About Tales of a City by the Sea

The play Tales of a City by the Sea is a unique and poetic journey into the lives of ordinary people in the besieged Gaza strip prior to, during and after its bombardment during the winter of 2008.  Jomana, a Palestinian woman who lives in the Shati (beach) refugee camp in Gaza falls in love with Rami, an American born Palestinian doctor and activist who arrives on the first Free Gaza boats in 2008. Their love is met with many challenges forcing Rami to make incredible decisions the least of which is to take a dangerous journey through the underground tunnels that connect Gaza to Egypt.  Although on the surface this love story appears to explore the relationship between diaspora Palestinians and Palestinians under occupation, there is a broader and more universal theme that emerges – one of human survival and tenacity.  Tales of a City by the Sea avoids political pitfalls, ideological agendas and clichés by focusing on the human story of the people in Gaza. Although the play’s characters are fictional, the script is based on real life events and is a product of a collection of real stories the author Samah Sabawi and her family have experienced during the events of the past several years. Sabawi has written most of the poetry in the play during the three-week bombardment of Gaza in 2008/2009.

The writer Samah Sabawi is a Palestinian-Canadian-Australian published writer, commentator and playwright.  She has travelled the world and lived in its far corners, yet always felt as though she was still trapped in her place of birth Gaza.  The war torn besieged and isolated strip has  shaped her understanding of her identity and her humanity.  So what else could Sabawi do but to indulge in Gaza’s overwhelming presence and to succumb to tell the stories of her loved ones back home.  Her most recent play Tales of a City by the Sea is dedicated to them and to all of those who still manage to have faith and hope even as the sky rains death and destruction.

The script is available to interested theatre makers upon request.  Please email play3wishes@gmail.com for more information.

Ms. Sabawi speaking at the Launch of the The People's Charter To Create a Nonviolent World

Photo courtesy http://thepeoplesnonviolencecharter.wordpress.com/launch-events/

Follow Samah Sabawi on Twitter @gazaheart

Samah Sabawi’s professional bio can be found here

For more information on Samah Sabawi: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samah_Sabawi

Classical music moves into the camps of Palestine

Published March 23rd, 2013 – 07:00 GMT on AlBawaba
How often does one see pictures of brave Palestinian children facing up to Israeli soldiers and tanks, armed only with stones in their hands and often paying with their lives for daring to do so?

Ramzi Aburedwan was one such child, who grew up in the refugee camp of Al Amari near Ramallah. At the tender age of 8, he witnessed his best friend being killed during an Israeli military operation. He then found himself throwing stones during the first Intifada and as a street combatant Aburedwan seemed destined for an Israeli prison or a Palestinian martyr’s poster. But fate decided to intervene.

At 17, he was invited to a music workshop in Al Bireh, adjacent to Ramallah, where he fell in love with the art and started to learn to play the viola. Replacing stones with a musical instrument led to a journey of channelling his anger into creativity and of personal transformation.

After studying for a year at the Edward Said National Conservatory of Music (ESNCM) in Ramallah and thereafter attending a summer workshop in the United States — at the Apple Hill Centre for Chamber Music of New Hampshire — he enrolled at the Conservatoire National de Region d’Angers.

In 2000 Ramzi created the ensemble “Dal’Ouna”, music that symbolised the link between East and West. It flowed from an encounter between Palestine and France, from the melting of pure traditional Middle Eastern songs with mixed jazzy compositions, played on Western classical musical instruments (viola, violin, clarinet, flute, guitar, piano), and traditional Eastern instruments (bouzouk, oud, darbouka, bendir, etc).

In 2005, he was awarded the “DEM” gold medal for viola, chamber music and music theory. While in France, he also learnt to play the piano.

Yearning to share his knowledge and experience, and inspire a new generation of Palestinians, by helping their anger and frustrations find musical expression, Aburedwan established Al Kamandjâti (The Violin) in October 2002. It was to be the place where Palestinian children and youth could learn music and develop their culture.

