Interview with Iranian/Australian Writer & Actor Osamah Sami by Kyriaki Maragozidis. Originally broadcast 13/6/16 Live to Air on Voiceprint Arts, Three D Radio 93.7fm in South Australia.
Interview with Iranian/Australian Writer & Actor Osamah Sami by Kyriaki Maragozidis. Originally broadcast 13/6/16 Live to Air on Voiceprint Arts, Three D Radio 93.7fm in South Australia.
“Tales of a City by the Sea’ is a perceptive story that magnificently captures the drama of star-crossed lovers in the besieged Gaza strip.”
In Daily – Adelaide’s independent news
This is wide-eyed saga of everyday Palestinians struggling to survive and find normality, hope and love in a region affected by hostility. It is an oddly poetic tale, whose complexity and subtleties of differing narrative viewpoint are maintained by axioms, a strong multi-cultural ensemble and superb lead performances.
Samah Sabawi’s script has received widespread acclaim for its insight into Palestinian life. The playwright’s remarkable sensitivity and artistry confers enormous authority on this portrayal of a beleaguered people.
The play focuses on Jomana (Helena Sawires), a Palestinian woman living in a refugee camp, and depicts life under the Israeli bombardment and siege. She is chaperone to her cousin Lama (Emina Ashman), who is unhappily engaged to Ali (Reece Vella).
When Rami (Osamah Sami), an American-born Palestinian doctor, arrives on the “Free Gaza” boats in August 2008, he and Jomana fall in love. When it is time to leave, Rami promises to sell his clinic in America and return to Jomana and his ancestral homeland.
The play gives us a prophetic flavour of the way people can culturally, politically, ideologically and physically be separated. There are sharp, pertinent scenes in which the lovers speak over Skype and renew their promises. But will the pair live happily ever after?
This play stands or falls by its love affair between the thoroughly decent Texan doctor, Rami, and the poetically romantic Jomana. And this love affair has all the passion of desperate people in desperate times and precarious situations. Sawires is well cast; she puts presence into every scene and bounces well off Sami, who brilliantly portrays an American caught between multiple loyalties. Read more…
by Julia Wakefield
Following its sold out premiere Melbourne season in 2014, Tales of a City by the Sea opened at The Bakehouse Theatre this week. The author is Palestinian/Australian/Canadian writer Samah Sabawi. She describes her work as ‘a poetic journey into the ordinary lives of people living in abnormal circumstances and their struggle to survive’.
The play grew out of a collection of poetry that Sabawi wrote while she was in Gaza during the three week bombardment of 2008/2009, prompted by her own experiences and those of her friends and family. She says she is not trying to put across a political message. Although this is a story based on real life events that took place during Israel’s assault on Gaza in 2008, its main purpose is to highlight the resilience and compassion that people display in such dire circumstances. In this current era of global conflict and confusion, there are many places featured in news bulletins that are enduring similar situations. Sabawi wants us to see ‘the detail of daily lives of people they see for brief seconds on the news’.
The play was originally directed by Lech Mackiewicz, and the current director is Wahibe Moussa. When it opened in Melbourne the plan was to have two simultaneous performances on the West Bank and in Gaza. The play was performed on the West Bank a week later; the script has been read in Gaza but as yet there has been no opportunity to perform the play there.
In the main characters of the play, Jomana and Rami, we see another theme: the gulf between the Palestinian diaspora (those whose families escaped from Gaza and who have grown up in an affluent, privileged society), and the same generation who remain trapped in Gaza. Jomana lives in Gaza, Rami is a doctor raised in Texas by refugee Palestinian parents. They are in love, but in order to enter each other’s world they have no choice but to abandon their families and the reality they grew up in.
The play ideally suits the intimate atmosphere of the Bakehouse Theatre. Scenes are evoked with the simplest of props, and Sabawi’s poetry slips seamlessly into the characters’ dialogue, serving to highlight emotional moments. In some places it appears as a passionate soliloquy, as in Rami’s heart rending speech “what price a life?” But it is also there in the play’s frequent humorous moments, such as the Dr Zeuss style banter that Rami exchanges with his mother. This reference to a familiar Western poetic style serves to emphasize the gap between Rami’s and Jomana’s upbringing. We realise that Rami, in spite of his heritage, has more experience in common with the audience than he has with Jomana. The contrast is cleverly portrayed in a particularly riveting scene where Jomana is conversing with her father in Gaza, while Rami is simultaneously speaking to his mother in Texas, on either side of a dining table.. Read more
The Barefoot Review
Where there is a wall, there is also a city its inhabitants call home in the sacred and emotional way expected of communities deeply attached to their history and culture; especially those coping with just over half a century of war in all its guises and forms, greater or lesser, challenging their right to exist.
Samah Sabawi’s Tales of a City by The Sea is poetically beautiful, discerning and honest in its examination of life in Gaza.
No angry, politicised, locked in sensationalism to be found here, despite what has been said of this work during 2016. Sabawi’s play is an astutely balanced, modern appraisal of what it means to live as a Palestinian under siege. Read more…
Adelaide Theatre Guide
June 11, 2016
This is a tale of conflict and survival told principally through the stories of two couples during the 2008 Gaza war.
Jomana (Helen Sawires) is a Palestinian journalist in Gaza who meets American born Palestinian doctor, Rami, (Osamah Sami) who arrives on board one of small boats that breaks the Israeli blockade.
Ali (Reece Vella) and Lama (Emina Ashman) are residents of Gaza. He loves her but she’s unsure whether to marry him or not.
The play traces the development of these two relationships amid the death and destruction that is everyday life in Gaza.
Samah Sabawi has created a potent narrative that brims with raw examples of the reality of living under a hostile authority. She explores relationships and family values in a place where people fight to retain some sense of normality amid the daily death toll; where “funerals and weddings have become part of daily life”. Read more
The Age June 2, 2016
“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
We come from diverse backgrounds including Egypt, Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, Palestine, Malta, Malaysia, Thailand, Italy, Bengal, India, Chile and the UK. We have people of various faiths including the Muslim, Jewish and Christian faiths. Our play is a celebration of the power of inclusivity and a testimony to breaking down cultural and racial barriers!
