Get your tickets now to Melbourne production of Tales of a City by the Sea – a Palestinian story of love, separation and beautiful resistance

Tales of a City by the Sea

NOVEMBER 12 – NOVEMBER 23

BUY TICKETS

Written by Samah Sabawi

Directed by Lech Mackiewicz
Assistant Director: Izabella Mackiewicz
Performed by Nicole Chamoun, Osamah Sami, Emily Coupe, Majid Shokor, Wahibe Moussa, Reece Vella, Aseel Tayeh, Ubaldino Mantelli and Cara Whitehouse

Set design by Lara Week
Lighting design by Shane Grant
Sound design by Khaled Sabsabi
Sound mix by Max Schollar-Root
Stage Manager: James O’Donoghue
Assistant Stage Manager: Nada Mustafa

Website: Aya El-Zinati
Photographer: Ahmad Sabra
Poster design by Ahmad Sabra and Aya El-Zinati


NOVEMBER 12 – NOVEMBER 23
Wednesday 6.30pm
Thursday 7.30pm
Friday 7.30pm
Saturday 7.30pm
Sunday 4:00 pm
Full $25
Concession $15
Phone bookings: 03 9347 6142

Tickets can be booked up until 4:00 pm 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.

La Mama Courthouse Theatre
349 Drummond St. Carlton Vic 3053
(03) 9347 6948

Palestinian Theatre: a casualty of war and a tool of resistance

The Gaza production of our Palestinian love story Tales of a City by the Sea which is soon be staged in Melbourne and in the West Bank, has fallen causality to Israel’s most recent war.

The play, which was set to premier in Gaza, the West Bank and Melbourne at the same time this November explores Palestinian life and love under siege and against the backdrop of Israel’s assault on Gaza in 2008-09.   Never did we imagine that we would be staging the play at a time when Gaza has just faced a far more brutal assault that has reduced more than half of the city into rubble and has caused so many deaths and injuries.

Our Gaza team, who were set to begin rehearsals this month, have suffered the loss of loved ones, the total destruction of their beloved neighborhoods and the absolute terror of 50 days of constant and indiscriminate bombardment. The situation in Gaza today is far worst than ever before.

Unfortunately, given the widespread devastation the city has been left with, the psychological trauma the people are reeling from and the inadequacy of even the most basic of infrastructure, the staging of the play in Gaza has been postponed.

In Melbourne as in the West Bank, the production of this play has become more important than ever. Both at the La Mama theatre in Melbourne and at the Alrowwad Cultural and Theatre Society in Aida Refugee Camp in the West Bank, we are now determined to bring the tales of the people of Gaza to life by using theatre as a means of raising awareness and encouraging ‘beautiful resistance’, an expression coined by Alrowwad’s director Abdelfattah Abusrour.

So with heavy hearts we will continue this project without our Gaza partners. This defiant old city by the sea Gaza deserves to have its theatre; its artists deserve to have space for their creativity and its people deserve to have normal lives. But none of that seems to be possible in the face of the ongoing military occupation, the siege, the bombardment and with the complicity of a silent world.

As we move forward with our productions in Melbourne and in the West Bank, we would like to dedicate our efforts to raising awareness about the plight of the people in Gaza.  We hope we can count on your continued support.

We have a cast! Rehearsals underway for tales of love and war in Gaza to premier at La Mama Courthouse this November

We are pleased to announce that the cast and crew for the theatre production of Tales of a City by the Sea is now fully assembled.  We are looking forward to finally staging this Palestinian story of love and separation in Melbourne.  This  play was written a few years ago during the aftermath of Israel’s assault on Gaza in 2008-2009. It was intended to be a celebration of a people’s ability to rise from the ashes of war. Never did we think that we’d be producing the play at a time when Gaza is living through yet another period of war and destruction.

This play was also scheduled to be staged in Gaza and in the West Bank in Arabic this year but we are still waiting to learn the fate of our Palestinian productions under these extreme and horrific circumstances. Our hearts go out to them as we begin our journey of bringing to life the voices and tales of that battered old city by the sea.

More updates and a full list of cast and crew will be posted later in the week. For now, here is a sneak preview:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

Palestinian actor Thaer Yassin on importance of staging a love story in Gaza theatre

This is part of our Tales of a City by the Sea video series. To learn more about this project click on the home page, or visit our youtube channel  and watch other short videos from the various key artists involved in this project. We are now half way through our fundraising campaign.  Please bring us closer to our goal by making a donation, and by helping us spread the word by way of sharing our videos on social media and talking to your friends about this unique new and exciting project.