In August 2005, Riwaq, the Palestinian architectural organisation engaged in conservation and rehabilitation, completed the renovation of the Al Kamandjâti Music Centre in the old city of Ramallah and it was here that Aburedwan launched his nonprofit musical enterprise, funded mainly by European donors.

Taking music to the people, Al Kamandjâti set up music schools for Palestinian children in various cities, villages and refugee camps. These music schools offer children the opportunity to learn to play music, to discover their cultural heritage as well as other musical cultures, but above all to explore their creative potential.

In addition, Al Kamandjâti produces numerous concerts and several music festivals throughout the year as part of its mission to bring music to all Palestinians.

Aburedwan explains the rationale: “Perhaps the least recognised effect of the violent Israeli occupation on the lives of Palestinian people is the undermining of culture, art and leisure. When a regime wants to weaken a people, it uses psychological, cultural and physical means. It attempts to erase tangible evidence of that people’s unique cultural heritage. Our struggle must be cultural and militant, artistic and political, and economic. But on no account should we forget the primary reason behind the projects and activities led by Al Kamandjâti, which is to educate children, who suffer most from the unjust politico-economic situation.

“We cannot afford to sit back and wait for favourable political decisions which would establish a Palestinian State,” he says. “We must proactively work on galvanising Palestinian cultural life. We must give our children the opportunity to think beyond soldiers and tanks. They must think creatively, not about the destruction of their country, but about rebuilding their way of life and future.”

In the West Bank, Al Kamandjâti today provides music training to around 500 students in places such as the Al Amari, Jalazon, Qalandiah and Qaddura refugee camps, the village of Deir Ghassana, the old cities of Ramallah and Jenin, and in Tulkarem.

Since 2005, Al Kamandjâti, with ten French musicians, has also organised annual music workshops in the Palestinian refugee camps of Lebanon, where, today, they have 60 students at Bourj el Barajneh and Shatilla.

In Palestine, Al Kamandjâti employs 22 musicians who teach violin, viola, cello, guitar, flute, clarinet, oboe, bassoon, trombone, trumpet, saxophone, piano, accordion, oud, nay, Arabic percussion, orchestra, singing, harmony, choir, improvisation and music theory.

“Music is a universal language,” Aburedwan says. “We encourage Palestinians to use this artistic tool to harmonise and enrich their cultural life, promoting international awareness and recognition of the Palestinian nation.

“Through music, Al Kamandjâti seeks to show that education and culture can transcend and overcome the Israeli violence from which Palestinians suffer,” he adds. “Learning music provides children with a form of expression to channel their energy creatively and constructively. Are not today’s children tomorrow’s adults? Classical music is, for the children, a discovery. We introduce each one to an instrument. Moreover, these workshops enable children to gather in a disciplined setting, whether as neighbours or friends or new acquaintances”.

Many young international musicians have been working at Al Kamandjâti, discovering music and a practical approach to mastering various instruments with Palestinian children. Jason Crompton came from New Jersey four years ago to visit his sister in occupied Jerusalem and after learning about Al Kamandjâti, he stayed on to teach piano and conduct the orchestra. He learnt Arabic to communicate with the children and eventually married a fellow teacher from Italy, Madeleine, who teaches the flute and also works with UNRWA schools in the refugee camps around Ramallah. They have a child and now live in Ramallah.

“The feeling of sharing in the musical experience with anyone who wishes to indulge is special and we believe that we belong here,” Crompton says.

Their story lends credence to the oft-held belief that music transcends both borders and barriers. At Al Kamandjâti, it has been an enriching experience for both the Palestinian children and the teachers of many nationalities.

Not only does Al Kamandjâti teach Palestinian children how to play music, it also teaches some of them how to repair, maintain and tune instruments.

Shehadeh, a young man who has been involved in setting up a local lute-making workshop, spent three months in Italy with stringed-instrument makers who had previously been to Palestine, learning to repair and make instruments. Today his workshop adjoins the Al Kamandjâti building in Ramallah.