Writer Samah Sabawi
Samah Sabawi is a Palestinian Australian Canadian playwright, commentator and poet. Her plays Cries From The Land and Three Wishes had successful runs in Canada; Tales Of A City By The Sea enjoyed a sold-out season at La Mama in 2014 and an Arabic premiere at Alrowwad’s Cultural Theater Society in Palestine, and was selected for the 2016 VCE Drama Playlist. Sabawi’s poems feature in WITH OUR EYES WIDE OPEN (West End Press 2014), GAZA UNSILENCED (Just World Books 2015) and I REMEMBER MY NAME (Novum Publishing 2016). She is co-editor of DOUBLE EXPOSURE: Plays of the Jewish and Palestinian Diasporas (Playwrights Canada Press 2016).
Original Direction Lech Mackiewicz
Lech Mackiewicz is a Polish director, playwright, and actor. He formed Auto Da Fe Theatre Company in Sydney in 1987. He specialises in creating intercultural collaborative performance, having directed theatre in Poland, Japan, China, Korea, and Australia. Lech’s directing credits include: Felliniana (Belvoir St Theatre); King Lear (Playbox Theatre); Kafka Tanczy (Teatr Zydowski); Beckett in Circles (Suzuki Company of Toga); An Oak Tree (Teatr Wegierki); The Hour Before My Brother Dies (Teatr Jaracza); and Everyman and the Pole Dancers (Metanoia Theatre). He is a graduate of the National Academy of Theatrical Arts (PWST) in Cracow, and the University of Technology Sydney.
2016 Remount Direction Wahibe Moussa
Wahibe Moussa is an award-winning performance maker, and writer. In 2007, Wahibe received the Green Room Award for her role as “Mahala” in Theatre @ Risk’s production of Tony Kushner’s Homebody/Kabul. In 2014 she was one of ten dramaturgy interns at Melbourne Theatre Company, a Playwriting Australia Fellowship initiative. Wahibe’s practice is informed by her own experiences as a migrant child, her collaborations with Refugee Artists, and a commitment to understanding Indigenous performance and story making practices. This is Wahibe’s directorial debut.
Producer and Set Design Lara Week
Lara Week is a designer for performance and creative producer. Her design credits include: NaGL: Not a Good Look (Metanoia Theatre), Between Heaven and Her (La Mama Theatre), and The Conference of the Birds (Centre for Cultural Partnerships). Since 2011, she has been associate producer for Tribal Soul Arts, producing decolonial arts programs and performances in Africa, Europe, and Australia. She is dedicated to creating spaces where people with different skills and perspectives can share ideas and produce work together.
Lighting Design Shane Grant
Shane Grant has been Audio Visual Technician for St Kevin’s College for the past nine years. Previously, he was Production Manager with Strange Fruit and Technical Manager at Gasworks Theatre. Shane is an accomplished lighting designer having worked extensively with companies like Ranters Theatre, The Torch Project, NYID, La Mama and many others. Shane has a BA Dramatic Arts (Production) VCA from 1994. He sits on the Green Room Awards Association Theatre Companies Panel. Shane is currently an artistic director at Metanoia Theatre and the Technical Manager of the Mechanics Institute theatre in Brunswick.
Sound Design Khaled Sabsabi
Khaled Sabsabi works across art mediums, geographical borders and cultures to create immersive and engaging media based experiences. He is a socially-engaged artist who specialises in multimedia and site-specific installations that often involve people on the margins of society. Khaled has worked in detention centres, schools, prisons, refugee camps, settlements, hospitals and youth centres, in the Australian and broader international context. Khaled makes work that is in continual transfer from the physical to the philosophical, to interconnect the interrelatedness and cycles of life.
Sound Mixer Max Schollar-Root
From his roots in The Australian Theatre for Young People and the NSW Performing Arts Unit State Drama Ensemble, Max Schollar-Root found his passion in musical performance and composition while studying at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music. He works as a band leader with Ungus Ungus Ungus, a theatrical and multi-modal performance project combining live music, technology, and dance, presenting nationally at large-scale festivals. As a Registered Music Therapist trained at The Melbourne Conservatorium of Music he runs early childhood music programs and works with adults with intellectual disabilities.
Production/Stage Manager Hayley Fox
Hayley Fox gained a Bachelor of Creative Industries majoring in Theatre at QUT (2005) and a Master of Arts in Writing at Swinburne University (2010). Her most recent stage management credits include: Werther and The Spanish Hour with the Lyric Opera of Melbourne; The Road to Woodstock and An Evening with Sarah Vaughan for Neil Cole; Diva Power Regional Tour for Arts Events Australia; Wuthering Heights with the Australian Shakespeare Company; and In Between Two at the Sydney Festival for Performance4a.
Assistant Stage Manager James Crafti
James Crafti is excited to be working on Tales of a City by the Sea as it combines two of his passions: theatre and Palestine. On the former James has directed a variety of plays such as Mutha, The Deserters, Rope, Creationism and Seven Jewish Children. He was also an assistant director on Yet to Ascertain the Nature of the Crime. James has also been an organiser with Campaign Against Israeli Apartheid, Australians for Justice and Peace in Palestine and Jews Against Israeli Apartheid.
Producer Daniel Clarke
Daniel Clarke has worked in Australia, the UK and US as a theatre director, producer and artistic director. He is has recently taken on the role of Programmer, Performing Arts at Arts Centre Melbourne, after five fulfilling years as CEO and Creative Producer of Theatre Works, St Kilda. Daniel was the Artistic Director of Feast in 2007 and 2008, winning the prestigious Arts SA Ruby Award for Community Impact. He has also worked for Leicester Haymarket Theatre Company as Creative Producer/Associate Artist and was awarded the 2015 Sidney Myer Performing Arts Award Facilitators Prize.
Helana Sawires – Jomana
From a large, creative Egyptian family, Helana Sawires has always lived within the realm of the arts. Early on Helana developed a love for percussion, very much influenced by her father. Since graduating from Newtown High School of the Performing Arts (2011), Helana’s projects include: Short and Sweet Theatre Festival; Banana Boy (upcoming short); and W.O.W Casula Kid’s Festival (storyteller/drumming workshop). Helana landed her first major film role in 2015 in Ali’s Wedding (Matchbox Pictures). She was accepted into the Stella Adler Studio of Acting in NYC (2014), completing a Chekhov Intensive Course, which further influenced her unique expression across all forms of art.
