Theatre for Everybody from Gaza

Az Theatre in the Soho Theatre Studio, July 2007


Presenting the work of Theatre for Everybody from Gaza, Palestine

With a public telephone conversation London-Gaza

Theatre For Everybody's two founder members, Jamal Al Rozzi and Hossam Madhoun were to present their company's work at London's Soho Theatre on July 17th 2007. The event was a part of a collaboration with Az Theatre with whom the company from Gaza have been in the War Stories partnership since 2002. Because of the closures to the Gaza Strip they were unable to come.

Az Theatre decided to create an event that would be a presentation of their work against the background of the recent history and current situation in Gaza and to follow this up with a public telephone call to Jamal and Hossam that could be shared by the whole audience.

The event consisted of a series of readings from interviews of Hossam and Jamal, material that they had sent, official information and the showing of extracts from films.

Although this document is being produced some time after the event and the situation in Gaza has got worse we are not updating the information.

What follows is a copy of what was read out and the actual telephone conversation but not of the discussion that took place.

The event was hosted by Jonathan Chadwick.

The readings were given by Chipo Chung, Alan Marni and Jennie Stoller.

The video from which the transcript was taken by Maysoon Pachachi and Roy Cornwall.

Anya Rhyzhenkova was Az Theatre's producer for the event.

Jennie Stoller and Amy Fox transcribed the telephone conversation.

With the kind assistance and support of In Place of War at the University of Manchester.

One

Artistic statement by Theatre for Everybody

Reader A: We are theatre makers and we want to take part in the society through art. We believe in theatre as artistic production as well as a way of bringing awareness in society of major problems. We believe that through plays, we can contribute to change attitudes, to shake preconceived ideas or at least to bring out the problems whether they be social, psychological, economic.

Reader B: Through entertainment, through shows, we don't lecture people, we just stimulate them, we question them about themselves, about their beliefs, their behavior. Our theatre is committed to life but not directly political: we don't deliver messages.

A: The artistic quality of our work is constantly our goal: the challenge for the coming years remains to create an audience and to make theatre a daily cultural need as well as an ordinary everyday event. Theatre considered as a tool to build the society is our concern but we would like to reach the point that a play could be chosen only because of its artistic value.

Two

What is happening in Gaza? Readings from report of the Gisha Legal Centre for the Freedom of Movement entitled 'Commercial Closure: Deleting Gaza's economy from the Map' and United Nations Office for Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affair's Gaza Humanitarian Situation Report 6-13 July 2007, and statements and letters by people from Gaza recently sent to Az Theatre.

B: Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt was closed beginning June 10 2007.

Karni Crossing between Israel and Gaza, the lifeline through which commercial goods are transferred, was closed beginning June 12th 2007.

Erez Crossing, the crossing for travelers between Gaza and Israel, was closed on June 14 2007 and since then has opened only for humanitarian exceptions.

A: 75 per cent of Gaza's factories have shut down because of the closure of the borders

B: There is a serious shortage of raw materials, including flour and sugar for household and industrial purposes, and prices of raw materials have risen between 15 and 34 per cent.

A: The prices are impossible, it's murder. How will we eat? I walked in the heat of the day from Majraka, because I don't have money to pay for car fare. Every shekel I spend on travel is one less shekel to buy food for the children.

B: Israel erased from its computers the custom code used to identify goods entering Gaza and issued orders not to allow any imports into Gaza with the exception of humanitarian goods.

A: Out of 3,900 factories in Gaza, producing food, pharmaceuticals, construction materials, wood, paper, craftwork, engineering materials, metals, plastics and rubber, more than 2,900 factories have ceased to produce.

B: Today I closed my factory due to the shortage of cocoa. We need 133 kinds of raw materials to operate. I employ about 350 workers in my factory. I don't know how I will pay them and therefore, today I shut the factory and asked them to stay at home.

A: Over 65,000 people are now unemployed between the industrial and construction sectors affecting an estimated 450,000 dependants as well

Reader C: Since our house was damaged by the Israeli attack on our neighbor, we are living in this miserable house. The UN rent it for us.

My husband has no job since the Israelis closed Erez industrial zone.