Al Kamandjâti organises The Music Days Festival in June, in partnership with the French Cultural Centres Network. The festival lasts 12 days and takes place in more than ten Palestinian cities. A Baroque Music Festival follows in December and various churches in the cities of the West Bank and occupied Jerusalem host it.

Al Kamandjâti also engages in exchange programmes abroad with partner organisations. Some students have been given the opportunity to take part in music workshops abroad to improve their technical skills. Khalil, the coordinator, explains, “We had nine students who completed their scholarships in France last year — in violin, percussion, bass, clarinet and guitar, and two of them learnt how to fix string-section instruments.

“We have two blind brothers, Mohammad and Jihad, who today teach percussion and oud at the Helen Keller Centre in [occupied] Jerusalem,” he adds.

Today, Al Kamandjâti stands for Aburedwan’s transformation from a stone-pelter to a viola player and his dream of sharing his knowledge and experience with his people, bringing joy to the children growing up in refugee camps and under occupation.

This article appeared on http://www.albawaba.com/entertainment/palestine-camps-music-479027

Let Gaza surprise you!

By Samah Sabawi

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Gaza is one of the most reported on and yet least understood places on earth.  Its mere mention conjures up images of war victims, war criminals, piles of rubble, militants with guns, dead children and weeping mothers.  A simple google search will bring up disturbing images of heart break, terror and destruction.  But all of this is an infliction on a place that has neither surrendered its identity nor lost its beauty to decades of violent Israeli occupation.

Gaza is a city of many tales.  While some are about loss, grief and misery, many others are about enduring love, triumphant moments, tenacity, passion, music and hope that lives beyond the confines of the siege and the occupation.  If you dig deeper than the negative headlines and the devastating news reports you will find many pleasant surprises.  You can take a walk along Gaza’s gorgeous fields, enjoy its magical sunsets, get to know its warm people, visit its ancient sites and eat its delicious dishes.  You will find in Gaza everything that would make you love life with a passion!  So join me here to explore some of Gaza’s unknown side.

The Arts:

There is a common belief that Gaza’s art scene is all but dead.  While it may be true that art in general is not a great priority for the people in Gaza who are too concerned with bigger financial and political issues, Gazan artists continue to create and to excel in their fields.  There is also an appreciation of the need to encourage art in children starting from a young age.

One establishment worthy of salutation for supporting the arts is the Qattan Centre for the Child in Gaza.  This cultural centre is an oasis for the hearts and the minds of children.  Equipped with a large library painted in vibrant colors and comfortable eye soothing furniture the QCC in Gaza focuses on developing the children emotionally and intellectually through visual art, music, education, cultural events and much more.

Below are some images of the QCC in Gaza.  Keep in mind all of the paintings you’ll see in some of these photos were in fact painted by children under 15 years of age at the centre.

The Qattan center was built on land donated by the Gaza municipality and has succeeded in meeting its goal of creating an educational and stimulating space for children and their caregivers.  Parents are encouraged to join their children in the library, engage with them over art and craft activities, or just watch them proudly as they perform their song and dance routines.

Membership at the QCC is free of charge to all children in Gaza from all walks of life and some of the classes offered charge a small symbolic fee.  Many of the events are also free of charge such as the concerts captured in the video below that took place as part of the winter camp activities in January 2013.  In this video below you’ll see a variety of instruments, you’ll hear music of both Arab and western origins ranging from Gershwin to Darweesh.

Also worthy of special salutation is the Gaza Music School and its incredible teachers and talented children.  The children featured in the next video are nine years of age.  They are very dedicated to the art they practice in spite of all the challenges they face including Israel’s bombardment of the Gaza Music School  in 2009.

 

The landscape

The Gaza Strip is densely populated mostly by refugees who fled Israel’s war of ethnic cleansing in 1948 and have not been allowed to return to their homes since.  As the population continues to grow in the besieged strip the natural landscape changes to make way for more cement structures and buildings to accommodate this growth.