Osamah Sami – Rami
Osamah Sami is a failed cricketer and a struggling Muslim. His memoir Good Muslim Boy was Highly Commended at the Victorian Premiere’s Literary Awards. He also co-wrote Ali’s Wedding, Australia’s first Muslim Rom-Com, and co-created the Web Series Two Refugees and a Blonde. Lead roles in films include Ali’s Wedding, Journey, 10 Terrorists! and Saved. TV roles include: Kick, East West 101, Rush, Sea Patrol, City Homicide and Jack Irish. He has performed at Belvoir St, MTC, La Mama and a dozen independent houses. His role as “Amor” in MTC’s I Call My Brothers earned him a Green Room nomination for Best Lead Actor.
Emina Ashman – Lama
Emina is a Malaysian born actor, dancer and theatre-maker. Before relocating to Australia (2012), her theatre credits in Kuala Lumpur include Beasts and Beauties, Lysistrata and Fragments. As a 2014 VCA graduate, her credits include Agamemnon, The Three Sisters, The Little Prince and Plus Sign Attached (with Living Positive Victoria). Emina played “Julie Bishop” in Lucky Country (Melbourne Fringe 2014). Last year, she read the role of “Christine” in Michele Lee’s Moths for MTC. She also played “Antonia D’Agostino” in the sell-out season of Adam Cass’s Bock Kills Her Father (La Mama, Melbourne Fringe 2015). She has recently completed a diploma in creative writing, specialising in writing for performance and poetry.
Reece Vella – Ali
Reece Vella graduated from The Actors College of Theatre and Television in Sydney (2010) and has been acting professionally for the past six years. Check out his Star now if you are into name-dropping. He harbours a passion for new, eccentric and challenging work. Since moving to Melbourne, Reece’s stage credits include: Everyman and The Pole Dancers; Tales of a City by the Sea; Between Heaven and Her; and most recently Night Sings Its Songs. Reece is elated and moved that a remount of Tales of a City by the Sea has taken life, confirming his everlasting hope in stories of humanity.
Alex Pinder – Abu Ahmed
Alex Pinder works as an actor and theatre director. Recent credits at La Mama include performing in Waiting For Godot (as “Lucky”) and In the Middle of the Night and Other Stories, and directing Buzo’s Norm and Ahmed. Other work includes directing a reading of In The Day I left Home by Raahma N Kalsie, for MTC NEON 2015 and MTC Cybec 2016, playing “Page” in The Merry Wives of Windsor at 45 Downstairs and Perth’s Fortune Theatre, and “Howard” in The Dead Twin.
Rebecca Morton – Samira
Rebecca Morton has been singing and acting all around Australia for longer than she cares to admit, from opera to music theatre to Shakespeare and Noel Coward with state theatre companies. She writes and tours highly portable, one act music theatre shows, and recently joined Alchemy 7, a group of artists who create a fusion of sculpture and song. She is also working with a new company, RAPt, which connects people through theatre. She is absolutely delighted and proud to be part of this very exciting and important play.
Cara Whitehouse – Multiple Roles
Classically trained, Cara Whitehouse has played roles in children’s puppetry to the Greeks, working in Melbourne and Singapore. Recent work includes Tales of a City by the Sea (La Mama 2014), Remember M with innātum Theatre, The Woman in the Window, and “Elektra” in The Oresteia. Cara’s film work includes multiple shorts with a web series in development. A certified Fitzmaurice Voicework teacher, Cara’s training encompasses Conservatory Actor training at Lasalle College of the Arts Singapore, Knight-Thompson speech work (NYC) and continued training at the Howard Fine Acting Studio.
Aseel Tayah – Singer
Aseel Tayah is a creative director, art producer and installation artist. She has been part of number of theatre productions at the Malthouse, Platform, La Mama, Polyglot and Metanoia Theatres, together with her own art works that have been displayed prominently in Palestine and Australia. She travels around the world to discover, photograph and be inspired by people’s cultures and histories. She creates interactive experiences that invite audiences to participate through her design of space, and the presence of her body and voice.
Ubaldino Mantelli – Multiple Roles
Ubaldino was in the 2014 Melbourne premiere of Tales of a City by the Sea at La Mama. He’s played major theatrical roles in the Geelong region, including performing for the National Trust and in the ensemble-devised Daylight Savings, led by James Pratt. Ubaldino trained under Kerreen Ely-Harper, Stephen Costan, Jenny Lovell, Danielle Carter, Karen Davitt and Nicky Fearn in the VCA Acting Studio 12. He’s been a producer, presenter and performer on community radio. In 2016, Ubaldino can be seen in James Burke’s short film, Sick Home.
Poster Design and Cover Art by Ahmad Sabra and Aya El-Zinati.
To buy tickets:
Melbourne: The show will be staged at the La Mama Courthouse theatre between May 11 – May 29th. La Mama Theatre is nationally and internationally acknowledged as a crucible for cutting edge, contemporary theatre since 1967. The Courthouse is located on 349 Drummond St, Carlton. Click here to purchase tickets for Melbourne shows.
Adelaide: The show will be staged at The Bakehouse Theatre June 8th to June 18th – June 18th. The Bakehouse is a charming, intimate live theatre at 255 Angas Street, near the east end (Hutt Street). Click here to purchase tickets for Adelaide shows.
Sydney: The show will run at the Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre on 1 Powerhouse Road, Casula. There will only be two performances scheduled for August 3rd. Click here to purchase tickets for Sydney shows.
“…this gripping play is an act of resistance that implores its audience to take heed.” Rebecca Harkins-Cross, The Age
“This is a fantastically told story of two worlds colliding.” Mary Hughes, The Music
“In the season that we did last year, I don’t think there was an empty seat in the house. We were inundated here with people saying how important the work was, how moved they were by it.” Liz Jones, Artistic Director and CEO of La Mama Theatre.
Melbourne: The show will be staged at the La Mama Courthouse theatre between May 11 – May 29th. La Mama Theatre is nationally and internationally acknowledged as a crucible for cutting edge, contemporary theatre since 1967. The Courthouse is located on 349 Drummond St, Carlton. Please note all Melbourne shows have now sold out.
