Opinion: Vision of everyday life in Palestine too bleak for some

The Age June 2, 2016
Samah Sabawi

“Our story resonates with refugees, ethnic minorities, asylum seekers and immigrants, who after each performance feel the need to thank us for finally reflecting their lives on stage, telling stories of how humanity can survive in times of adversity and war and producing theatre that matters to them. The voiceless. The marginalised.”

 

My play Tales of a City by the Sea sold out its 2014 and 2016 seasons to standing ovations by many, including people from a Jewish background. Despite this overwhelming support, a small yet vocal group hit the panic button when the play was selected for the VCE drama curriculum.

It seems that I, the writer, missed the memo that I can’t write an artistic piece about Palestinian life without inserting Israel’s point of view into my art. This is wrong on so many levels.

Most alarming was the false accusation by the B’nai B’rith organisation that the play “peddles classic anti-semitic themes” (ABC radio, May 27). For the record, the play does not mention Jews, Judaism, the Jewish people or have any Jewish characters. This false allegation insults me as the author of this play as well as others including the cast and crew, La Mama theatre, the VCAA, the Australian Jewish Democratic Society as well as any one else who supported, attended, applauded and worked on this production.

I believe B’nai B’rith must apologise unequivocally to all of us. Anti-Semitism must always be taken seriously. False claims of anti-Semitism used to drive political agendas only trivialise and undermine our fight and resolve to eradicate it and other forms of racism.

Some criticised the play for not including Israeli voices. The reality is the only times Israeli voices are heard in Gaza is when an Israeli soldier phones a Palestinian family and orders them to leave their house before it is bombed, over a megaphone if a Palestinian boat gets too close to the forbidden line in the sea, or when a Palestinian walks too close to the fence that surrounds Gaza and Israeli soldiers shout at them from the surveillance towers to turn back.

The sad reality is that there are no human interactions between Palestinians in Gaza and Israelis outside of this paradigm. Palestinians know the Israelis are there all the time, surveying them with drones in the sky, cameras on the walls and towers and naval gunships at sea. Had Israeli voices been included, this would have been the realistic depiction as experienced by Gazans. But they were not included because all of this was irrelevant to the play.

What the critics don’t seem to grasp is this play is not about the Palestine/Israel conflict. Ordinary Palestinian life in Gaza does not revolve around political discussion. It is consumed with the daily battle for survival.

The two Palestinians falling in love in this play argue over where to live, what choices to make and the cultural differences between those who have left and those who have remained. The husband and wife in this play argue over how to make the water, a precious and increasingly scarce resource in Gaza, last longer.

Inserting a conversation about Hamas rockets and the Israeli army’s point of view would have seemed unnatural and out of place in the context of daily lives. The play touches only briefly on politics to the extent that it mixes with daily life, for example when characters complain about Hamas’ restrictions on civil liberties or when a fisherman recalls his encounter with Israeli naval ships at sea.

I spent the last two years researching with my Jewish Canadian co-editor Stephen Orlov the subject of Jewish and Palestinian plays as we gathered material for our soon-to-be-published anthology Double Exposure: Plays of the Jewish Palestinian Diasporas (Canada Playwrights Press). The more we researched the more we noted the scarcity of Palestinian plays actually produced in western theatres. Here in Australia, I can’t think of a staged play that had one Palestinian character or was written by a Palestinian.

It is perhaps for this reason, and for the fact that culturally diverse groups in general are under-represented on the mainstream stage, that Tales of a City by the Sea is received with such enthusiasm. Our audience is as diverse as our cast. Our story resonates with refugees, ethnic minorities, asylum seekers and immigrants, who after each performance feel the need to thank us for finally reflecting their lives on stage, telling stories of how humanity can survive in times of adversity and war and producing theatre that matters to them. The voiceless. The marginalised.

Tales of a City by the Sea is a quintessential human story of survival and hope, and its events could have taken place anywhere there is war, bombardment and siege. But because it is set in Gaza and told by Palestinians, the play triggered this hyperbole of fear-mongering and racist reactions from those who refuse to see Palestinians as human beings. The problem with this play is not that it may dehumanise Israelis – it does not. The problem is it humanises the Palestinians. Apparently, for some, this is too much to handle.

