Jon Faine’s conversation hour with playwright Samah Sabawi, actor Miriam Margolyes and novelist Ceridwen Dovey
Excerpt from interview:
“The recent total devastation of Gaza made putting on this play all the more important for us in the West Bank and in Melbourne. What happened in Gaza a couple of months ago is something that is far worst than ever before. It was an attempt at the destruction of life in a way that Palestinians haven’t experienced since 1948, since the original ethnic cleansing of Palestine began….We were casting just toward the end of that and it was surreal and sad and for me it was heartbreaking because I really wanted to bring this brand of art to Gaza…it was my love letter to Gaza in a way…I went there two years ago and we staged a reading and I vowed that the play will premier in Gaza before anywhere else but I can see that this dream will have to be put on hold for now…”
Click on video below to hear the full interview.
By Annabel Ross
There is some bitter irony in the fact that the plan to premiere a Palestinian play in three different cities was thwarted by the very war it speaks of. Palestinian-Australian writer Samah Sabawi wanted Tales of the City and the Sea to debut in Australia and the Palestinian territories simultaneously. “The plan was that it would open in the West Bank, Gaza and Melbourne at the same time and in a way connect the Palestinians in the West Bank to the Palestinians in Gaza,” she says. “Unfortunately, the time we started casting and putting together the production team was when Gaza was under heavy bombardment.” That was in July, at the height of the recent conflict. Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/theatre/palestinian-play-tales-of-the-city-and-the-sea-thwarted-by-reallife-violence-20141028-11cjn0.html#ixzz3HPpWg1ia
Tales of a City by the Sea, a Palestinian story of love, separation and beautiful resistance will be staged in Melbourne November 12 – November 23 at La Mama. Here is why:
NOVEMBER 12 – NOVEMBER 23
La Mama Courthouse
349 Drummond Street Carlton
03 9347 6948
Phone bookings: 03 9347 6142
Tickets can be booked up until 4pm on the day of the performance, otherwise try your luck at the door.
Please allow plenty of time to arrive at our venues, as we have a no latecomers policy.
Playwright and producer Samah Sabawi
Samah Sabawi is a Palestinian-Canadian-Australian writer and commentator. She has travelled the world and lived in its far corners, yet always felt as though she was still trapped in her place of birth Gaza. The war torn besieged and isolated strip has shaped her understanding of her identity and her humanity. So what else could Sabawi do but to indulge in Gaza’s overwhelming presence and to succumb to tell the stories.
Samah Sabawi is co-author of the book Journey to Peace in Palestine and writer and producer of the plays Cries from the Land and Three Wishes, both were successfully staged in Canada in 2003 and 2008. Sabawi’s writings have appeared in various media outlets including AlJazeera English, AlAhram, The Globe and Mail, The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald and many others. Her poetry has been featured in various magazines and books, most recently in an anthology published by West End Press titled With Our Eyes Wide Open: Poems of the New American Century. Samah Sabawi is currently co-editing an anthology of plays for the Playwrights Canada Press, Canada’s major publisher and distributor of Canadian drama. Her recent play Tales of a City by the Sea will be published as part of the anthology in early 2016.
Co-producer and actor Majid Shokor
Majid has been acting for over 25 years. He also directed whilst teaching drama in Lebanon for four years and has written his own works. He has won many awards in his home country of Iraq and has been a member of the Iraqi National Theatre Company and a long-time member of the Iraqi Theatre Artists Syndicate.
Since arriving in Australia in September 2001, Majid has appeared in many plays in Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide including, Kan Yama Kan directed by Robin Laurie. Getting in directed by Jean-Pierre Mignon, Subclass26A directed by Bagryana Popov at 45 Downstaires for which he got Green Room Best Actor Award nomination 2005, Carrying Shoes Into The Unknown at LaMam, Homebody /Kabul by Tony Kushner directed by Chris Bendal , Theatre@ risk company and The Cove season, 8 short plays by Daniel Keen and directed by Matt Scholton presented at the Dog Theatre, for which he got another Green Room Best Actor Award nomination 2009.
Majid was also seen at Belvoir St Theatre in The Cool Room which was presented by Performing Lines and In Our Name, a play Written and directed by Nigel Jamieson and was presented by company B. His screen credits include a guest role in City Homicide and an actor and cultural consultant in the feature film Lucky Miles.