Adelaide: The show will be staged at The Bakehouse Theatre June 8th to June 18th – June 18th. The Bakehouse is a charming, intimate live theatre at 255 Angas Street, near the east end (Hutt Street). Click here to purchase tickets for Adelaide shows.
Sydney: The show will run at the Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre on 1 Powerhouse Road, Casula. There will only be two performances scheduled for August 3rd. Click here to purchase tickets for Sydney shows.
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:
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
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
And human rights
On my behalf
No trips to boost careers
For MPs and their wives
No propaganda movies
No radio broadcasts
Not even one leader
To believe in
All I have are my words
To tell my story
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
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
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.
When you were parched
We quenched your thirst
With our blood
We carry your burden
We cry in shame when asked
Where do you come from?
Dishonored we die
If only the stray bullets
From the occupier’s guns
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
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
So carry your children
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
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
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
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
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 email@example.com for information about pre-ordering the anthology.
[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)
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.
Attention span expands
between statuses and headlines
I frame my perils of wisdom
on cyber walls
I divulge my soul
I offer solidarity
and pass verdicts like delusional royalty
My virtual life a parody
my profile page an imaginary throne.
Newsfeed filled with corpses
Attention span expands
between statuses and headlines
We protest discrimination
famines and wars
140 characters to tear down the walls
140 characters to stop genocide
140 characters to expose a politician who lied
140 to give voice to the voiceless
to affirm a life
children die everyday
mothers grief everyday
fathers bury their sons everyday
mass graves are dug everyday
threaten our peace of mind
out of sight out of mind
women sell their bodies
sell their babies
sell their organs to survive
No dignity in poverty
Populations stripped of humanity
Only atrocities bare names
Military operations romanticized
‘pillar of clouds’
air strikes idealized
Minds stalled paralyzed
War on terror
War of terror
War for terror…
we grow numb desensitized
News feed jammed with hasbaranitzes
Government agents paid for lies
They ‘like’ and ‘share’ what we despise.
Morals in peril
Attention span expands
between statuses and headlines
140 characters to liberate Palestine
140 characters for gender equality
140 characters to raise money for charity
I am wearing thin
where do I begin?
Attention span expands
BEYOND statuses and headlines.
I will not be polarized
I will not be factionized
Like a heartbroken nation
I will not be moved by hatred
Or blindly pick a side
Behind a well crafted slogan
I will not place my trust
I will embrace ideas
An enemy of my enemy
When a tyrant
Is MY enemy
Choosing the best of two evils
Is choosing evil
I will not fall for this game
Of demonizing an entire people
I will not delight when pain is inflicted
I will not close my eyes
I will defend my enemy’s rights
Is not a commodity
To be had by some
And denied to others
I will not delight
In the suffering
Even of those
Who oppressed me
I will trust
My maternal instinct
What passed through my womb
Though precious…is not distinct
A beautiful human baby
Of flesh and blood
No different from that
Born by the ‘other’
There is no ‘us’ and ‘them’
Every death will be mourned
By a grieving mother
Than any flag
I will not be polarized
By Samah Sabawi
Social media played an essential role in the early days of the Arab revolutions in promoting and strengthening civil society actors in their quest for democracy. However, more recently, social media has become a tool used by various movements in the region to disempower civil society and prolong democratic reform by highlighting divisions, polarizing views while making citizens more vulnerable to government propaganda and surveillance. After all, social media is open to anyone who logs in regardless of his or her true or made up identity, intellect, education, nationality or status in society. While this inclusive nature can be viewed as a positive democratic feature, it can have a detrimental impact on the quality, integrity and credibility of the content shared and the information needed in order to create a healthy and informed ‘public sphere’.
The arrival of the Internet opened up new and exciting venues for public deliberation. Transforming the power of broadcasting away from the centralized structure of traditional media to the decentralized nature of the Internet. This has been hailed as ‘the second media age’ (Poster1995). Many sources can now broadcast to many receivers, and citizens have seemingly equal access into this public forum that has global reach. This has transformed the existing political power structures, empowering and amplifying the voices of civil society while challenging the power and control of the ruling class.
Social media played an essential role in this transformation, with Facebook being one of its most popular social networking services, boasting 1.11 billion monthly active users as of March 2013 (Facebook 2013). These numbers continue to increase as users from around the world join the social networking site and form virtual communities unhindered by physical distance, class, ethnicity or gender. Within these virtual communities, strangers who may never meet in real life can become ‘friends’, exchange photo albums, comment on each other’s triumphs and tribulations and share their political and social views of the world. Semitsu (2011) described Facebook as a ‘controlled ecosystem’ where users voluntarily reveal private information about their lives and sometimes even their most intimate thoughts. This has made it a very attractive tool for advocates, corporations and world governments alike, as they all compete for access into the hearts and minds of this large online population in order to dominate the social networking space and to promote their agendas. The current revolutions in the Arab world offer us great insight into how these cyber battles for space and influence are fought between citizens and state actors.
In the Arab world, the internet offers civil society and opposition groups space where they can express dissent, organize and network, away from the intrusive gaze and control of the authoritarian governments under which they function. ‘To peruse the Arab social media sites, blogs, online videos, and other digital platforms is to witness what is arguably the most dramatic and unprecedented improvement in freedom of expression, association, and access to information in contemporary Arab history’ (Ghannam 2011). According to a report published by the online resource Arab Crunch, in the year 2010, before the first Arab revolution began, 17 million people were using Facebook in the Arab region with 5 million users in Egypt alone.
The year 2011 saw sweeping protests throughout the Arab world starting in Tunisia and moving to Egypt, then Syria, Jordan, Bahrain, Yaman and in smaller numbers other Arab countries. Howard and Hussain (2013) examined the role of digital media in provoking inspiring and sustaining these popular movements for democracy. Adopting a comparative method in their approach and taking into account both the diversity and the common shared experiences of the citizens within the region, they argued that even though only a minority of the population in countries that were affected by the ‘Arab Spring’ had internet access, this minority was in fact significant politically as they represented the ‘educated elites’ who have the energy and the financial means to organize. This view was shared by many analysts and pundits who applauded the leading role Facebook and Twitter played in offering the protestors the space needed to organize, strategize, raise awareness and share tips on how to resist and challenge the authority.
