In a narrow street in the refugee camp Nuseirat on the central part of the Gaza Strip, a type of fuss is heard rarely seen in a male-dominated neighborhood with no particular tolerance for female outbreaks outdoors. The noise comes from a theater scene. On an 25 square footage of composite pallets covered with beige canvas, a group of women actors try to persuade Yousef to drop the desire to emigrate to Belgium to escape conditions on the Gaza Strip.
Women have rarely appeared on a scene in this area due to the social restrictions they are exposed to, which prohibit them from performing with men in an artistic context. Traditionally, men in women's clothing have filled women's roles in television and theater. However, in July 2016, Wissam al-Dirawi, Manal Barakat and Ols Salim decided to rebel against the stereotypes of the local community: They started Bothour for Culture and the Arts, and recently produced a play titled Hashtag.
To stay, in spite. The play is about three young men, played by young actors from the refugee camp, who meet in the port of Gaza – each with their own special dream. When one of them decides to go his way to find out what is beyond the harbor, the action is set in motion. "The play strengthens the idea of staying in Gaza, and turns against the ghost of migration that has power over the minds of young people," al-Dirawi told Ny Tid.
They are curious about what exists on the other side of the ocean, and how they can fulfill their dreams there. But the port guard, Uncle Abu Nawras, is always there to convince them that Gaza is beautiful, and he reinforces the desire to stay in their homeland despite the difficult social conditions following the three wars the area has been through.
According to data from the World Bank in 2016, unemployment stands at a staggering 42 percent in Gaza. Among youth, the figures are even more disturbing: 58 percent. And although almost 80 percent of Gaza's residents receive some form of support, the poverty rate is very high.
Symbol Heavy. Hashtag makes use of many symbols. Abu Nawras (nawras "gull" in Arabic) symbolizes the value of participating in society; storm the tragic conditions in Gaza; fisherman woman a social challenge. The young men themselves symbolize the unstable conditions in Gaza, according to Salim.
"The content of the Bothour plays is inspired by the so-called daily meetings the theater administration holds with the women in the neighborhood," says Salim – women who suffer at the domestic level, of the desire for freedom from Israeli occupation on the one hand and under social restrictions. in the male-dominated society on the other.
"The onlookers can notice that the women on stage act according to the distress they feel so deeply," says Salim.
Increasing popularity. In September 2017, Gaza's population was approximately 2,5 million – 51 percent men and 49 percent women, according to Gaza's Ministry of Civil Affairs. Some women are still prevented from working in male-dominated workplaces, are deprived of the right to inherit and are denied university studies. "These tragedies inspire us to encourage women to play in front of their husbands, brothers and male relatives to show these dilemmas on stage," Salim told Ny Tid.
The theater activity on the Gaza Strip stagnated after the split in 2007 between the political parties Hamas and Fatah, which had a negative impact on all levels of life. People stayed away from the theater and were more concerned with safety and basic needs.
After nine years of disagreement, the inhabitants of the enclave have once again begun to see theatrical performances that stage their daily concerns. The theater activities slowly returned with some success because of clear texts that talked about the problems of unemployment and the effects of the Palestinian divide, and greater emphasis was placed on the visual. "But," says Barakat, "it was a tidal wave, and the high level of the actors' performance increased their interest. First and foremost, the theater can only succeed through the audience. "
Women's rights. Bothour has received many requests from female college students who want to volunteer on stage. "I think the phenomenon of shame is gradually disappearing among these girls and their families," says al-Dirawi. The taboo idea, on the other hand, is still deeply rooted in many of their male relatives.
Zahra al-Kurdi – a 20-year-old law student and volunteer actor in Bothour – is one of those who has experienced this. “Some men think that the kitchen is the right place for women. I sometimes get ridiculous comments from my cousins, but I don't care as long as what I do is ethically high and appreciated by everyone. Why else would all these men attend the shows? "
The committed al-Kurdi does not seem to mind playing in performances with love and romance. "It's fine with me, but at the moment it can be difficult for others. First we have to get the audience to accept the idea of theater, then we can prepare the actors. Love is an integral part of our lives, even though we are enveloped in war and fire, "al-Kurdi told Ny Tid. She adds that Palestinian women have the right to fight to change their social situation – to get out of the cursed captivity and into life. To get their rights. "Women create life and hope for generations," she says.