We are living with what we receive from the UN. Food parcels! You know it is never enough. Life is not sugar, rice and flour. I have 5 sons and 4 daughters. We have no income.

I used to work at the Job Creation Project but since the Europeans cut their aid I have no chance to work or to bring in any money.

We have been neighbours of Abu Abed for 20 years but he never supports us just because we are not Hamas. We see their food parcels going to their supporters in the neighborhood.

My son Mahmood is 19. He joined the executive forces of Hamas in order to gain some shekels. In the fight between Fatah and Hamas in early May he was obliged to go and shoot other Muslims. I spent my day crying and praying that he would kill no one, and no one would kill him.

Fatah people captured him. They beat him up. Thank God. He was very sick and couldn't participate in the last battles, otherwise he might die.

My other son, Iyad, he is a solder in the police. Thank God they did not target the police and all the week of the fighting I kept him inside the house. But now he refuses to go on duty following the orders of the president. I'm afraid Hamas will hurt him. They threaten all security members if they do not go on duty.

Now Hamas took over Gaza Strip, it is good that they clean the town from the corruptors, but we will die of hunger.

We cannot buy food, the prices increase and I cannot find the cash to buy any thing. We are waiting for the UN food parcel. We will sell part of it to buy fresh vegetables and keep the rest. It will be enough for 3 weeks. I have no idea what to do afterward. From time to time, my sister gives me 50 shekels. Her husband works for the UN but I know that he also supports his bothers. You know many people are without work. I cannot go and ask for help from them.

I argue a lot with my husband, Abu Iyad. I push him hard to find job. The poor man. I know it is not easy.

We were in Libya. We lived there for 12 years, the best years of my life. My husband worked for an American company but when the Libyans kick out the Americans we went to the Netherlands. We should have stayed there. We should not have come back, but my husband insisted. It was 1996, and it was promising. When we arrived in Gaza my husband found a job in the Erez industrial zone. He is a mechanic. But now, he blames himself. He wishes we had not come back.

My son Mohammed spends 20 hours a day on the net, trying to find a chance to travel to Sweden. Sweden is welcoming Palestinians. Oh I wish he succeeds. If he goes there he will work and he will send us money. Maybe he will be able to bring all of us there to Sweden. Gaza is not a place to live any more. All the time, fighting and hunger.

And now I have to push my sons to pray in the mosque. Who knows what Hamas will do for these who do not. I do pray and my husband as well. We are Muslims, but religion is for God. They cannot oblige people to act like them.

They've destroyed the town and now it will be closed for ever.

A: UNICEF has highlighted the psycho-social impact of the recent factional fighting on children in the Gaza Strip. On the basis of information received from three centres run by a local implementing partner, 178 cases were dealt with in June, twice the May figure. Additionally 305 people called the toll free line for assistance in June, more than four times the May figure.

UNICEF reports that carers, providers and professionals have seen significant signs of distress and exhaustion among children, including nightmares, hyperactivity, passive-aggressive behaviours and unreasoned fears.

One NGO supported by UNICEF, registered four cases of children between 12 and 13 years old, who had temporarily lost their ability to speak . Professionals found out that these children had witnessed a number of public executions in Beit Lahia, and concluded that this could have caused the state of mutism.

B: Message from Hossam Madhoun, Theatre for Everybody:

Dear friends

To be Gazan is very unique. You experience everything you may imagine in your dreams, I mean in your nightmares. But still, you can live. You can cope some how until you become a father, then things are not the same.

I do not know if all fathers are like me. I believe they are. Since I became a father everything I do is connected to my daughter.

If I think about the future, I think about her future. If I think about safety, I think about her safety. If I think about enjoyment, I think about her enjoyment. If I think about leaving Gaza for the first time ever in my life, it is only for her.

I'm very worried for her future, for her safety. I'm afraid she will loose her magnificent smile.