Egyptian youth were amongst the first users of Internet in the Arab world to utilize social networking sites as a political tool (Harb 2011). They were the force behind various movements sprouting online focusing on Egyptian police repression and the corruption of the Mubarak regime. These movements included the 6th of April protest movement, which ultimately took its online expression of discontent into the streets, staging protests as early as 2007, years before the Egyptian revolution of 2011 began.
Governments in the Arab world watched these online communities closely and with contempt. Their initial reaction was to meet online criticism with brutality in order to strike fear into the hearts of the offenders while deterring others from such acts, after all ‘It is when power is wedded to chronic fear that it becomes formidable’ (Eric Hoffer 1954). For example, the former Egyptian regime implemented a heavy-handed response to online activism arresting bloggers and torturing and imprisoning them. This gave the regime a mistaken sense of security (Harb 2011), which soon began to diminish as Egyptians collectively decided to break the fear barrier and to take to the streets on the 25th of January 2011.
As protests spread in the Arab region, the important role of social networking became all the more evident as it gave the protestors access to the world community where they were able to amplify their message and receive tactical support. According to Howard and Hussien (2013) boingboing.net was quick to offer guidelines on how to protect anonymity online, an ‘Activist Action Plan’ was translated and hosted by the Atlantic Monthly while Telecomix posted information on how to rely on landlines in order to bypass the state’s efforts to block access to broadband networks. In the week leading up to the fall of Hosni Mubarak’s regime, the number of tweets from Egypt and world-wide about the Egyptian revolution increased from 2,300 a day to 230,000 a day while videos featuring protests and political commentary went viral (O’Donnell 2011).
During the first year of the Arab revolutions it appeared that ‘Digital media provided both an awareness of shared grievances and transportable strategies for action’ (Howard and Hussien 2013), which enabled the rise of the people and the fall of at least three oppressive regimes in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt. But as time passed, it became more difficult for the people to achieve their democratic aspirations in other countries such as Syria, Bahrain and Yemen, where the protests still rage today. One theory as to why this may be the case was offered by Howard and Hussien (2013) who suggested that a revolution’s failure or success hinges on its citizen’s access to technology. They argued that countries that have more ‘tech-savvy civil society groups’ such as Egypt and Tunisia were able to successfully overthrow their dictatorships faster and with less ‘casualties’ than those countries that were not as strong technologically such as Syria. While this may be the case, it is also important to consider that just as the protestors were learning from one another the blue print of revolution, the dictators were also learning from one another how to manage these revolutions, drive a counter revolution and gain the upper hand both in the real world and online.
Authoritarian regimes often apply the same blue print in controlling the flow of information and crushing dissent. In fact, Arab ministers of Interior meet annually in order to exchange ideas on how to further secure their regimes. Howard and Hussien (2013) point out that during the last several years, the meetings focused on developing ways to tighten media regulations, increasing censorship and government control and expanding this control to the world wide web. For these governments, it is crucial to establish deterrence by creating and fostering a culture of fear by way of arresting and torturing dissidents.
However, the traditional deterrence factor proved to be no longer sufficient in 2011 when dissent spilled out from the virtual realm into the streets. As the protests spread, Arab governments had to develop new strategies. The first strategy was to censor and block online content while using their state media agents to disseminate their version of events. For example, when the revolution began in Egypt, the regime quickly tried to block Twitter, then Facebook, and to disrupt phone-messaging services. This resulted in an ongoing ‘battle of the blogosphere’ (Ghannam 2011) where citizens relied on proxies to bypass government blockings and firewalls. Two days later, the Egyptian government tried to shut down the Internet all together and even targeted phone networks to disrupt the flow of text messaging. The result was not in the government’s favour. Feeling a sense of isolation, people who lost their Internet connection and phone services were forced to go out into the streets ‘when they could no longer follow the unrest through social media’ (O’Donnell 2011). It didn’t take long for the tech savvy cyber army of activists from across the Arab World to exchange codes, tips and software to enable Egyptians to access the Internet once again.
When the Mubarak regime finally collapsed, many hailed the Egyptian revolution over attributing its apparent success to social media. Howard and Hussien (2011) even went on to suggest that ‘it is difficult to say whether the revolutions would or would not have happened without digital media’. Others proclaimed that the new media era has ushered in ‘the age of empowered individuals, who use potent new technologies and harness social media to organize themselves’ (Kirkpatrick 2011). But in hindsight, it would appear such views might have exaggerated the role of social media in the drive for democratic reforms in Egypt and beyond.
History teaches us that where there is state oppression, eventually the people will rise with or without the help of technology. Research done on political activism and the Internet also downplays the role of social media as a driver behind political action as it suggests that people who are likely to be politically active online are those who are already ‘political junkies’ (Johnson and Kaye 2000). Therefore, it would be incorrect to contend that without Facebook, the Arab revolutions wouldn’t have happened. As Zahera Harb points out, ‘social media facilitated the revolution when the right moment arrived’ (2011). The incident that sparked the first of the Arab revolutions in Tunisia was not planned on the pages of Facebook, it was a spontaneous act of despair by a Tunisian man who set himself on fire to protest the economic hardships the people of Tunisia endured. It was his act that brought about ‘the right political moment’. Harb notes that the success of the Tunisian revolution is what inspired the youth of Egypt to follow suit and to organize their revolt. In other words, the Tunisian revolution is what brought about ‘the right political moment’ for Egypt’s revolution to begin. Finally, the suggestion that the revolutions were a result of a sudden online mobilization lead by the youth grossly overlooks the importance of the older Arabs ‘whose participation was critical’ (Lust &Wichmann 2012).
More telling of the limited power of the Internet and especially social media in driving democratic reforms is the fact that the revolutions in the Arab region are not over and democracy is yet to be delivered even in places where the regimes did fall like Egypt, Tunisia and Libya. Remnants of the failed regimes and the existing authoritarian regimes are evolving and are becoming more sophisticated, creating and supporting websites that promote their own view of politics and morality while dispatching their foot soldiers online to spread confusion and gather information. Arab officials have also become active on social networking platforms such as Twitter and Facebook (Ghannam 2011) and governments are expanding their state-run media institutions into the online sphere.