Majid holds a Master degree in Community Cultural Development with honor degree from VCA / Melbourne University.
Director Lech Mackiewicz
Lech directed theatre in Poland, Korea, Japan and Australia, so his understanding of cross-cultural undertaking is based on first hand experience. In Japan Lech worked with the Japanese actors and creatives for Suzuki Company Of Toga and for ACM Mito. His work was seen at a number of international theatre festivals in Japan: Nagoya, Tokyo, Toga. Last year Lech worked on a bilingual co-production of Cho Cho by Daniel Keene for the National China Theatre and Melbourne Arts Centre. In Australia Lech co-founded Auto Da Fe Theatre Company with 2 NIDA graduates Justin Monjo and Jaime Robertson in 1987. In the 1990ies Lech received 3 individual grants from the Australia Council for Arts. He is also the 1991 winner of a New South Wales Performing Arts Scholarship.
Graduate of the National State Academy of Theatre in Cracow (Poland) in 1983, and from UTS Sydney in 1987. Directing secondment with the Moscow Arts Theatre 1991. His directing credits include: KING LEAR for Playbox ( Melbourne) touring nationally and to Japan and Korea, THE HOUR BEFORE MY BROTHER DIES for Jaracza Theatre (Poland), KRAPP’S LAST TAPE for Auto Da Fe Theatre Co. (Poland, Australia, Japan) FELLINIADA (Belvoir. St. Theatre). SO CALLED K. for Mito Acting Company ( Japan), BECKETT IN CIRCLES for Suzuki Company of Toga (SCOT; Japan), AN OAK TREE for Teatr Wegierki (Poland), NaGL for Teatr Auto Da Fe ( Sydney) DITTO.A STORY ( La Mama Melbourne), KAFKA TANCZY for Teatr Zydowski (Warsaw) and most recently EVERYMAN & THE POLE DANCERS at Metanoia Theatre (Melbourne).
Given his experience as an actor and director who has lived and worked in Europe, Japan and Australia, Lech’s theatre-writing displays the space required for collaborative expression and the ambiguity to allow diverse cultural readings. “What marks this work as arresting and worth attending is the cultural prism that the writer and director, Lech Mackiewicz, “a Polish artist immigrant”, brings to this exercise of his view of living in Australia in 2010. At least I found it so – a provocative experience to take on board on several different levels: Content and style at least two of those levels, consciously (in time the subconscious, perhaps). Kevin Jackson’s Theatre Diary. On NaGL
Assistant Director Izabella Mackiewicz
Izabella studied acting and theatre at the National Academy Of Theatre in Cracow (Poland) and UNSW in Sydney (Australia).
She collaborated with Lech Mackiewicz on a number of projects. Her most recent theatre credits include: NaGL (Auto Da Fe Theatre ;Sydney), Milobojcy (Teatr Nowy Zabrze; Poland), Ditto (La Mama; Melbourne), The Author ( Teatr Siemaszkowej Rzeszow; Poland), Skierniewicer ( Poland). She also appeared in some feature films and translated plays for theatre from English to Polish.
Nicole is thrilled to be making her theatre debut here at La Mama in this beautiful production. Since starring as ‘Layla’, in the SBS series ‘kick’ (2007), Nicole has gone on to appear in many television series such as ‘city homicide’ & feature films Including ’10 terrorists’ (2012) & ‘Last Dance’ (2013). Stay tuned to see Nicole in an upcoming feature film, titled ‘Be Less Beautiful’, starring alongside the talented Osamah Sami. Nicole is currently studying at The Melbourne Actors Lab under the guidance of Peter Kalos.
Osamah is a failed cricketer, struggling actor–writer–director and floundering comedian. Born in war-torn Iran to half-Kurdish, half-Iraqi parents and escaping to call Australia home have moulded him into a confused soul. It is a miracle he’s still entrusted to perform on stage. Credits include Sinners, Long Day’s Dying, Blackbox 149, Two Executioners (La Mamma); Baghdad Wedding (Belvoir St.); The Container; Homebody/Kabul (Big West) and Saddam the Musical, which saw him deported from the U.S. (his name, ‘Osama’ and barracking for the ‘Bombers’ were contributing factors).