C: Poem sent by Hossam Madhoun

 

من أب محب لابنته سلمى
سلمى الجميلة، أحبها وأحبها وأحبها وأحبها وأحبها وأكثر
عيناها كزهر اللوز أوأكثر
ضحكتها كفرح الصباح بل أكثر
في لمسة يديها المخملتين تذوب أحزاني وأكثر
وأنا الباحث الأزلي عن الأمل، لأورثها بعضا منه قبل ذهابي الأخير
وسلمى تستحق الأمل بل أكثر
ستة من الأعوام فقط وعاشت كل ألاعيب الكبار
رأت الأحمر القاني والأسود القاتم وأكثر
ليس هنا من يعطيها وردة بيضاء .. صفراء .. بنفسجية لتتعلم لعبة الألوان
بندقية وعلم هذا كل ما في غزة وأكثر، حصار دمار وانتحار
وأنا الأب المسلوب الإرادة أبحث عن طريق لسلمى فأتوه أكثر
الغوث الغوث الغوث

From a caring father to his daughter Salma

Salma is a beauty, I love her, I love her, I love her, I love her and more
Her eyes are like blooming almond buds and even prettier
She smiles like the sun on a sunny morning
Her velvet hands can take away all my sadness and go beyond
I'm perpetually seeking hope just to pass it to her before my last departure
Salma is worth hope and more than hope
She is only 6 years but she has lived through all the grown-up things
She has seen the blood red and the dark black and more
There is no one here to give her a white flower or a yellow or a purple one to teach her the game of colours
In Gaza, there is nothing but a gun and a flag and more siege, destruction and suicide
I'm a helpless father.
I'm looking for a way for Salma but I'm getting more and more lost.
Help, help, help

(Translated by Nadia Hamdan Gattan)

Three

The origins of Theatre for Everybody in the first Intifada, the uprising of the Palestinian people in the Occupied Territories that started in December 1987.

Extracts from VOICES FROM GAZA film made in 1988 by Antonia Caccia

A: At the beginning of the intifada, the first intifada, for example, we were doing a play called, 'The wedding of Arwa'. Arwa is a character from the mythology of the Arabs and Islam and it was a revolutionary character. Arwa was taking from the rich and giving to the poor...more or less...We took this character and combined it with the intifada, the intifada revolutionaries, the people who were making actions against the occupation and we made this play. We did everything related to the production of the play ourselves and when we wanted to show this piece we did not find one place in Gaza, one place, one association to take this show. Finally we decided to do it in the hospital but not inside the hospital, it was in the garden of the hospital, outside, for the people who were there, for our friends who were invited, some concerned people and for the sick people in the hospital and we were doing this at 3 o clock in the afternoon when the sun is at the top of the sky in Gaza and we were sweating, we were showing the play and the sun was in our eyes like this, and the Israeli soldiers were just the other side of the hospital throwing gas at some people who were throwing stones at them and you see, in this environment we were doing some kind of theatre.

B: I would like to add something concerning the subject of this play. There was a very unique situation in the first intifada which was not happening in this intifada. There was big social support amongst the people, especially in the camps and especially in the curfew time. Whenever a family would have no more food, immediately a neighbour would smuggle some food through the window to them and it was happening a lot amongst the poor people - this kind of social support - and not among the rich people, and that's why this play was made by the group at this time, just to address this issue about solidarity during this hard situation

A: Actually the movement was starting in 1989. At that time we were forming the first theatre group working in Gaza. Before that we were making theatre on a daily basis with the Union of Workers, with the Universities, with the clubs. I was the first time in the theatre in 1982 in Nosirat camp, and I was almost arrested after that and was prevented from travelling because of theatre. There was the Israeli occupation then and when we wanted to make this kind of activity they told us you cannot do it...of course they don't give reasons. After that I tried to travel to study and I was prevented from doing this until 1995. For the first time I left, after 13 years, but we still did theatre

B: I was in for nine months. There was a lot of activities inside prison but the theatre is not one of the regular activities there. Whenever there was somebody who was interested in theatre in this section of the prison, he would ask the prisoners to come and they would do these activities and it was always immediately political.

A: Of course.

B: Because they were all political prisoners. I participated once in one play, as a technician, to open and close the curtain (laughs), this was the first time ever. I never thought about theatre. It was later in the same year after I was released from prison I started with theatre activities.

A: I would like to say something else relating to this time. People at that time were looking at us as though we were strangers. I mean, doing theatre for them means something strange. 'You are doing theatre? Now? What is it? How? Why?'