In Video: Gaza actors deliver message to the world through theatre

La Mama Artistic Director on the importance of staging Palestinian theatre in Australia

Premiering November 11, 2014Tales of a City by the Sea, a Palestinian story of love and separation will be brought to life on three different stages in three cities, in two languages (Arabic and English) within three different artistic interpretations. This is not just a play, it is an act of beautiful resistance.

Tales of a City by the Sea will be staged by La Mama in Melbourne Australia, AlRowwad theatre in Aida refugee camp in the West Bank and by Ashtar theatre in Gaza city.

Please help us make this dream possible.

Fundraising for the Palestinian productions is done in partnership with  Olive Kids

btn_donateCC_LG

All donations from this campaign will be used for the Palestinian productions in Gaza and in the West Bank. Any surplus proceeds from the Palestinian productions will be used to sponsor youth projects in Palestine, including literature award for youth writers and workshops to promote freedom of expression through art. 

Synopsis 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.

About the playwright Samah Sabawi is a Palestinian-Canadian-Australian 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.

 For further inquiries and for information on corporate sponsorships please email play3wishes@gmail.com

 

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)

A CELEBRATION OF PALESTINIAN CULTURE in Southern California (Sept. 30 – October 6, 2013)

Levantine Review

WHILE the Obama Administration with envoy John Kerry pursues a renewed path to peace between Israelis and Palestinians, an American and Palestinian interfaith coalition presents a week of Palestinian cultural arts programming in Southern California, from Sept. 30 – October 6, 2013.

A CELEBRATION OF PALESTINIAN CULTURE (celebratepalestine.org) is an enlightening cultural festival that shares stories of the Holy Land and celebrates Palestinian creativity. Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb, with Bright Stars of Bethlehem says, “Our aim is that our people, who admire stars, will dare to look up and dream, to believe in goals to strive for, and develop a new sense of hope, community, beauty and faith.” Jordan Elgrably, director of the Levantine Cultural Center, adds, “It’s time for a new vision of what it means to be Palestinian–one that celebrates the nation’s creativity, imagination and resourcefulness.”

To enrich participants’ experience of Palestinian culture, CELEBRATION is a multimedia experience with an art exhibition, feature film screenings followed by Q&As with the directors, public conversations, and live performances by the avant-garde Diyar Dance Theatre from Bethlehem, and the international Palestinian hip-hop sensation, DAM. CELEBRATION will showcase UNDER THE SAME SUN, the new feature film from Sameh Zoabi, the writer/director of MAN WITHOUT A CELL PHONE. The series also showcases IT’S BETTER TO JUMP, the award-winning documentary from directors Patrick Stewart/Gina M. Angelone. Additional directors’ screenings premiering in the U.S. are THE STONES CRY OUT, a documentary that tells the story of Palestinian Christians.

Read more 

Radio New Zealand: Dr Rand Hazou on Palestinian theatre and ‘beautiful resistance’

The importance of theatre for refugees and asylum seekers is demonstrated by Handala, an Alrowwad Theatre production at Aida Refugee camp in Bethlehem, and the inspiration behind the concept of ‘Beautiful Resistance’ with Dr Rand Hazou, Lecturer in Theatre with the Expressive Arts programme at Massey University.  Listen to interview.

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

Read more about this project here

A message to the Israeli Occupation Forces who fear Palestinian Children

According to the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, a 5-year-old Palestinian boy was detained by seven Israeli soldiers after throwing a stone on July 9th 2013. It is estimated that Israeli authorities arrest 700 Palestinian children every year.

You…

In the army uniform

Rifle in hand

And finger on the trigger

Standing on a hill

Dressed to kill

Breathing in the still

Air of the night

Breathing in

Every drop of light

Leaving only darkness

Breathing in

Every open field

Every tree

Every rock

Breathing in

Our space

Consuming us

And consuming all that surrounds us

You inhale our land

Our freedom

And exhale only oppression

You breathe out insecurity

And fear

Spew toxic words

Your lies

Pollute the atmosphere

Suffocating us

With tyranny

But nothing here

Nothing here

Nothing

Here

Can save you

Nothing can assure you

Or put your mind at ease

Nothing

No armor

No guns

No bombs

Can protect you

From our existence

Nothing you do

Can match

Our resistance

The cries of our babies

Are fierce

To your colonial ears

The cries of our babies

Are fierce

They penetrate you

And pierce

Through your armour

Dissolving it

Like white phosphorous

You

In the army uniform

Inside your tank

Wrapped in steel

Why do you fear

Walking amongst us

Our streets are filled with children

Does that terrorize you

You shoot one

Maim another

Arrest a few

But deep down you know

They will out live you

Out grow you

Out survive you

Their anger will explode

Inside you

So put down your guns

And take your drones out of our sky

Let our children paint it

Pastel blue

With a smiling sun

And a colourful rainbow

London: Whole in the Wall first UK solo exhibition by Palestinian artist Khaled Jarrar

Yareah Magazine: This exciting body of work, which includes a new site-specific participatory installation, will be shown in London from 20 June – 3 August 2013.