He played lead roles in films Saved (opposite Claudia Karvan) and 10 Terrorists! TV shows include Kick, City Homicide, East West 101, Sea Patrol & Rush. Contrary to popular belief, he has played a terrorist only twice. Osamah also created an 8-episode sitcom for SBS (Baghdad to the Burbs) and has written a vague number of plays and short films. His memoir ‘Good Muslim Boy’, published by Hardie Grants, will be released in May 2015. He is currently working on two feature films and being a better father.
Emily was born and raised in Melbourne and has been passionate about acting and singing from a young age. Her first theatre experience was in primary school – performing in both the schools improvisational group and choir ensemble – which sparked her passion for the arts. Since then she has continued her training at Musical Theatre school Showfit, Melbourne Actors Lab and The Rehearsal Room, and has appeared in various T.V shows such as Offspring, web-series, short-films, adverts and feature films around Melbourne. She is also recording an album of original music with producer Lee Bradshaw, which she is excited to release later this year. Emily is thrilled to be joining the cast of The Tales Of A City By The Sea this season, and looks forward to sharing this story with you all.
Wahibe is a performance-maker, writer and Green-Room award winning actor. She has gained respect as a Cultural/Language Consultant in theatre and television. She creates short fiction, poetry and performance where the personal is political, exploring the exchange of power within human relationships. 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. Her solo performances and writing speaks to contemporary social experience, utilising spoken word and movement with audio-visual and sculptural elements: TIME PIECE (Immigration Museum 2002) TOUCH(DON’T)TOUCH (2000), SOME KIND OF LOVE (2010), BREATH OF GOD (2012).
As an actor Wahibe has been seen on television and in independent theatre productions. In 2007, Wahibe received the Green Room Award for Female Actor in an Independent Production, for her role as Mahala in Theatre @ Risk’s 2007 production of Tony Kushner‘s Homebody/Kabul.
As a Community Artist, Wahibe worked collaboratively in Community Theatre, Visual Art and Writing Projects in Melbourne and Sydney. Projects include THE TORCH (on its Shepparton tour in 2001), which led to drama and leadership workshops for young Australian Muslim women In Shepparton and Melbourne. Wahibe toured Australian Capitals with Medicen Sans Frontiere as a Storyteller, retelling the stories of six Refugees from Africa, Chechnya, Eastern Europe and the Middle East. BETWEEN MEMORY AND HOPE: TEARS FOR THE FUTURE, The Iraqi Women’s Quilt and Story Project (2003-2005) where women shared their experiences under Saddam Hussein and then at the hands of the Australian Government, in textile art creating panels for 5 Quilts and a companion book. These quilts have been constantly touring Australian cities and towns ever since.
In 2009 Wahibe founded “Writer’s Nest“, for writers interested in exploring new territories and expanding known ground. She completed her Master of Writing for Performance 2012. In 2013 she received a Hot Desk Fellowship From the Wheeler Centre spending ten weeks writing and researching a new performance piece, In The Garden. Currently she is one of ten Dramaturgy Interns, a Playwriting Australia Fellowship initiative with MTC. Wahibe continues her online collaboratIon with German sound artist, Somer Abbas Yacoub.
Aseel is a vocalist and installation artists. She considers herself a non-traditional Arab Muslim girl. Born in Jerusalem she was raised a proud Palestinian by her parents in Qalanswa, Palestine. Torn between sustaining her identity and being forced to assimilate by a suppressive Israeli occupation of Palestine Aseel was forced to live the Palestinian Israeli conflict in her daily life. The result was that Aseel grew stronger, wanting to drive the changes she seeks to see in the world. Aseel seeks education through Art. She graduateed from the collage of arts with honour. Her art focuses on women rights, society & national identity.
Reece Graduated from The Actors College of Theatre and TV in Sydney in 2010, Reece Vella has been acting professionally for the past four years, gaining experience while working with the likes of Lech Machiewicz, Lex Marinos and Mario Philip Azzopardi. With a passion for new work his latest endeavors have been the world premier of “Il- Kappillan ta’ Malta” in July 2014 performed in Malta in Maltese, based on the English best selling novel by Nicholas Monsarrat and most recently performing in “Everyman and the Pole Dancers” in October 2014 at Metanoia Theatre under the Auto Da Fe company. Reece is delighted to be performing for the second time at La Mama since he holds this place close to his heart for its unquantifiable artistic and historical Australian value.