B: The environment of theatre in Palestine is a bit unique. Theatre in the Arab world is a new culture actually. It started in the middle of the 19th century in some countries like Egypt and Lebanon and then it spread all over the Arab world and it has been continually progressing.

In Palestine unfortunately it has been broken up with the First World War and then the Jewish immigration and then the '48 war, the war of '56, the war of '67, the war in Lebanon in '82 and the first Intifada.

In between there were some initiatives here and there but with these big actions it was killed because the priorities were beyond culture, but what happened in the first Intifada instead of being another obstacle for the process of theatre it became the natural environment of progress for theatre

A: First of all we were called Al-Janoup theatre. It means South, and South is always known as a forbidden, isolated area, poor. And the resistance, it means a combination of all this. And slowly we became Gaza Theatre Lab.

There was exploration, training. We were becoming more mature. Knowing what to do, where to go, why we are there. And philosophically we came to think that we needed to formulate this as Theatre for Everybody. That's why the name is coming from the philosophy and the philosophy is coming from the name.

We tried first of all to make plays and performances for schools. We made hundreds of shows for schools everywhere in Gaza strip.

We were also moving to where there is no theatre. We were ready to make our shows anywhere, under the stairs or any kind of hole, or in a store or wherever.

Slowly slowly we started to learn something about the theatre of the oppressed and we started to learn that this is a very well developed theory and practice. We tried it in Gaza as we tried it in Europe. It was working very well, because Gaza still has no infrastructure for theatre except for these kinds of actions.

Four

The second Intifada which took place in September 2000 gave rise to the situation in which the company’s developed its work in Drama Therapy for Children.

A: When the second Intifada was starting, we started thinking differently. I mean, not only to respond to the national situation as a people, not only to respond and make action but also to see what are the needs of the people, what can we do? Where can we intervene? What is our role? Where should we be in this struggle?

We cannot take up guns. We cannot throw stones and we cannot make politics. We can make theatre, and that's why we started to develop our techniques for doing drama therapy with the children who were totally affected by the situation, by the invasion, by the shelling in the night, by all the closures.

We believe that this was really the best thing to do at the right time. We believe that it was like a magical technique to work with children affected by the situation. This did not stop us from doing theatre and shows and theatre of the oppressed.

Now we are doing more for the children, more for the people who have more need, even though the adults are also in need, like the children, we know this, but we also have limited resources and people and our action will not cover everything, so we tried to think about priorities, priorities not for us but for others, and that's why we reformulated ourselves.

B: It is very different, this intifada from the first one, very, very different. In the first Intifada there was, of course, shootings, curfews, arrests but the amount of destruction in this intifada cannot be compared to any time in the Palestinian history.

Almost every day there were house demolitions and bombardments. There was a huge amount of violence and it was really, really shocking every body.

So imagine a child who was born in the time of the arrival of the Authority - which was, in one way or another, a peaceful time - and suddenly all of this aggression and bombing and destruction and killing and blood.

The stupid Palestinian TV was showing every detail of human flesh and people were not aware enough to prevent their children from seeing this. And all of these martyrs demonstrations on the streets.

Every single day there were at least 10 or 12 dead on the streets so imagine in every single town or camp or city there was a demonstration of people carrying a body and shouting and screaming and of course the majority in this demonstration are children who have no place else to go.

It's a new phenomenon for them. Imagine the destruction they have in their psychological state, in their lives. 80 per cent of children are severely affected absolutely and every single Palestinian is affected by this.

A: The military groups are targeted and the majority of the people are not really engaged in direct action because there are no more confrontation areas.

The Israelis destroyed and made a no mans land of 500 metres around all the borders and all the settlements so you cannot see a soldier to throw a stone at but he is able to see you and to target you from where he is. So that’s why the level of solidarity we talk about now is not as much as it was during the first intifada.

Now it is still among the family, but in the first intifada it was among the neighbourhood, the camp, everybody.

Extracts shown from Theatre For Everybody's video about their drama therapy work

Five

The impulse to make theatre

B: It is kind of a belief. You believe in something and you do it in spite of everything. It becomes your kind of principle. In one way or another you live from it, and you breath from it.