Hussien and Howard explored in their work the rise of the counterinsurgency campaigns in the Arab world, pointing to how activists from the Arab region struggled to dominate their country’s hashtags on Twitter as army of advocates for the various Arab regimes used the countries’ hashtags to disseminate countless tweets depicting ‘photographs of national monuments and soccer statistics’ (Hussien and Howard 2013). Another method used by the Arab governments in the cyber battlefield was dispatching an army of anonymous trolls to defend the Arab regimes in order to silence the debate. This was evident when twitter feeds about the protests in Bahrain were suddenly dominated by the appearance of thousands of online anonymous defenders who ruthlessly executed a strategy of abusive attacks on anyone tweeting about Bahrain. Lynch (2013) argues it was the actions of these ‘trolls’ that ultimately crushed the online debate.
The use of anonymous trolls by governments adds to an already confused online ‘public sphere’ in which many activists and civil society actors also choose to remain anonymous for fear over their safety. With anonymity comes the question of credibility and trust. This issue is strongly evident if we observe the ongoing debate surrounding Syria on social networking sites. Videos and graphic photos are constantly being disseminated but many come with no disclosure and no way of verifying their origin or the authenticity of their message. The result of this is a public sphere where people become sceptical of any information they receive unless this information corresponds with their own pre-existing views. Unfortunately, this leads to increasing polarization.
Lynch (2013) argues that the polarization in the Arab world is reinforced within social media discourse, blaming this on the prevalence of the ‘informational bubbles’ that exist within social media. These bubbles do more to fragment and divide than they do to inform and encourage democratic compromise. Most often they foster ‘a narrow geographic focus’ of the world (Lynch 2013). Lynch’s argument is supported by the fact that Facebook groups are mostly nationally based or driven by a common political or religious agenda.
In the Arab region, the lines have been drawn in social networking space between the various parties to the raging conflicts. While such trends can strength the various groups internally by reinforcing their beliefs, they do little to encourage positive interaction with other groups who share different points of view. Lynch (2013) points to the current online interaction between the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood ruling party and opposition groups and observes that each side is eager to share and disseminate ‘uncritically’ any article that makes the other side look bad, in the final analysis he concludes that ‘the reality is that Islamists and their adversaries retreat to their respective camps, reinforcing each others’ prejudices while throwing the occasional rhetorical bomb across the no-man’s land that the centre has become’ (Lynch 2013).
This is not to say that social media is to blame for the current sectarian divisions in the Arab world. What social media does, is play a role in reflecting the current changes in the ‘texture of Arab politics’ (Lynch 2013) moving away from the traditional hold the Arab regimes had on the flow of information and creating new means by which the battle for control of information is waged.
Therefore, while it may be true that social media offers a new space not previously available for citizens to organize, communicate, and develop new and enhanced tactics of democratization, it cannot be viewed as an ideal space that will bring democracy to the Arab region, as many had hoped it would during the initial phase of the Arab revolutions. Democracy cannot be born nor flourish out of a sphere where the facts can be mixed with fiction, where sources cannot be verified and where accountability is lacking. If anything, social media is now being used to amplify sectarianism and to spread fear and mistrust of the other. And just as messages of Arab nationalism and unity dominated the social media networks at the start of the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions, messages of sectarian hatred fuelled by the tragic ongoing fighting in Syria is what is now dominating social media networks in the Arab world. The initial optimism for democratic reform has given way to scepticism while social media has become a virtual battlefield that is being manipulated equally by propaganda from all the different sides, as they all compete for dominance and power both in the turbulent regions of the Arab world and online.
Arab Crunch 2010, ‘Facebook Population: Arabic The Fastest Growing, English Falls from The Majority Leader-ship’, August 30, accessed 11 May 2013, http://arabcrunch.com/2010/08/facebook-population-ar- abic-the-fastest-growing-english-falls-from-the-majority-leadership.html
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Ghannam, J. 2011, ‘Social Media in the Arab World: Leading up to the uprisings of 2011’, Centre for International Media Assistance, February 3, accessed 10 May 2011, http://scholar.googleusercontent.com/scholar?q=cache:YEbWlPGY8xsJ:scholar.google.com/+social+media+revolutions+in+Arab+world&hl=en&as_sdt=0,5&as_vis=1
Harb, Z. 2011, ‘Arab Revolutions and the Social Media Effect’, M/C Journal, Vol. 14, No. 2 – ‘diaspora’, accessed 10 May 2013, http://journal.media-culture.org.au/index.php/mcjournal/article/viewArticle/364
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Howard, P.N. & Hussain, M.M. 2013, Democracy’s Fourth Wave? Digital Media and the Arab Spring, Oxford University Press.
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Kirkpatrick, D. 2011, ‘Social Power and the Coming corporate revolution’, Forbes, July 9, accessed15 May 2013, http://www.forbes.com/sites/techonomy/2011/09/07/social-power-and-the-coming-corporate-revolution/
Lynch, M. 2013, ‘Twitter Devolutions: How social media is hurting the Arab Spring’, Foreign Policy, February 7, accessed 18 May 2013, http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2013/02/07/twitter_devolutions_arab_spring_social_media?page=0,1
Lust, E. & Wichmann, J. 2012, ‘Three Myths About the Arab Uprising’, Yale Global, 24 July, accessed 1 May 2013, http://yaleglobal.yale.edu/content/three-myths-about-arab-uprisings
O’Donnell, C. 2011, ‘New Study Quantifies Use of Social Media in Arab Spring’, University of Washington, News Release, September 12, accessed 1 May 2013, http://www.washington.edu/news/2011/09/12/new-study-quantifies-use-of-social-media-in-arab-spring/
Poster, M.1995, Cyber Democracy: Internet and the Public Sphere, University of California, Irvine
Semitsu, J.P. 2011, ‘From Facebook to Mug Shot: How the Dearth of Social Networking Privacy Rights Revolutionized Online Government Surveillance’, Peace Law Review, Volume 31 Issue 1 Article 7, Social Networking and the Law, University of San Diego School of Law
Exposing the ethnocentric nature of the state of Israel, the ethnic cleansing and denial of rights to the Palestinians and how we can put a stop to it all.
|Date posted: April 29, 2013
By Joharah Baker for MIFTAH
PREMIERE PERFORMANCE: 4TH MAY 3:30PM, NABI SALEH
Our Sign is the Stone is a production based on testimonies gathered from the village of Nabi Saleh. The play traces the political development of a young boy as his community organizes an extraordinary campaign against the Israeli Occupation.