Khaled Jarrar. Whole in the Wall. Ayyam Gallery London

Khaled Jarrar, Still image from video ‘Concrete’, 2012

Inspired by everyday events and experiences, Jarrar’s practice incorporates performance, video, photography and sculpture to document his observations on life in an occupied Palestine. The restrictions imposed on him and his fellow citizens have become the catalyst and subject of his occasionally satirical artistic output.
One of the highlights of the exhibition is an installation which will see Jarrar construct an imposing concrete wall extending along the length of the gallery; confronting the viewer immediately upon entering the space. In order to pass through the wall visitors will have to clamber through a hole shaped like Palestine – an allegory for the process endured by people crossing the apartheid wall in the West Bank in order to reach their homes in Palestine.
Alongside this installation, Jarrar will show a series of video works and new and recent concrete sculptures based on sporting paraphernalia: footballs, volleyballs, basketballs and ping pong rackets. These are formed from materials secretly chiseled by the artist from the separation wall. By making reference to the footballs left by the wall by children who use the area as a site for their games, and by repurposing this found material, Jarrar seeks to provoke a dialogue about possession and reclamation.
Other recent projects include Live and Work in Palestine (2011 – present) – an entry stamp Jarrar created for the ‘State of Palestine’, which he then stamped into the passports of tourists entering Ramallah. Designed to encourage a collaboration with his audience, the project enabled them to formally record their visit to a ‘stateless’ place – a symbolic gesture to interrogate the gap between an aspirational state and an actualised one. Jarrar has since performed this action in other countries, including the at the Pompidou in Paris and the Norwegian Nobel Institute in Oslo, as well as the 2012 Berlin Biennale; there Jarrar pointed to ‘Checkpoint Charlie’ as a key source of inspiration for the touring project.
A former captain of the Palestinian Presidential Guard, Jarrar is familiar with bureaucracy, politics, military discipline, and affairs of the state. This previous career informs his artistic practice, and much of his work has focused on the action of breaking free from disciplinary modes of being and subverting existing codes of conduct. Whilst explicitly addressing the ownership of land and displacement of people, Jarrar treads carefully but with authority, and offers a potent alternative account of life in an occupied Palestine.
This article appeared in Yareah Magazine

AlJazeera: Palestinians celebrate festival of dance

Away from the factional politics and the tensions, residents of the West Bank have been celebrating on the streets.

The second international dance festival in Ramallah has provided Palestinians with a rare chance to dance their woes away.

Al Jazeera’s Nour Odeh reports.

More from: Aljazeera English

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

Suicide Note from Palestine: New play opens at The Freedom Theatre on April 4

One day before her final exams, Amal has a concerning nightmare: she is Palestine and she has decided to die.

Amal’s nightmare drafts between confusion, torture and despair – notions set as strange characters that symbolise some of the key players in world politics that shape the land, history, politics and the occupation of her country. Interrogated and manipulated, Amal is forced into a comatose state and can barely speak.

– This play is important because it’s pointing at the place of the pain inside the Palestinian people’s minds and hearts, says the Director, Nabil Al-Raee.

Suicide Note from Palestine is a window into the younger generation of Palestine; a generation just as hopeless about their present as they are about the future. The play provides a rare glimpse on the general depression, confusion and concerns of a people regarding its land.

Suicide Note from Palestine is a physical video/visual art performance, inspired by 4:48 Psychosis by Sarah Kane. It is an exploration of identity and uses social satire to present an image of the national trauma of the Palestinian people.

Suicide Note from Palestine is performed at The Freedom Theatre, Jenin Refugee Camp:
Thursday April 4 Première @16:00
Saturday April 6 @12:00 and @16:00
Sunday April 7 @12:00 and @16:00

For more information visit The Freedom Theatre website.

‘Otherwise Occupied’: Palestinian artists to exhibit at 2013 Venice Biennale

Palestinian artists at this year’s Venice Biennale showcase installations tackling issues such as alienation, identity and conflict.