For us theatre, for other people chemistry, for another, whatever.

But every single human being has a belief in something that he wants to achieve or wants to do and that’s why we believe in something and we want to do it whatever the cost. That's it. Simple.

A: We would love one day - when we are still alive, hopefully - that we will go to the theatre and we will buy a ticket to see a play. Or that we are the ones who are making this play and waiting for people to come and buy tickets.

And we don't wait for any funds to come or anything we just make our play and then we sell it to the people in the normal way. We would love to reach this point. It's not for money though.

B: The challenges remain the same: theatre as a habit in the daily life of Palestinians, using it in a better way in education and interventions, in therapy, using it as a real tool for many initiatives. I'm a bit optimistic, with all these projects and all these individuals who are theatre makers in Gaza I am sure it will bring a new situation

A: We were seen like strangers at the beginning and we had to fight this. It was a struggle at first with the concept of theatre and with the people.

To take what they are thinking about it and then to reconstruct this concept and to show that theatre and drama is something different than what you see on the television.

Actually we struggled with this, within this community. We lost jobs or friends. Sometimes we lost the chance to live better or make money or to live a normal life because of this. It was like a choice, and we chose it with the big and full belief that it is a way to address your beliefs and values.

The telephone conversation

Jonathan Chadwick and members of the audience in London

Jamal Al Rozzi in Gaza

Hossam Madhoun in Gaza

JC: Hossam?

HM: Hey!

JC: Hi Hossam. We've just done...can you hear me okay?

HM: Yeah, I can hear you okay.

JC: Can everybody hear Hossam? Because I'm sitting in a room, Hossam, with forty-one other people, rather unlike our normal phone calls, when it's just usually me and Maysoon. So that's extraordinary. We're just positioning things so that everybody can hear your reply. So, if you just say something.

HM: Yeah of course, I can say good evening to everybody. I want to inform, that me and Jamal are here, very pleased to receive your call, and really, really totally overwhelmed and pleased at all that you do for us, and we appreciate it a lot.

JC: Well, Hossam it's a great pleasure to speak to you, of course. There's something quite exciting about the idea that we can do this and we can do it in public and we can ask you things about the way life is treating you at the moment, and people can get an insight into what's happening in the everyday life of people in Gaza. It would be good if you could tell us how things are feeling there and how you're feeling, and how your day has been and what you've been doing and thinking during the course of the day.

HM: Oh my god, my friend, oh my god. Well it's not a complicated question but it's a really, very painful question. Every single moment is very painful here in Gaza, really.

If you walk in Gaza you will feel like everything is okay and even see that there's no crime and shooting, and there are traffic police, finally, after three years, standing at the traffic lights on the crossing of the street. But, in the mean time, you know that this is what you can see by your eyesight, but what you can not see on the inside is that everybody is afraid. People are afraid of a humanitarian crisis here.

There is no income at all, all crossing points are completely closed, nobody can travel. We had hundreds of health cases going every month to Egypt to receive health treatments which are not available in Gaza. They are not able to go. This is one little example of what's happening here.

All people who are in Fatah or use to supporting Fatah are afraid of being butchered by Hamas, which is already happening. They are running after many activists so they can kidnap and butcher them really hard. Two days ago one buddy, one person, was killed and butchered.

What you see here is darkness all over Gaza. There is no hope. There's no way out. Everybody is thinking to leave and, at the same time, it's like you are judged for eternity to be in jail. It's a complete big jail, completely closed. And, in fact Gaza was, for many years, almost closed all the time, but this time is obviously different; nobody knows when it will be open again. There were some closures of the crossings, it was closed few days, then one day open. People knew that next week that maybe there will be three or four days opening, but, now, nobody knows when anything will be opened again.

The director of the UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency) operation, today, announced that in a few weeks, just a few weeks, all the population of Gaza will be completely dependent on humanitarian aid. Well, I can talk more than two hours about these things. Life is awful, life is awful. I was on the beach today, by the way.

JC: You were on the beach?