The play attests to the struggles, sacrifices and steadfastness of Palestinian communities engaged in civil resistance against practices of land confiscation, ethnic segregation and racial discrimination.
Each performance will be followed by a Playback Theatre event, in which audience members will share their own stories of struggle against Israeli human rights violations.
Wednesday 1st May 4pm: Jenin Refugee Camp, The Freedom Theatre (Preview performance)
Saturday 4th May 3:30pm: Nabi Saleh, Community Hall (Premiere performance)
Sunday 5th May 4pm: Al Walajah, School Hall
Monday 6th May 4pm: Arabeh (Old City), Palace
Tuesday 7th May 10:30am (Women-only performance): Faquaa, Community Hall
Tuesday 7th May 7pm: Faquaa, Community Hall
Wednesday 8th May 4pm: Qusra, Community Hall
The Freedom Theatre dedicates this play to Mustafa Tamimi and Rushdi Tamimi.
THE FREEDOM BUS
Our Sign is the Stone is a production of The Freedom Theatre’s Freedom Bus initiative. The Freedom Bus uses interactive theatre and cultural activism to bear witness, raise awareness and build alliances throughout historic Palestine and beyond. Endorsers of the Freedom Bus include Arch Bishop Desmond Tutu, Alice Walker, Angela Davis, John Berger, Judith Butler, Maya Angelou, Mairead Maguire, Mazin Qumsiyeh, Noam Chomsky, Omar Barghouti, Remi Kanazi and Peter Brook. A range of other Palestinian and International artists, activists, academics and organizations have endorsed the Freedom Bus.
Source The Prisma
London will get closer to Palestine from the 3rd to 15th of May thanks to the view of the Arab-Israeli conflict to be shown in the works of around 40 Palestinian and international directors taking part in the 14th season of this festival.
Through 38 films and more than 20 events, Londoners will have the opportunity to see the oppression that the Palestinian public are subjected to as well as the heterogeneity that can be seen within the country, through the various practices, genres and screenplays. Palestine’s representation of self is promoted through cinematic titles, from conceptual and experimental focuses of artistic innovation to realistic cinema about socio-political wars and social activism. In other words, they are tools to help society better understand life in Palestine and on the Gaza Strip.
Organised in collaboration with the Centre for Palestine Studies, part of the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), the event will bring together academics, film makers and film critics to tackle the broad range of aspects related to film, or by extension, to Palestine.
This festival, pioneering in the UK, will disucss the historical, ethical and social aspects which envelop Palestinian life, as well as the aesthetics and subject matter of the films.
The feature film, through interviews and a notable process of historical documentation, is a profound portrait of the conflict which breaks out daily in Palestine and Israel and which shows how the Palestinian resistance is generalised and on the rise. The programme also includes the 25thAnniversary of the first uprising and will show Elia Suleiman’s first film, Homage by Assassination(Part of 1991 portmanteau The Gulf War … What Next?).
More than 20 films will premiere at this year’s festival including a documentary about life in the Syrian Golan Heights; Apples of the Golan, an impressive portrait of the importance of the comet on the Gaza Strip; Flying Paper, as well as some of the new film shorts about Palestine and beyond.
The festival will run from 3rd to 15th May at the Barbican Cinema and at the University of London.
For more information please visit:http://www.palestinefilm.org
(Translated by Frances Singer – Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)
By Henrique Dores – April 24, 2013
Roll up, roll up – ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, friends and foes – please put your hands together and give your warm welcome to the unparalleled, the outstanding, the one and only Palestinian Circus School.
This could perfectly be the opening line of one of the shows of the Palestinian Circus School. Currently submerged in an ambience of red noses, big shoes, squeaky flowers, stilts and many other props, the Palestinian Circus School (PCS) began as a small circus group in August 2006 thanks to the determination of Shadi Zmorrod and Jessika Devlieghere, who initiated the pathway to introduce circus arts from Palestinians for Palestinians, amidst Israeli checkpoints and M-16 rifles.
The whole idea of creating the first circus school in Palestine was to provide an effective alternative to the massive effects that the Israeli military occupation has had over the lives of young Palestinians, particularly since 2000.
The stories of unlawfully demolished homes, personal humiliations at checkpoints, physical abuses and arbitrary detentions, together with accumulated grief of having loved ones killed by the Israeli military, constituted the sole motivation of the initial core group of the founders of the Palestinian Circus School. To them, too many young people were turning to the streets for an outlet, struggling to achieve nothing else than survival.
However, before becoming one of the most credited and successful Palestinian NGO’s, there were some bumps on the road. From the very beginning, the idea of creating a Palestinian circus school raised suspicions about its necessity. However, the general skepticism did not affect the initial core group.
Shadi Zmorrod was given the opportunity by the Belgian circus school ‘Cirkus in Beweging’ to start with a first intensive training course for young people living behind the Apartheid Wall. Further contacts were made in order to ensure training for the people who would be involved in creating the future circus of Palestine, through an intensive three-week workshop. The excitement about these first achievements can only be compared with the disappointment that took over the group when this first initiative was cancelled due to the outbreak of the Israeli-Lebanese war in 2006.
“We are engaged in showing our progresses in more places, and we are trying to start touring in many other places, like the south of Europe, where circus is still very alive”
Nevertheless, the resilient group persisted on the foundation of the PCS, and despite the lack of financial support, they managed to obtain the required training throughout the help of some Jerusalem circus students and later on, after launching an international appeal, from Italy, France and US circus professionals. This was the definitive step towards the birth of the first Palestinian Circus School, which would culminate with its premiere in Ashtar Theater, where an encouraging audience of 250 people applauded their effort.
Progresses and ambitions
The new premises of the school, which only became PCS’s home in November 2011, are inspiring. Located next to the Latin Church in the old city of Birzeit, the building and site was given for a period of 15 years free of charge by Dr. Hanna Nasir to allow PCS to develop to its full potential.