However, population growth is not the only challenge facing Gaza’s green spaces.  Agricultural land  is shrinking as Israel usurps more of Gaza’s water supplies and if that’s not enough, Israel’s siege, blockade, frequent bombardment and occasional land incursions have left their mark on many of Gaza’s farming land.  A recommended report that sheds great light on this is the UNISPAL report Farming without Land, Fishing without Water.

Below are two pics of bombed trees in our farm in Gaza. The first depicts a tree totally uprooted from the power of a one ton bomb blast.   The second photo  depicts a tree that was uprooted from the blast, flew in the air and actually landed straight on top of another tree.

Despite all of the challenges and the uncertainties of Israel’s incursions and bombings, some farmers have insisted on maintaining their land.  When visiting their farms you get a sense of what Gaza’s landscape looked like before Israel’s war of ethnic cleansing began.   You can imagine how before the refugees were chased into the far corners of their homeland to settle into camps under occupation, how most of Gaza’s natural landscape would have looked like.

The Sea

Perhaps the most important feature of Gaza is its sea.  It is the only landscape that remains unchanged, unaffected by the occupation and the aggression.  The sea is an open recreational space that is free of charge.  For Gazan families the sea is a cure for all of life’s problems.

The food

Finally, no matter where you go to in Palestine, you will always be overwhelmed with warm hospitality and great food.  Gaza is no different.  Here are some pics of some of my favourite dishes, but if you’re looking for a more comprehensive list along with recepies I highly recommend you visit The Gaza Kitchen.  Bon appétit or as they say in Gaza Saha we afya!

Gaza Artists Union Defends Culture From Political Warfare

Roughly 600 Gazan artists held a conference in Gaza City on Feb. 28 to form a new Palestinian artists’ union in a bid to preserve their work. The gathering of the General Union of Palestinian Artists is the first of its kind to be held in Gaza in two decades.

The conference sought to address Gaza’s neglected music and art scene, which has been hampered by war and Palestinian political division. Speaking to Al-Monitor, Yusuf Almeghari, a member of the conference steering committee, said that the gathering concluded with a series of recommendations, including electing a 78-member board, which would involve all the political parties in the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).

“I can tell you that many of those who attended had tears [in their eyes] because it was the first time we held such a gathering, which, we hope, will constitute the beginning of organized artistic activities across the territory,” Almeghari said.

Wars with Israel and political infighting between Hamas and Fatah have resulted in a lack of interest in Gaza’s art scene as well as funding for it. As a consequence, musicians in the Gaza Strip face significant challenges, including a dearth of professional training and fellow professional musicians.

Dwindling art in Gaza

In 1986, Mohammad Abu al-Seoud, a 50-year-old local musician in the central Gaza Strip town of Deir Elbalah, began composing and writing melodies for patriotic songs, but the veteran composer stopped working in 2004, citing a lack of support from authorities.

“I have spent all my life in music, and I have performed many melodies, even on Palestine TV prior to the 2007 political split in Gaza. Yet, I have increasingly felt disappointed as the musical scene in Gaza has become worse than ever, mainly because of the lack of music schools and professional training,” Seoud told Al-Monitor at his modest family home.

One band that took part in the conference was the National Band for Folkloric Palestinian Arts, which is one of the few leading national bands in the occupied Gaza Strip that primarily performs patriotic songs.

“Our band was established in 1996, and since then it has taken part in a series of performances locally and regionally, including festivals in Haifa, which was a Palestinian city prior to 1948, as well as in Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia,” said Walid Ataiya, the band’s deputy director. The band consists of 35 members, including 7 women between the ages of 18 and 25, who perform the folkloric Levantine dabka dance.

In addition to producing new content, the band also revives famous Palestinian nationalist poetry, such as the late Mahmoud Darwish’s “We Can Never Forget Our Ancestors, We Can Never Forget the Days of Dignity,” Ataiya explained. The band’s ability to perform in Gaza, however, has been routinely disrupted since 2006 due to the political climate.

