have explained. The Freedom Theatre has reopened its drama school after a hiatus of more than a year.

Though the number of Palestinian political prisoners has halved since the height of the second (and most recent) intifada, it is still twice as high as it was a dozen years ago. Those behind bars include hundreds of stone-throwers, 15 members of the Palestinian parliament and 170 people held without trial under “administrative detention”. The Palestinian Authority also runs its own prisons, where scores of leading members of Hamas, the Islamist group that rejects Israel’s existence, have been locked up.

When an Israeli production of the same play was performed at the Hasimta Theatre in Jaffa three years ago, the director, Alon Tiran, observed members of the audience leaving “in a different mindset from when they arrived”. He could not ask for more than that, he said. In Jenin, reactions have been more pronounced. “We are all Antigone,” says Ahmad Jbarah, better known by his nom-de-guerre, Abu Sukar, who attended the play’s opening. “The more the oppressor condemns us as criminals, the more heroic we are,” he says. Mr Sukar was in prison for 27 years for his part in a bombing in Jerusalem in 1975 that caused 15 civilian deaths.

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Palestinian Singer Oday Khatib Awaits Israeli Military Trial

This article appeared April 4 on the World Music Network

Palestinian Singer Oday Khatib Awaits Israeli Military Trial

Oday Khatib, the young Palestinian singer of Arabic classical music and protégé of Riverboat Records artist Ramzi Aburedwan, has been charged with stone-throwing, facing up to ten years in prison if he is convicted. Testimonials from around the world have been written in protest at the charge, from teachers and associates who know him, with many expressing a profound skepticism at the credibility of the charge.

Oday’s father, Jihad Khatib, claims that his son was arrested while waiting for a friend he was meeting for dinner, a victim of the indiscriminate nature of occupying forces in the West Bank. Talking to Musa Abuhashhash, a field worker for the Israeli human rights organization B’tselem, Jihad noted that nearby some youths were throwing stones, ‘and when the soldiers chased the kids, it did not come to his mind that the soldiers would go for him. Otherwise he would have run away.’

Born and raised in the Al Fawwar refugee camp near Hebron, Oday had never been arrested before and had always been known for his singular dedication to music, gaining a reputation for his interpretations of Palestinian protest songs from an early age. ‘Oday is not interested in throwing stones or getting involved in this. Since he was nine years old he was interested only in music’, his father said.

As a teenager Oday became celebrated as the star singer of Aburedwan’s Ramallah-based Association Al Kamandjâti, an orchestra set up to provide access to music for Palestinian children under occupation in the West Bank. He has since toured internationally with a number of ensembles, including Al Kamandjâti, as well as participating in music education and outreach projects in Europe.

OdayKhatib

Julia Katarina, the British Mezzo-Soprano who put her opera career on hold to teach voice lessons at Al Kamandjâti for three years, was among many musicians from around to voice her support for Oday: ‘He is very generous with his art, and just loves singing beyond all else! He is a true singer, and I imagine the only way he is surviving prison is by singing. I hope he sings in the military court,’ Julia writes, because if Oday’s accusers can find ‘an ounce of humanity in their hearts, they will release him.’

Such a prospect appears unlikely, however; according to the author and blogger Sandy Tolan, in 2010 the conviction rate in military trials for such alleged offenses was about 399 out of 400, a figure accompanied by a growing clamour among settler communities in the West Bank to have stone-throwing treated as akin to live fire by the IDF.

Support Association Al Kamandjâti: http://www.alkamandjati.com/en/home/

Follow Sandy Tolan’s blog: http://ramallahcafe.com/

This article appeared on  World Music Network