Samah Sabawi is a Melbourne-based commentator, poet, author and playwright.

This oped was first published in The Age on June 2, 2016.  Original article at this link http://www.theage.com.au/comment/vision-of-everyday-life-in-palestine-too-bleak-for-some-20160602-gp9tmc.html#ixzz4AYRFxmci

 

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 prepares for Christmas: “the people of Gaza cling to life…the smiles of the children attest to it … the happy mothers … the open shops, the noisy traffic…Gaza vibrates with life”

Posted on Dec 18, 2012 in DioceseSlide

GAZA – Traditionally, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, His Beatitude Fouad Twal, visits the parish of the Holy Family in Gaza before Christmas.  He did this year on the third Sunday of Advent and celebrated Christmas Mass for the faithful in Gaza.  The communications team of the Latin Patriarchate was in Gaza three days early and met with the parishioners in anticipation of this visit.

This year, Christmas has a special dimension for Catholics of the Holy Family Parish in Gaza. In the three weeks since the end of the Israeli operation “Column of Defense,” the parish has seen the ceasefire as “a miracle.”  Patriarch Fouad Twal who went for the first time to Gaza since the ceasefire,  explained in his Sunday homily that “Christmas is a gift from Heaven, but the good will of men so that there may be peace is also needed.”  He also invited Christians “to live a strong faith”  in order to continue living in this Holy Land where the Holy Family passed during the flight to Egypt and to remember that “even Jesus suffered injustice.”  According to the parish priest, Father Jorge Hernandez, IVE: “the parishioners are very appreciative of this visit and it is also a little of Jerusalem that came here to them, and this touches them very much in their faith life.”  To thank all those who supported them with their prayers and their gifts during the war, the parish celebrated an official Mass of Thanksgiving. The pastor said “that they all know we have prayed for them.”

After yesterday’s Mass, the Patriarch, together with  Bishop Marcuzzo, Vicar inIsrael, as customary, met with the families for the exchange of Christmas greetings. The General Administrator of the Patriarchate, Fr. Humam Khzouz, who coordinated the entrance of the delegation to the Gaza Strip and the Chancellor, Fr. George Ayoub, were also part of the Patriarchal delegation.

The small Catholic parish of the Holy Family has exactly 185 faithful. Among the 1.6 million Gaza inhabitants, a crowded area of 360 sq. kilometers, there are 1,550 Christians (Greek Orthodox for the most part) now only half of the 3,000 in 2008.

 

Christmas, however, will be celebrated after the bombs.  So life goes on in Gaza. Eight days of mass destruction left  traces on houses, public buildings and schools. Along the roads are found several ruins as those of the football stadium where the stands collapsed after the stadium was struck by bombs. In the midst of the rubble, violence still resonates and on their faces “exhaustion is seen by the dark circles around the eyes” as Bishop Marcuzzo noted yesterday.

By this, we must recognize, the people of Gaza cling to life. The smiles of the children attest to it in front of our photo cameras, the happy mothers and the daring of their sons, the open shops, the noisy traffic. In fact, Gaza vibrates with life. Men, women, children confronted with violence, scarcity, the conservatism that strongly rules daily life, they suffer from a high unemployment rate (60% of the population) and from the weight of the days without some distraction. But the inhabitants here also live the joyful feasts and marriages. In the Catholic parish, for example, there are on average 1- 2 marriages and 3 – 4 baptisms a year.

Immediately after the ceasefire, the three Catholic schools of the Gaza Strip, which accommodate 1500 students of which the overwhelming majority are Muslims, organized the resumption of classes. The two Catholic schools of the Holy Family reopened their doors. The School of the Rosary Sisters instead had to wait until the following Monday in order to repair broken windows because of the explosions. “The winter cold was arriving and they needed to act quickly” says Sister Davida, Principal of the School. In this school where four Rosary Sisters serve, the principal tells of the resuming of classes: “many children made great effort to concentrate after thirty minutes of class. Some psychologists from Caritas came to help them restart by playing and singing. Restoring to a child the sense of security is a long process.”