Ubaldino is a relative newcomer to acting and performing. Since 2009, he has played major roles in community theatre in the Geelong region (Oscar Wilde in Kaufman’s Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde, ‘Mario’ in Miller’s A View From The Bridge, ‘Cripple Billy’ in McDonagh’s The Cripple of Inishmaan, ‘The Actor’ in Mallatratt’s The Woman In Black, Dr Treves in The Elephant Man, ‘Bill Sykes’ in Oliver!). He has performed in several plays written and directed by Doug Mann for the National Trust and has undergone regular workshops and training, including the VCA’s Acting Studio 12. Ubaldino has been a producer and presenter on community radio and recently performed in Richard Kakol’s Vision Australia radio play, The Infinite Hotel. In 2013, Ubaldino performed in Daylight Savings, an ensemble-devised production led by James Pratt at Courthouse Arts. Ubaldino is the tallest member of his family band, The Mantelli Five.
Cara is an actor, singer and voice teacher. Following graduation of her BA (Hons) Acting at LASALLE College of the Arts in Singapore she worked in children’s puppetry theatre and at the Singapore Arts Festival. Cara is a certified Fitzmaurice Voicework™ teacher and continues training in Knight-Thompson Speechwork this December in New York. She also continues her acting training at the Howard Fine Studio. Favourite credits include: Medea, Elektra, Macbeth, Conference of the Birds, Visible Cities, One More Year and The Wonderful World of Dissocia. Cara is excited to be making her La Mama debut in such an important, currently relevant story.
Set Designer Lara Week
Lara is a Melbourne-based producer and designer for performance. Her background includes co-creating monthly community music event Deja in her home city of Sydney; leading play-building workshops for children with Galli Theatre, Berlin; making costumes for a children’s program in the Israeli Opera; and working with children in a youth club for refugees in Tel Aviv. Since 2011, Lara has been associate producer for Tribal Soul Arts, producing community programs and original performances in Zimbabwe, Mozambique, the Netherlands, UK, and Australia. In 2013, Lara completed her PG Dip in Performance Creation (Design) at the Victorian College of the Arts. Her design credits include: The Conference of the Birds (Centre for Cultural Partnerships), The Love of Don Perlimplín and Belisa in the Garden (VCA School of Drama), A Feat Incomplete (Old 505 Theatre), and Just Looking (VCA School of Dance). She is dedicated to creating spaces where people with different skills and perspectives can share ideas and produce work together.
Lighting Designer Shane Grant
Shane has been Audio Visual Technician for St Kevins College for the past 8 years. Prior to that he was Production Manager with Strange Fruit for 6 years and Technical Manager at Gasworks Theatre for 4 years. Shane is an accomplished lighting designer having worked extensively with companies like Ranters Theatre, The Torch Project, NYID and many others. Shane has a BA Dramatic Arts (Production) VCA from 1994. Shane is currently a company director of Metanoia Theatre and the technical manager of the mechanics institute theatre in Brunswick.
Sound Designer Khaled Sabsabi
Khaled works across art mediums, geographical borders and cultures to create immersive and engaging media based experiences. I’m a socially-engaged artist who specialises in multimedia and site-specific installations that often involve people on the margins of society. I have worked in detention centres, schools, prisons, refugee camps, settlements, hospitals and youth centres, in the Australian and broader international context. I’m interested in the individual and what defines humans, our experiences, anxieties and uncertainties. I make work that questions; rationales and complexities of nationhood and identity. I also make work that is in continual transfer from the physical to the philosophical, to interconnect the interrelatedness and cycles of life. www.peacefender.com
Sound Mixer Max Schollar-Root
Max has his roots in The Australian Theatre for Young People and the NSW Performing Arts Unit State Drama Ensemble, Max found his passion in musical performance and composition while studying at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music. He has since played in many ensembles, currently works as a bandleader, tours nationally, and has produced six full-length albums. Recently he has been completing training to become a Registered Music Therapist at the University of Melbourne. Max is increasingly involved in multi-modal performance projects combining live music, technology, and dance, and is presenting this work with his group, Ungus Ungus Ungus, at music and arts festivals across Australia.