“When we first saw this place, we thought it was desperately needing some work, but also that it was the perfect place for the school,” says Jessica Devlieghere.
Indeed, the PCS has been constantly developing, and the two small circus training halls existing in the building brought the school to heights impossible to reach under the previous conditions. Currently teaching three levels of education in the art of circus (beginners, preparatory and professional), the Palestinian Circus School provides annual summer camps and open days in order to allow communities to get more acquainted with the goals and the approach of the school. Moreover, since its foundation, not only was PCS able to tour all around Palestine, defying checkpoints, borders and other movement restrictions, but also performed in Belgium, France, Germany and Italy.
When asked about the current projects of PCS, Jessica promptly replies, “I don’t like to use that terminology. We want PCS to stay away from the whole NGO’s way of thinking. This is an initiative from Palestinians to Palestinians and everything we do has a social impact.”
The merits of PCS are easy to identify. Operating in difficult scenarios such as Jenin, Al-Fawwar refugee camp, Birzeit or Hebron, the school has been distributing hope all around Palestine.
“At the moment we have more than 150 students,” Jessica says. “We present circus as a form of therapy, as an alternative to the hopeless lives of many youngsters.”
PCS has also been working together with Social Rehabilitation Center in Jenin, where they try to improve the lives of young women.
But the vision of the adventurers that made possible PCS is bigger than ever.
“We are trying to extend our field of action, so that more people have access to our initiatives,” Jessica explains. “We are engaged in showing our progresses in more places, and we are trying to start touring in many other places, like the south of Europe, where circus is still very alive. Another of our immediate goals is to provide a real circus tent on the courtyard, to allow the many disciplines needing lots of height and space.”
The Palestinian Circus School is flying higher than never, and the people involved are committed in keeping the same enthusiasm they had in making this project come alive. In a sea of disappointment, where bombs and aggression are the language used, the Palestinian Circus School emerges as a safe port to everyone willing to resist occupation with a smile on the face.
Posted on April 25.
It has become commonplace when reading about Gaza to come across descriptions of it as an “Islamist enclave” or “Hamas-controlled territory” and so on. In case someone exists who does not know what Hamas is all about, commentators make sure their readers understand that it is the “fundamentalist” group bent on the “destruction of Israel” and nothing else.
The Palestinians of Gaza, therefore, are often categorized as either ardent Hamas supporters or suppressed dissidents, including women, who receive the severest treatment imaginable, not only from the Hamas government, but also from misogynistic and backward average male residents. Such categorizations are then followed by sweeping generalizations about each of these stereotypes. Whereas the Hamas supporters consist of “terrorists” and “bloodthirsty barbarians,” the dissents are seen as peace-loving minorities who seek neighborly relations with Israel, the occupying entity.
A recent example of such portrayals can be found in a feature story published in The Independent on April 13. In “Tales from Gaza: What Is Life Really Like in ‘the World’s Largest Outdoor Prison’?” the author alledges to provides “a small snapshot into life in Gaza.” Before he proceeds, however, he assures us that what follows are “testimonies” by people “who can rarely get their voices heard.”
At the start of six interviews, the author makes clear that all of those featured are men not because that was his intention — he is a Westerner who believes in gender equality after all — but because in his two and a half days in Gaza, he could not find a woman willing to speak to him “independently.” In fact, the only occasion when he had the chance to speak to a woman, he tells us, was in the presence of a male guardian, the woman’s husband in this particular instance. Hence, while he was able to “give voice” to men, his attempts to do the same for women were all thwarted.
Such assertions play into Orientalist notions. This usually results from foreign journalists coming to Gaza with a set of preconceptions about the place and its people and then seeking to confirm them rather than verify them. While Gaza is, indeed, no haven for women or anyone else, there are thousands of educated women who are willing to speak for themselves and do so in every field, from medicine, theater, and politics to fishing and farming.
Just a few months ago, a play written by the renowned Palestinian writer Samah Sabawi was read at one of Gaza’s cultural centers, which continue to thrive despite Israel’s ceaseless attempts at cultural de-development. Nearly all the participants who performed the play were women, as was the case with the vast majority of the audience. They were not accompanied by husbands, brothers or fathers in order to attend or to perform.
Events like this, however, hardly ever make it into the mainstream media. Moreover, any mention of a considerable number of women going out without a hijab instantly provokes expressions of surprise by those who have only heard about Gaza through mainstream and particularly Western publications. To say women in Gaza are also allowed to drive would sound like a lie to many ears.
Women are not the only part of this story. To claim that Gaza is “Islamist” automatically dismisses the existence of the leftist and secular groups there, most of which denounce religion in its totality. Homogenizing “life in Gaza” could not be more obvious than in The Independent feature.
Of the six interviews the author conducted, one was with a Hamas official, while four were with blue-collar male workers, and the remaining one was with an unemployed man. Despite being at odds with Israel, five of them belong to the category of “ready to forget the past,” has no problem inviting former Israel prime minister Ariel Sharon for coffee, and even views Yitzhak Rabin — the man behind the Iron Fist that broke hundreds of bone in the lead up to and during the first Palestinian intifada — as a man of peace.
With the exception of the Hamas official, the interviewees followed suit in reiterating the same unconditional desire to achieve peace with Israel that one might think no other viewpoint existed. At the same time, they viewed Hamas as the primary source of their distress. Israel was seen as only secondary to their everyday ordeal.
That no evidence was provided to challenge the views in question suggests that there is none — just as the author claims to have found no women able to speak to him. Thus, portraying the residents of Gaza as a homogenous people who all experience life in the same way is condescending at best and Orientalist at worst. The views expressed in the article are undeniably extant but do not reflect the reality.
Israel, which has launched two deadly assaults on Gaza in less than five years, is rarely perceived as a friendly entity. The vast majority of the politicized and non-politicized segments of Gazan society are not ready to “forget the past” that continues to shape the lives of 1.1 million local Palestinians officially registered as refugees at the United Nations Relief and Works Agency.
Rana Baker is a student of business administration in Gaza and writes for the Electronic Intifada
This article appeared here: http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2013/04/gaza-misconceptions-women.html#ixzz2RVnXaJdB