Augence France Presse, Friday August 17, 06:26 PM
Hamas and Fatah in the dock in Gaza drama
GAZA CITY (AFP) - Crowds throng the hall to hear the court's decision. In the dock are Gaza's Hamas rulers and their secular rivals Fatah. The verdict, with no right of appeal, comes late and after passionate and stormy debate: "All are guilty of killing the people and the nation."
But the dramatic verdict is just that -- drama. The judges and the accused are all actors in a satirical play, "The Nation," which has enjoyed great success in a land where culture is often noticeable by its absence.
More than 1,500 people flocked to the Shawa cultural centre in Gaza to see the play, forcing the organisers to add extra seats to the auditorium to meet demand.
"The Nation" is the work of Palestinian dramatist Said Suirki and the "trial" is tagged with the number 48.67.2007 -- referring to what the author sees as three seminal dates in the Palestinian tragedy.
Firstly, 1948 saw the creation of the State of Israel and the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their ancestral homes. Then, Israel occupied the Gaza Strip in 1967's Six Day War, along with the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
And then 2007 saw vicious internecine conflict between Hamas and Fatah, with the Islamists seizing power in Gaza in June while the West Bank remains under the rule of moderate President Mahmud Abbas.
Palestinians are left with two territories, two powers, two administrations and two conflicting visions of society -- an absurd situation that makes for rich theatrical pickings.
"We fast differently (for Ramadan) if we're in Gaza or Ramallah... If I get married in Gaza, is my marriage certificate valid in the West Bank?" asks one of the actors on stage.
A dozen men, women and children strike up a mournful refrain to lament "Where is the nation?" -- before being interrupted by the rattle of automatic gunfire.
"I wanted to put on a play after seeing the bloody events in Gaza and the huge suffering of its people," says Suirki.
"I called it 'The Nation' because it's this that has been the biggest loser in the Hamas-Fatah conflict."
Cultural life has been a rarity in the poverty-stricken Palestinian enclave that has suffered seven years of near-continuous violence. Rarer still are plays or performances that criticise or challenge those in power.
"It is an audacious idea. I think that everyone has been surprised by this work because it's an extremely critical play than in particular targets the factions," says Abdelsalam Daud from the Muntada cultural foundation, which gave financial backing to the production.
Cast members admit that rehearsing and performing the play has not always been easy.
"We had quite a few problems because of a lack of money and freedoms. But we have tried to put on something critical in the face of this bitter reality," says Asma Abu Namus, one of the play's amateur actresses.
Some members of the cast and crew were initially wary of tackling such controversial themes at a time when Hamas is accused of seeking vengeance against its critics, particularly from Fatah, and of curbing freedoms such as the right to demonstrate.
"We had a great fear that the groups in power in Gaza would sabotage our work because the factions are used to censorship. But we persevered," says Muntada foundation director Hazem Abu Hamid.
Indeed, flushed with success the cast now hope to take their production on tour, around the Palestinian territories to start with but maybe even to Israel itself later.
"We hope to get the necessary support to put on regular shows all across Gaza. But also in the West Bank and Israel, even if that would be very difficult. But we will try," Hamid vows.