Stage Manager James O’Donoghue
James is a theatre maker and designer in his final year Performing Arts at Monash University. In 2013 James undertook a technical internship at Monash Uni Student Theatre and designed multiple productions including The Threepenny Opera, Psycho Beach Party and a contemporary dance piece In The Fires, We Weep. Further work includes stage management of Boy Out of the Country presented by Larrikin Ensemble Theatre at 45 Downstairs, stage management of Little Dances at La Mama Theatre, Stage Management for Auto De Fa’s Ditto, design of The Bloom’s Ernest, lighting secondment to Emma Valente on The Rabble’s Room of Regret, design of A Midsummer Night’s Dream by the Monash Shakespeare Compay, assistant design for Attic Erattic’s The City They Burned and assistant design for Passion presented at the Arts Centre this month.
Assistant Stage Manager Nada Mustafa
Nada is a Palestinian Australian, Having completed her Bachelor in Filmmaking, she went on to volunteer with Channel 31 as a floor manager for their Youth Network…she then progressed to complete an internship with Happening Films as their Production Assistant for their short film Golden Girl. She continued further study in Event Management and Public relations and continued to gain skills voluntarily as a 3rd Assistant Director for short films under Shekat Productions and has also voluntarily assisted in the Melbourne International Film Festival and Tropfest. She has organised small knit events and recently travelled to Palestine where she got to witness firsthand a slither of the daily Palestinian struggle. Upon her arrival back to Australia with her passion for all things creative and Palestine she has joined us as Assistant Stage Manager in her first role in the theatre industry that she can now add to her growing list of skills.
Photographer/videographer Ahmad Sabra
Ahmad is an Australian Muslim Lebanese multi award winning international photographer. At the age of 5 Ahmad lost his eyesight in a tragic tractor plow accident. In what at first was considered a cruel joke, a stranger gave Ahmad a camera and a roll of film. Thinking it was a gun, Ahmad would squeal and point the camera at anyone that approached. Gradually his eyesight returned and he has continued to use the camera until today but with less squealing and sharper results. ” For Ahmad’s real bio please visit his website at Www.sabraimagery.com.au
Tales of a City by the Sea
NOVEMBER 12 – NOVEMBER 23
Written by Samah Sabawi
Assistant Director: Izabella Mackiewicz
Performed by Nicole Chamoun, Osamah Sami, Emily Coupe, Majid Shokor, Wahibe Moussa, Reece Vella, Aseel Tayeh, Ubaldino Mantelli and Cara Whitehouse
Set design by Lara Week
Lighting design by Shane Grant
Sound design by Khaled Sabsabi
Sound mix by Max Schollar-Root
Stage Manager: James O’Donoghue
Assistant Stage Manager: Nada Mustafa
Website: Aya El-Zinati
Photographer: Ahmad Sabra
Poster design by Ahmad Sabra and Aya El-Zinati
Sunday 4:00 pm
Tickets can be booked up until 4:00 pm on the day of the performance, otherwise try your luck at the door.
Please allow plenty of time to arrive at our venues, as we have a no latecomers policy.
The Gaza production of our Palestinian love story Tales of a City by the Sea which is soon be staged in Melbourne and in the West Bank, has fallen causality to Israel’s most recent war.
The play, which was set to premier in Gaza, the West Bank and Melbourne at the same time this November explores Palestinian life and love under siege and against the backdrop of Israel’s assault on Gaza in 2008-09. Never did we imagine that we would be staging the play at a time when Gaza has just faced a far more brutal assault that has reduced more than half of the city into rubble and has caused so many deaths and injuries.
Our Gaza team, who were set to begin rehearsals this month, have suffered the loss of loved ones, the total destruction of their beloved neighborhoods and the absolute terror of 50 days of constant and indiscriminate bombardment. The situation in Gaza today is far worst than ever before.
Unfortunately, given the widespread devastation the city has been left with, the psychological trauma the people are reeling from and the inadequacy of even the most basic of infrastructure, the staging of the play in Gaza has been postponed.
In Melbourne as in the West Bank, the production of this play has become more important than ever. Both at the La Mama theatre in Melbourne and at the Alrowwad Cultural and Theatre Society in Aida Refugee Camp in the West Bank, we are now determined to bring the tales of the people of Gaza to life by using theatre as a means of raising awareness and encouraging ‘beautiful resistance’, an expression coined by Alrowwad’s director Abdelfattah Abusrour.
