There are 31 Monologues that showed me what it is like to be bombed out of hope in Gaza. They say things like:
“Gaza is a matchbox … and we’re the matches inside it.”
“The crisis is the whole world is watching us
as if there’s nothing going on and they’re still making speeches.”
“I feel like running, running, running in the streets
till my headscarf flies in the sky and I fly after it.”
“Before the war, I was a child … But after the war, I discovered
I’m not a child anymore, and that Gaza,
unlike all cities of the world, doesn’t have children in it.
"The children of Palestine are born as old people...
our dream has become
to die a good death,
not live a good life. "
Gazan teenagers wrote these monologues in 2010.
But they might as well be writing about today, about now
When the bombing of Gaza began, again. again again last week, I couldn't summon up the words for my response. But silence is also not enough.
So I am sharing old words because - it's the same story again again again.
I went to Palestine in 2014. I spent a summer there in East Jerusalem and Ramallah with Iman Aoun and the students of Ashtar Theatre, facilitating creativity writing workshops for a project Iman and I called Land Out Loud.
I had met Iman here in New Mexico - she came on a fellowship and led a workshop on Theatre of the Oppressed which I attended.
While I was in occupied Palestine in 2014, the bombing of Gaza began - again again again.
That summer in July, sitting in the Ramallah offices of Ashtar, I recorded my message for a YouTube campaign called Words for Gaza that Ashtar Theatre launched soon after the 2014 bombing began.
Iman's message was a video in which she tapes her mouth, and screams silently at the camera.
52 Seconds in Gaza was a message we received from an Ashtar Student in Gaza.
That's the length of time, the notice you are given to exit your whole house, your whole life before it is bombed. again.
For a personal essay, I was writing for Al Jazeera, I met some of the writers of the Gaza Monologues - on Facebook of all places. I didn't have a FB account then but I set up one to meet them.
Mahmoud Al Turk, Ahmed Taha, Ashraf Al Sousi - I don't speak Arabic and they spoke fragments of English but we managed to connect using Google Translate, Babelfish, like that. They sent photos of what was left of their neighborhoods, their houses.
I asked if they had words to share and Mahmoud and Ahmed shared some sentences which I put together in short videos.
Meanwhile, everyday, the bombing continued and I never knew after writing goodbye to them if I would ever see them again.
And I remember the photo of Ashraf from when he performed his own Gaza monologue: That photo haunts me.
One day in Palestine, we drove out of Ramallah to the hill of the Samaritans and the place where John the Baptist met the end of his life and on the way, there were so many matabs, speed bumps, past the flying checkpoints and the regular checkpoints and the sudden arrival of Israeli soldiers and their sudden departure and the fear when they stepped onto the bus, rifles pointing and the relief when they left and after that, almost six months after knowing the teenagers in Ramallah and Gaza, this poem: Listen.
It had been Eid in 2014 when the bombings began and from the memory of the rubble in the photos I had seen came Mercury to Gaza
published in Mizna
And later Are you safe, the refrain I would hear in emails from friends and family while I was there that summer - that became an unfinished play.
The video message I recorded in 2014 - I called it Hope, You. I remember the air conditioned office of Ashtar, the grey table, the persistent industrious energy of the Ashtar students, of Iman and Edward. Theater is the hope they breathe and animate and live and dance and sing and smoke and for one summer, despite the bombings, I too shared that hope somehow.
It's hard to find that hope now.
In my 2014 message, I quote from the Gaza Monologues. And then I say:
Teenagers wrote this is 2010
It might as well be 2014.
Nothing will change till we use our words.
We have them.
We can say, Stop the Bombing.
We can write, Stop the bombing.
We can send this message to someone who sends it to someone who sends it to someone else who sends it to someone else.
It's that simple.
It begins with you
It begins with me.
Stop the bombing.
Now you say it.
Today May 15 is the annual day of commemoration of the Nakba, or Catastrophe, when thousands of Palestinians (more than 700,000) were expelled from their homes.
On my way back to the US, I stopped in Spain. I was flying on Iberian Airlines. I went to a small mountain town in the Alpujarras - Capileira. The bus went up and up, and along the way, we passed olive trees - no checkpoints no walls no soldiers.
In Capileira, I ate the sweetest cherries
I remembered the grapes hanging near the tarp that shaded the front of a house in East Jerusalem. There were chairs under the tarp. In the chairs sat mourners come to pay condolences to the family of Mohammed Abu-Khdeir a 16-year old Palestinian boy who had been kidnapped and burned to death . I had gone with Iman and a friend of hers - they knew the family. Most of the mourners were women who sat quietly; others cried and his mother -the sight of his mother's face as she accepted our condolences.
I remember that whole summer, calling people habibi and being called habibti, words that are full of love - again and again and again.
You may leave Palestine but it doesn't leave you.
May 15, 2021
ABOUT THE GAZA MONOLOGUES and ASHTAR THEATRE
ABOUT LAND OUT LOUD - Palestine
ABOUT GAZA and PALESTINE