Fatah-Hamas split harms music scene

According to Swailam Alabsi, a well-known scenarist and film director in Gaza, the composition of patriotic songs has suffered because of a lack of patronage by the relevant authorities, as well as the absence of music schools, as reported by Asmaa al-Ghoul.

Patriotic music, once a hallmark of Palestine’s national resistance movement, has fractured along factional lines, according to Alabsi. “I personally have written hundreds of patriotic songs since 1967. The songs used to promote national trends, but since the Oslo peace accords, unfortunately, patriotic songs have begun to appear in different forms and colors, each representing a political faction,” he said.

Regardless, the national band continues to write patriotic songs that “only go with the national aspirations of the Palestinian people,” Alabsi explained.

“Even in the time of Oslo itself, I personally composed a song that was anti-Palestinian Authority corruption during the time of late President Yasser Arafat himself. Arafat told me, ‘Do not worry Swailam, the situation will get better,’” he said.

The internal split among Palestinian factions resulted in the national band being used as a political weapon of Hamas and Fatah. The band has faced restrictions in Gaza and an attempted takeover by the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank.

“We have been facing lots of restrictions from local authorities here. For instance, they will not allow us to broadcast a certain song on a local radio station, or they prevent a certain singer from performing a certain song. We want real patronage of patriotic clips or songs that reflect the national Palestinian scene independent of any political affiliation,” Alabsi said while calling for Hamas and Fatah to repair their differences.

Nahed al-Hour, director of the national band, revealed that PA President Mahmoud Abbas had issued a decree three years ago to place the band under the auspices of the Ramallah-based authority.

“So far, such a decree has not seen the light for reasons that we do not know,” he said, appealing to all parties concerned to support his band and respect its non-partisan stance.

Union brings hope

The formation of the new union is in response to the neglect and politicization of Gaza’s art scene. Among the recommendations are, according to Almeghari, establishing acting and music schools in Gaza, having musicians and actors participate in festivals abroad to represent Palestinian art and folklore, and holding local shows at public theaters to generate much-needed income for the continued development of the arts in Gaza.

Almeghari emphasized that those elected at the conference will represent the Gaza union at an upcoming general summit for the Palestinian arts, to be held in either Ramallah or Gaza. The new union is part of a growing movement of grassroots Palestinians frustrated with the continued political division between Hamas and Fatah negatively affecting Palestinian life.

“We deeply hope that the current political split will come to an end once and for all and that we Palestinian artists will have our own home for all of us, irrespective of political affiliations,” Almeghari said.

Editor’s note: Yusuf Almeghari is a relative of the author.

Rami Almeghari is an independent journalist based in Gaza.

This article appeared here  http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2013/03/gaza-forms-new-artist-union.html#ixzz2MPpx3o1P

Three Wishes in the Media

Three Wishes:  Ottawa Gladstone Theatre December 2008 

War from the eyes of a child – Education – New play focuses on Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Orléans Star 12-07-31 11:56 PM Published on December 5th, 2008

Divided by conflict and witnesses to violence, Israeli and Palestinian children speak out about their fears, hopes and dreams in a new Ottawa play that features two east-end teens in leading roles.

The stage adaptation of Deborah Ellis’ controversial book, Three Wishes: Palestinian and Israeli Children Speak, captures the honesty and straightforwardness only a child can share when the world around them is in turmoil. The production, written and produced by Ottawa’s Samah Sabawi and sponsored by the Arab-Jewish dialogue group Potlucks for Peace, puts the spotlight on three Palestinian stories and three Israeli stories. The play is performed on a split stage at the Gladstone Theatre, divided by a concrete wall topped with barbed-wire. It is on either side of this wall the lives of these children and their families unfold.