So with heavy hearts we will continue this project without our Gaza partners. This defiant old city by the sea Gaza deserves to have its theatre; its artists deserve to have space for their creativity and its people deserve to have normal lives. But none of that seems to be possible in the face of the ongoing military occupation, the siege, the bombardment and with the complicity of a silent world.
As we move forward with our productions in Melbourne and in the West Bank, we would like to dedicate our efforts to raising awareness about the plight of the people in Gaza. We hope we can count on your continued support.
We are pleased to announce that the cast and crew for the theatre production of Tales of a City by the Sea is now fully assembled. We are looking forward to finally staging this Palestinian story of love and separation in Melbourne. This play was written a few years ago during the aftermath of Israel’s assault on Gaza in 2008-2009. It was intended to be a celebration of a people’s ability to rise from the ashes of war. Never did we think that we’d be producing the play at a time when Gaza is living through yet another period of war and destruction.
This play was also scheduled to be staged in Gaza and in the West Bank in Arabic this year but we are still waiting to learn the fate of our Palestinian productions under these extreme and horrific circumstances. Our hearts go out to them as we begin our journey of bringing to life the voices and tales of that battered old city by the sea.
More updates and a full list of cast and crew will be posted later in the week. For now, here is a sneak preview:
We are looking for actors for the following roles:
Jomana female mid 30s
Lama female early 20s
Rami male late 30s, must be able to put on an American accent
Ali male mid 20s
Um Ahmad plus extra roles – female no other specific requirements
(Note new extended deadline for expression of interest)
August 13 – deadline for expressions of interest
August 16th & 17th script reading and workshop – this will be part of the auditioning process.
October 3rd – 12th and November 1st -10th every day full rehearsals can be flexible but must discuss with Lech
November 11 Opening night
Play runs for two weeks.
To apply please email your photo and a short bio by August 15th
For information about this project visit our website www.talesofacitybythesea.com
Friends, this week our eyes were glued to our laptops watching in disbelief yet another horrible attack on the people of Gaza. We worried about our friends, partners and loved ones. Within theTales of a City by the Sea production team we worried about our partners in Gaza, our director Ali Abu Yassin and our representative in Gaza, Aya El-Zinati. Aya is a young dynamic and talented film maker and journalist who is the epitome of the human spirit we try to convey in our play. Before the war broke out, she promised to make a new video for our project. Imagine our surprise when she sent this email yesterday with a link to the video she completed while listening to the sounds of the falling bombs outside her window. With her permission, we are proud to share her email as it offers a deep insight into life in Gaza.
Email from Aya
How are you?
I imagine this is not the right time to even talk about this but I know I have work to do. True, I’ve only slept two hours in the last three days, and I’ve been away from home most of the time but I have been thinking of you. I’ve been wondering how can I produce the video (Trailer for Tales of a City by the Sea) and what if something happens to me and I (die) before finishing it.
So, every day at dawn I try to do more edits and I don’t know but I hope this time you will like it. Please believe me I’ve tried my best to do it better than the first cut. If you don’t like it and we remain alive I will do a better one for you.
What is important is that I want to tell you a few stories we hear about the martyrs in Gaza. I want to tell you so you know what Gaza love stories are like in reality…in war… in these conditions.
On the first day when 8 people were killed, one of them was from the Qassam brigade. His name was Abdlerahman AlZamly. He was engaged to a lady, maybe you’ve seen her in some of the photos that went viral as she was saying goodbye to him. They were engaged for a long time and couldn’t get married because they were waiting for the Rafah crossing to open and for cement to come into Gaza so they can finish building their house. All they needed was one ton of cement. Of course there were no crossings open and even if they were to open and if cement came in, they may not have afforded it because it would have been five times its actual worth.
Yesterday, the Kaware family was martyred in Khan Yunis. Their house was bombed. Eight members of the family were killed and neighbours injured some have serious injuries. When I went to report it I almost had a breakdown. I told the photographer to take photos. My stomach turned. But I tried to be strong…to be normal.
Yesterday a very young man Fakhr AlAjoory was martyred on his motorcycle and the scene was horrific. Before he was martyred he wrote a status on his Facebook: ‘when I die, some will mourn me, some will feel relieved, some will remember me forever, some wont care, but that’s o.k. it is enough for me to be going to a better place’.