HM: I was on the beach, but it's the same, you cannot find entertainment anymore, even on the beach.  Immediately you are with all the consequences of the situation. The talk between friends and family is: Hamas, closures, normally no way out, how to leave Gaza, Hamas did this and this and this to Fatah, Fatah did this and this and this to Hamas, the two governments.  You are occupied, you know, you are occupied, and where you were only occupied by the Israeli side, but now you’re occupied by the others as well. You are not even talking about the Israeli occupation; you are talking how we are harming each other as Palestinians.  And, of course, the Israelis are in great pleasure now. They don’t have to do the job, we are doing the job, they close the border and nobody blames them because there is fear of the Talibani system.  This is what they say; this is what they claim.  And, of course the whole world is supporting them. You have them, also, saying the same thing, so why in the world should we care, but everybody, even Hamas, the Israelis, the Americans, the Europeans, the whole world forgot that in Gaza there are 1 and a half million prisoners of this policy. They have put into practice, one year and a half, a closure, an embargo against Hamas, to weaken Hamas, and the only result was the contrary, the people were weakened more; insecurity increased, the unemployment increased, the suffering of the people increased, and Hamas was strengthened. This is what they do in this war.

JC: It’s very, very hard to hear what you have to say Hossam, but at the same time, really, really good to hear you say it, and to hear your articulation of the problems that are happening. Okay, we’re going to say Hello to Jamal. Then we’ll have questions.

JA: Good evening everybody. So good to hear your voice, but it makes me very angry, because we are meant to be with you actually.

JC: You’re supposed to be here Jamal, yes.

JA: Yes, we are supposed to be here, I mean there, with you. But, at least this evening what we are feeling in our hearts is comforting us a little bit, giving us some kind of hope, with this kind of support.

JC: Carry on Jamal.

JA: I would like to tell you a bit about the fear that the people are living in now. I know that three days ago now, one child, go cut the green part of the Palestinian flag because the Hamas are known as the ‘green flag’, and they were coming to kidnap and kill this child, and for many months nobody knew of this.  No artist, no painter, no writer could think about this that they would cut the green part of the Palestinian because it is the symbol of Hamas. Imagine this.  I am not against the Hamas in particular. I am speaking as a Palestinian person, because what happened is really a crime, not against the authority, not against the Palestinians, against the deed, against the issue, against the Palestinian project.  I mean, they are separating Gaza from the West Bank and they are encouraged, in one way or another, and they are supported, in one way or another, and at the same time we have a vague future and dark future. That is what the people feel.  I guess right now, it is easier than two months ago to walk down the streets, I mean you have more fear in a way of the future.  And, also at the same time you are going ahead without thinking where you are going.  Nobody knows where we are going. Hamas doesn’t know where they are taking us after all that happened, and this is what is making us very fearful.  Because, now, if you listen to a child hearing an ambulance he would just immediately think about one relative, a close relative to him, at least the one who was working, at least, with the security systems or one who was having a gun, or one who was…a child could say that maybe this is my father or …I don’t know.  I mean this kind of fear is occupying us more or less, but what happened is really a crime and we are fearful about the future. Your telephone this evening and your contacting us is our only hope, that one day with this support and with this feeling something could be changed definitely.

JC: It feels very, very important to be in contact with you, and to continue to communicate with you, and to keep the channels of communication open, to keep hearing your voice, and for this communication that we are involving ourselves in to continue. And, I wonder whether this event could be replicated in other places with other people in the Gaza area. I mean, one of the things that Hossam and you have told us about the situation in the recent past in Gaza is that it’s only a very small minority of the population that are involved in the armed groups and that the overwhelming mass of the population there aren’t really involved in Hamas or in Fatah. And, I just wonder whether there is a new conversation that may take place within the majority of people in that area, or whether you think that the fear is so overwhelming that that conversation amongst the Palestinians there can’t take place.

JA: If you listen to Hossam or me it means that you are, in a way, relating what the people are feeling or fearing because we are with people in all the different stages and we are between the people hearing what they are claming.  Maybe they will not speak about things as we explain, in the same way or in the same language but at least they have the same fear. They have the feeling of loss; I mean they want not to be in Gaza. They start to hate Gaza for the first time in their life. I mean, not Gaza as place or city, as people, but as future, as reality it has a vague future.  Again, it’s all the tim