While every word in the play is lifted from the book, Sabawi has broken the dialogue up so a number of characters speak. For example, 18- year-old Hassan’s narrative has been cut so his family also shares in the storytelling. “It’s more like a conversation,” Sabawi explains.

Colonel By’s Kiera Polak, 15, plays the role of Yanal, a 14-year-old Palestinian girl. “I’ve learned a lot through the play,” she says, noting children in the Middle East have gone through hard times and want things to be fixed.

Meanwhile Orléans resident Dergham Shahrouii plays Hassan, who lives in a refugee camp in the West Bank. Injured by Israeli shelling, Hassan is confined to a wheelchair. On the other side of the wall is Artov, a Jewish teen whose family immigrated to Israel from Russia and is struggling to understand the meaning of being Jewish and being connected to the state of Israel. “These kids talk about the simple, human need to live a normal life,” Sabawi says of the interviews from the book. “(They talk about) how conflict affects their life at a personal level.”

The book, she continues, is “very compelling. These are real stories and real experiences.”

Sabawi read the book about three years ago after her then-nine-year-old son read it and put together a speech for class. The kids in the book, she explains, are so honest – there’s no politics. “I just loved reading their words.”

The children’s book gained infamy in 2006 when the Canadian Jewish Congress questioned the inclusion of the book in the Silver Birch reading program. At least four school boards in Ontario, including the Toronto District School Board, pulled the book from their shelves. While some said the request to remove the book was about age-appropriateness, others indicated it was a political move.

Sabawi, who says parents are the best judge of what their children can take, doesn’t recommend the play for those under the age of eight. “The play is about kids in a conflict zone,” she explains. “This is serious stuff.”

Hoping to raise awareness with her production, Sabawi notes that people tend to discuss the conflict in “grown-up” terms with maps, statistics and borders. The conversation is distant and sometimes the human cost is forgotten, she continues. “The Middle East is not about angry men or Paris or fights between extremists,” Sabawi says. “People live there and their stories need to be told.” “Three Wishes” runs until Dec. 13 at the Gladstone Theatre, 910 Gladstone Ave. Tickets are $25 and can be purchased by phone at 613-233-4523 or online at http://www.thegladstone.ca

 

Gaza audience feedback following the public reading of Tales of a City by the Sea

Photo Gallery: Gaza public reading of Tales of a City by the Sea

A reading of the play Tales of a City by the Sea took place in Gaza city at the Qattan Centre for the Child followed by a discussion on January 17th  2013.   The reading was part of ongoing efforts by international artists to break the cultural siege of Gaza and to work collaboratively with local talent.  What resulted from this event was a profound experience for both the writer, the cast and the audience.  The audience feedback (video will be uploaded next week) highlighted the need for creating more space for cultural and artistic events in the besieged Gaza strip.

The Gaza team from left: Khaled Harara, Eman Hilles, Sameeha Olwan, Ayman Qwaider, Mohammed Ghalayini, Manar Zimmo, Alaa Shoublaq, Samah Sabawi, Mahmoud Hammad, Najwan Anbar, Alia Abu Oriban and Ayah Abubasheer.

Sameeha Olwan

Sameeha Olwan reading the part of Jomana.

From left: Mohammed Ghalayini, Ayman Qwaider and Mahmoud Hammad

From left Mohammed Ghalayini reading the part of Rami, Ayman Qwaider reading the part of Ali and Mahmoud Hammad as Mohanad.

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Manar Zimmo reading the part of Lama.

From left:  Mahmoud Hammad, Alaa Shoublaq, Mohammed Ghalayini and Ayman Qwaider

From left:  Mahmoud Hammad as Mohanad Alaa Shoublaq as Abu Ahmed, Mohammed Ghalayini as Rami and Ayman Qwaider as Ali.

Eman Hilles

Eman Hilles was the narrator of our Tales.

Mohamad Akilah

Gaza esteemed musician Mohamad Akilah.

Najwan F. Anbar

Najwan Anbar reading the part of Um Ahmed