Last night they bombed the Hamad family. The family was sitting in their garden drinking coffee at night. The missile landed suddenly and the problem is the whole family died except for the youngest child, 5 years old, he is now orphaned and with no one left to take care of him.
My father is a maintenance engineer at the hospital and because of the emergency situation there he doesn’t come home much. I try as much as possible to check on my mom at home in between my work shifts. Anyway, as I was walking to our house, I saw lots of nervous people in the street, some were running it turned out the neighbours were told to evacuate their homes because it will be bombed in ten minutes. I ran to my mother and told her to hurry up and leave. I told her they’re bombing the house next door. The problem is if a missile lands next door our entire house will be destroyed. I kept begging her to leave but she insisted on staying. She said she would never leave her home. I kept begging there was no time…I stayed with her preferring to die with her than to live and mourn her death. Can you believe the missile landed but did not explode? The authorities came and they carried it away. So we’re still alive.
There is no safe place in Gaza at all. Every place is a target. This means Israel is bankrupt and has no list of targets so it just bombs sporadically at civilian structures. Despite it all, the poor people of Gaza still go out into the street, they buy food for Ramadan, they make kenafah and katayef for desert and they try to live the spirit of the holy month.
What upsets me the most is that the situation in this city has become so painful. There are many who don’t have enough to buy food. And on top of that, there is war and destruction. Many live on handouts or borrowed money. Some people built their homes from borrowed money only to see their homes destroyed and with their home gone, so goes everything else they have. No one seems to understand the depth of our pain. Is it not enough we’re losing ourselves, losing our lives, losing our future, and outside, the rest of the world carries slogans ‘Gaza under attack’ or ‘Gaza under fire’ but listen first about what is really happening in Gaza. Some people even post the wrong photos from Syria or from Iraq this made the international media discredit what’s really happening here and this played to Israel’s advantage. But believe me what happened here in the past three days is a massacre.
What also really upset me and frustrates me is that no one is telling our stories. Our real human stories. They talk about us as enemies or they reduce us to numbers and statistics.
I am sorry I’ve given you a headache with my rant. But I really wanted to talk to you and tell you our stories.
I’ve been in Gaza for nine years now and in that time I’ve lived through three wars. Each war has many stories. If I don’t die in this war, I will write a book about those three wars….hahaha…I remember how innocent I was when I came here and how this place made me a human being. Seriously. I think as much as I am tired of being in this place, it has given me life.
All my friends outside Gaza call me and message me. They are worried this time I will get killed. One friend said ‘Promise me Aya you will not die. If you do I will be very upset with you’. They say if you need anything … I said yes…I’ve ran out of coal for my water pipe…I can’t smoke sheesha now. hahaha….:)
Pray for me.
Here is the video.
This is part of our Tales of a City by the Sea video series. To learn more about this project click on the home page, or visit our youtube channel and watch other short videos from the various key artists involved in this project. We are now half way through our fundraising campaign. Please bring us closer to our goal by making a donation, and by helping us spread the word by way of sharing our videos on social media and talking to your friends about this unique new and exciting project.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.
The importance of theatre for refugees and asylum seekers is demonstrated by Handala, an Alrowwad Theatre production at Aida Refugee camp in Bethlehem, and the inspiration behind the concept of ‘Beautiful Resistance’ with Dr Rand Hazou, Lecturer in Theatre with the Expressive Arts programme at Massey University. Listen to interview.
Read more about this project here
Centre for Palestine Studies
Please join us for a panel discussion with videos and presentations by representatives from the Jenin Freedom Theatre in Palestine. The panelists will discuss the following:
- What is it like to make theater in Occupied Palestine and why is this work important?
- What is the relationship between theatre and politics in Palestine as practiced at The Freedom Theatre?
- How does the theatre continue its work under severe repression, murder and arrests?
- What are the similarities/differences in acting education between the U.S. and Palestine?
Faisal Abu Alheja is 23-yr-old Palestinian actor trained at The Freedom Theatre in Jenin. He has performed in Animal Farm, Fragments of Palestine, Men in the Sun, Sho Kaman and is currently in rehearsal for The Island. Faisal was a member of the Playback Theatre troupe in 2012 and has toured in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland.