The relentless drama continues in the interior of each person. Father Jorge Hernandez noted, together with the School Principal, different problems in children of school age. “When the bell announces the end of classes, when an airplane flies above their heads, some students are afraid” they explain. “Other children stay in small groups near the walls. They always have the behavior of war. They are afraid of the silence, of the grand silence.” The Pastor then says “In Gaza now, when a child begins school, he has already seen two wars. And he is not yet 4 or 5 years old.”

 

To these children born in war and who live in war, the parish proposes a pastoral life of prayer  and playful activity to help them grow “normally” in this little strip of overpopulated land that suffers the embargo by its neighbors. More than ever the religious communities that live in Gaza strain themselves to do everything to help the faithful of the parish, but also the Orthodox and the Muslims so that they catch again their breath after the recent events. The parish is supported by three sisters of the Incarnate Word Institute, to which the pastor also belongs as well as the new parochial vicar, Father Mario, who arrived just three weeks ago.

At their side work the Rosary Sisters and the Missionary Sisters of Charity of Mother Teresa, who are dedicated to disable children. Through “the festive oratorio”, children, parents and families can lead an almost normal life. There are some beautiful moments, the people come to develop themselves, to pray, to see each other and to play. So as in the streets of Gaza, also in the parish life resumes its rights, forgetting the daily problems of security, the health services but also the constant problems with electricity.

The parish is an island of life, where calm seems reestablished again, away from the images of a Gaza “ghost city”. Of course, they have rediscovered their life, but with an embargo. As the Patriarch has said on several occasions “the people of Gaza do not have a normal life. They live in an open-air prison.” On Saturday afternoon, before the arrival of the Patriarch, in the parish courtyard some youth were playing ball, the scout band had its rehearsals, the crib was ready, the Christmas tree decorated, the divan straightened up and the Sunday lunch prepared.  It is here that the Patriarch greeted the parishioners the following day, extending to them personally his Christmas wishes.

A mother of a family who welcomed us for Friday evening dinner said: “We will resume our daily life. It was really a very hard period, it was not easy, but with the children we are ready to celebrate Christmas. We need it to live well.” The Christmas tree, the crib, the imminent birth of a fifth child shows that there is life here. Right here! And in our parish we are preparing for Christmas with forgetting the sick and elderly persons. In the ten days that precede the Christmas feast, the pastor visits 4 elderly or sick (that is, 40 persons in all) each evening in the company of a small delegation of youth and the Sisters of the Incarnate Word. We shared in four of these meetings. The visitors, about fifteen, this evening, in the blue night of the Holy Land joined together in prayers and songs, distributing holy water and small gifts. Sometimes the priest administers the anointing of the sick. Father Jorge explains: “For three years, since I am here, I saw that this little round of visits interests many. In the beginning we started with five, now the movement has expanded. All the youth today want to participate. We are obliged to organize turns. During the year, we also distribute communion to the sick. At times it also happens that   2-3 scouts come along to offer their service.

On Tuesday, December 18, the Latin Church in Gaza expects 450 persons for the traditional “Christmas Concert” organized every years at this time of years in the context of the Baroque Music Festival, supported by the service of Cultural Cooperation of the French General Consulate in Jerusalem. On the evening of December 24, maybe some parishioners will have obtained permission from the Israeli authorities to go for Christmas Eve in Bethlehem. But all cannot have it. Those who remain in Gaza will welcome near the living crib His Excellency, Bishop Shomali, Auxiliary Bishop for Jerusalem who will spend Christmas Night in the company of the Parish faithful. And not only that… as many non-Catholics will come to rejoice at the coming on earth of the Prince of Peace and to pray with the pastor who has a message of Christmas:  “that the Savior may give His peace to the people of Gaza and especially to the leaders of the region. That He may also give us the strength to continue advancing.”

Christophe Lafontaine

Click here for more Christmas in Gaza images or go this link https://picasaweb.google.com/medialpj/LePatriarcheAGazaPourNoel2012#slideshow/5822930124911516418