Ahram Online,

Monday 11 Mar 2013

‘Otherwise Occupied’, an exhibition of Palestinian artwork at the 55th edition of the prestigious Venice Biennale, will be held from 29 May until 30 June, presenting a neutral space in which Palestinian artists can showcase their art.

The exhibition is organised by The Palestinian Art Court (Al Hoash), a Jerusalem based non-profit organization seeking to develop Palestinian visual arts as a tool for expression and communication, and curated by Bruce Ferguson, Dean of the School of Humanities and Social Science at the American University in Cairo. Bruce Ferguson and Al Hoash director Rawan Sharaf, will feature the work of two globally acclaimed Palestinian artists; Bashir Makhoul and Aissa Deebi as part of the exhibition.

“’Otherwise Occupied’ describes other ways of imagining the nation outside and beyond the conflict; it is therefore a means of artistic and critical thinking through the de-territorialization of Palestine,” reads the curatorial statement.

Both Palestine-born artists have emigrated, yet continue to create artwork abroad that somehow redefines their roots. Both artists are “in continuous search of new ways to imagine the nation from a distance,” according to the the press release.

UK based artist and head of the Winchester School of Arts at Southampton University, Bashir Makhoul, will exhibit a large-scale installation project entitled “Giardino Occupato” at this year’s Venice Biennale. Thousands of cardboard boxes, assembled by members of the public during the show, will be shown in the garden of the Liceo Artistico Statale di Venezia, simulating a shanty town, or refugee camp, probing questions regarding the spaces and shelters that have emerged in the wake of conflict and occupation.

While Makhloul is occupied with raising questions about the impact of war on the livelihoods of people, his work often offers political critiques on various issues, Aissa Deebi is more concerned with issues of cultural-migration, his work investigating notions of alienation and identity. Deebi is based between Cairo and New York, and is currently the Director of the Visual Cultures Program at the American University in Cairo.

In ‘Otherwise Occupied, Deebi exhibits a series of drawings, and an installation recreating a speech by the Palestinian citizen of Israel, Daoud Turki, who tried “to advance an idea against the paranoid Zionist fantasy of conflict toward the larger idea of a socialist class struggle, proclaiming solidarity with ‘…all workers, peasants and those persecuted in Israeli society.'”

This article first appeared here .

Arab Australian photographer Sabra a finalist in the Qantas Spirit of Youth awards

Gazing at a portrait of Gaza

f0de429e-2b5c-4479-9392-97f62be7c33d

Stephanie Zevenbergen

March 5, 2013

Hume Weekly 

HIS photographs portray a silent picture of suffering in Palestine, of people stuck in violent conflict.

Telling the stories of refugees in Palestine through photography is close to Ahmad Sabra’s heart.

For the 27-year-old Broadmeadows resident, a recent trip to the Gaza Strip in Palestine proved memorable in more ways than one. Firstly, it was a trip back to his native land; now the photos he took there are receiving accolades in Australia.

Sabra, a photographer, is one of 13 national finalists in the Qantas spirit of youth awards 365 (SOYA), which offer the first-prize winner $5000 for air travel.

Last year, across 11 categories, SOYA drew more than 20,000 entries from more than 2400 young artists, designers, filmmakers, photographers and musicians.

Sabra is also one of 53 finalists for the National Portrait Gallery’s national photographic portrait prize. The winner takes home $25,000.

He says photographing refugees has personal meaning for him as he migrated to Australia from Lebanon in 1997. ‘‘I have a soft spot for them,’’ he says. ‘‘Growing up in Lebanon we used to see all the refugee camps. Going back to Gaza and seeing their living conditions motivated me to do more with Palestine.’’

Sabra’s work includes portraits of Palestinian orphans, young refugees and fishermen.

The photo he entered in the National Portrait Gallery is of a child whose father was killed by Israel.

‘‘The child in the orphanage has got a quirky smile on his face,’’ he says.

‘‘Most of the people in Gaza are refugees. My whole idea was to document living as a refugee.

‘‘Government policies in Australia should be supporting the Palestinian cause. Another reason I take these photos is to raise awareness of what they go through and to possibly help.’’

The national photographic portrait prize-winner will be announced on Thursday and the SOYA winner on March 11.

This article appeared in Hume Weekly

(A correction was made since this article was first posted, Hume Weekly made an error  Sabra is of  Syrian Arab origin, therefore the title of this posting changed from Palestinian Australian to Arab Australian.  Thanks to Sabra for bringing this to my attention)

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