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