Ahmad Al-Rokh is a 24-yr-old Palestinian actor trained at The Freedom Theatre in Jenin. He has performed in Animal Farm, Men in the Sun, Journey, Sho Kaman and is also currently in rehearsal for The Island. Ahmad was a member of the Playback Theatre troupe in 2012 and has toured in Luxembourg, France, and Belgium.
Gary English is a Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor, Professor of Theatre, of the University of Connecticut. He is also the Founding Artistic Director of Connecticut Repertory Theatre, as well as the current Artistic Director of The Freedom Theatre in Jenin.
This event is co-presented by the Friends of the Jenin Freedom Theatre (www.thefreedomtheatre.org) and the Center for Palestine Studies at Columbia University and co-sponsored by the Network of Arab American Professionals – NY (NAAP-NY), ArteEast, and Alwan for the Arts.
This event is free and open to the public and on a first-come, first-seated basis. RSVP recommended to email@example.com.
APRIL 14, 2013, 5PM
Room 501 Schermerhorn
Enter Gates on 116th Street & Amsterdam or Broadway
For more information go to the Centre for Palestine Studies
The play Tales of a City by the Sea is a unique and poetic journey into the lives of ordinary people in the besieged Gaza strip prior to, during and after its bombardment during the winter of 2008. Jomana, a Palestinian woman who lives in the Shati (beach) refugee camp in Gaza falls in love with Rami, an American born Palestinian doctor and activist who arrives on the first Free Gaza boats in 2008. Their love is met with many challenges forcing Rami to make incredible decisions the least of which is to take a dangerous journey through the underground tunnels that connect Gaza to Egypt. Although on the surface this love story appears to explore the relationship between diaspora Palestinians and Palestinians under occupation, there is a broader and more universal theme that emerges – one of human survival and tenacity. Tales of a City by the Sea avoids political pitfalls, ideological agendas and clichés by focusing on the human story of the people in Gaza. Although the play’s characters are fictional, the script is based on real life events and is a product of a collection of real stories the author Samah Sabawi and her family have experienced during the events of the past several years. Sabawi has written most of the poetry in the play during the three-week bombardment of Gaza in 2008/2009.
The writer Samah Sabawi is a Palestinian-Canadian-Australian published writer, commentator and playwright. She has travelled the world and lived in its far corners, yet always felt as though she was still trapped in her place of birth Gaza. The war torn besieged and isolated strip has shaped her understanding of her identity and her humanity. So what else could Sabawi do but to indulge in Gaza’s overwhelming presence and to succumb to tell the stories of her loved ones back home. Her most recent play Tales of a City by the Sea is dedicated to them and to all of those who still manage to have faith and hope even as the sky rains death and destruction.
The script is available to interested theatre makers upon request. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Follow Samah Sabawi on Twitter @gazaheart
Samah Sabawi’s professional bio can be found here
For more information on Samah Sabawi: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samah_Sabawi
Students at the West Bank’s first and only drama school talk about their struggle to establish a theatre in the West Bank and their desire to change society for the better through theatre. Ulrike Schleicher spoke to three of them
When Palestinian Malak Abu Gharbia was 12 years old, she met the famous Syrian actor and comedian Doraid Lahham after a theatre performance. “He asked whether I wanted to become an actress one day too,” says Malak, who is now 20 years old. “I wasn’t able to say a single word.” Since the encounter, film and theatre have been part of her life. She soaked up everything that had anything to do with them, read plays and went to see performances whenever possible.
For the past half year, Malak has been able to live out her passion: she is studying acting at the theatre academy in Ramallah in the West Bank. Juliet in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet was one of her first roles.
Malak, who was born in Jerusalem, learns various acting techniques such as improvisation as well as singing, fencing and pantomime five days a week. She also trains her voice and rehearses. Although the academy is the first and only acting school in the West Bank, her training is no different to what she would receive in Europe.
The academy was founded in 2009 with the help of the Folkwang University of the Arts in Essen, Germany. The teachers there advise the staff at the Ramallah academy and are helping them to build what will in future be a state-approved college. Exchanges and guest performances are part of the cooperation.
So far, the lion’s share of funding has come from Germany, but the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah would also like to contribute in the future. Speaking at the opening of the academy in 2009, Prime Minister Salam Fayyad said that the academy is helping to maintain the history, heritage and culture of Palestine.
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