Theater of Cruelty

Can political theater change Gaza?

Political theater is booming in Gaza, which is thirsty for anything that can contribute to change.



For decades, Palestinians standing in long queues in front of emergency centers have been a common sight in Gaza. The reason is the rising unemployment.

At the same time, another type of queue has emerged. It can be observed in front of other centers, mainly cultural centers. The people in the queues are not waiting for relief, but for plays.

It is going slowly, but there is still an increase in the number of cultural events in Gaza, which is attracting an ever-growing audience. This is particularly true of local films, concerts, and eventually also theatrical performances involving political satire. Especially young people show interest in the cultural events – young people who have been subjected to a lot of suffering over the years, and who seek relief from tragedies, wars and blockades.

The satirical performances have emerged on the initiative of a group of young artists working to revitalize political theater in Palestine, after years of full stoppage due to the political situation. They assume that art should be a source of change – a change in today's harsh reality characterized by instability, conflict and misery that is largely due to the Israeli occupation.

Gaza theater piece. Decades of occupation have had a major impact on Palestinians' daily lives, even after the 1993 Oslo Accords and the establishment of the Palestinian Authority. The internal divide that arose in 2007 has further aggravated and complicated the situation. Hamas' takeover of Gaza and the tightening of the blockade against the population have created serious and endless problems at political as well as social and economic levels.

Last summer, the United Nations warned that Gaza could become a "ticking bomb in the region," expressing concern over a looming Fourth War related to the international community's neglect of Gaza, and that the geopolitical situation in the region is changing.

Despite the modest start the political theater has had in Gaza, and not least the lack of equipment, it can still build a seed of hope among younger generations in the region.

On a long stage made of old cabinets and with a stage curtain of dusty curtains, I saw a group of actors perform a piece about the reunion between two brothers living under the same roof, but in conflict with each other because they are linked to two different political factions, namely Hamas and Fatah. Their relatives try to bring the brothers together by planning a wedding for both of them with their chosen ones, and then having them dance together to national music and thus fraternize again.

The play was shown at the Al Mis'hal Cultural Center in the refugee camp Beach, located in the western part of Gaza. Tens of thousands of Palestinian refugees have lived here for the past six decades. The show drew hundreds of spectators who followed passionately to the end, and praised the idea and performance that touched on one of the most important issues of their lives, namely the split between Hamas and Fatah.

Islam Ayyoub is an actor, but saw this piece from the auditorium, saying: "Theater is something for itself. You see the audience's reactions to every word and every movement immediately. ”

Ironically, my first theater experience was about reality.

The 37-year-old teacher Manal Al Bakri believes the play "created an inner discussion within one's self".

"It was a truly unique experience, because this is the first time I've seen a play," says Manal. “Ironically, my first theater experience was about reality. In Gaza, we live in the same theater every single day, and we are the protagonists of the play. ”

War and peace. In the southern part of Gaza City you will find the Red Crescent Theater Hall. It has mainly been used for teaching school classes, but not long ago became a set up War and peace, after the Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy's famous novel, performed here. The story was edited and produced on a low budget by the art group "Theater for all" in Gaza. The play revolved primarily around Napoleon's invasion of Russia and the French forces' occupation of Moscow, and depicted the devastation and carnage that took place at that time.

The winter cold and Moscow's fierce resistance forced Napoleon to retire and leave the country as a beaten man, and the victorious city entered a period of peace and reconstruction.

Naeem Nasr directed the play, saying that this play in its complete form requires dozens of actors and forty hours of acting time. His team shrunk it down to six actors, forty minutes of playing time and a tight budget. Tolstoy's novel was chosen because of the similarity between the stories of Moscow and Gaza, says Naeem. Both have had to suffer through occupation and war. “The play shows in particular how we should deal with the challenges in spite of all the differences and find a way to live together. War kills people and gives no hope of peace, ”he says.

Haya Ashour had a role in the play. She says that the ensemble wanted to convey a message that the search for freedom and independence is a right the Palestinian people have, just like any other nation in the world. “We are also human beings, and we have an intense urge to get our cultural and artistic views into the world. The setup of this piece is an example of that, ”she says.

Change. With each new play and every new performance, the political theater is gaining more and more ground in Gaza. Now the tour has come to a set up The Cage by Ali Abu Yaseen. The main character is Haneen, an 18-year-old girl who screams from the stage: "There's no point in talking, the whole world is watching us!"

Her screams sum up the reality – the huge gap between the political leaders and the situation of the people during the war when thousands were killed and hundreds of thousands fled their homes and sought refuge in schools and shelters. The play begins with a group dancing with nervous movements; the dance represents people fleeing surrounded by the sound of bombs and flashing lights. The play is also about an opportunistic journalist who uses the victims' fear of death to get a coup, and a party leader who is wanted by Israel while he continues to talk about religion. The political leader reprimands Haneen, who is his neighbor, just as it is, but she is furious with him because she thinks he betrayed her family: When he was warned to leave his house because it was to be bombed by Israeli planes a few minutes later, he took his family with him without notifying the neighbors. The rooster lost his father and both legs in the bombing.

25-year-old Haitham Al Shaer has seen the play from the hall. He believes today's turbulent political situation forces people to look for an alternate reality, be it in novels or other fiction stories.

"We're not strong enough to change the situation, but in drama and other arts there are things we can pick up and use to survive and move forward," he says.

There is no theater or drama education in Gaza, so the amateur actors develop their skills with the help of organizations, which contribute with occasional courses. Theater as an art form now appeals to a wide audience, and especially political theater is flourishing in the city, which is thirsty for anything that can contribute to change.

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