Festival Organisers Unearth Gaza Taste For Theatre
By Yasser Abu Moailek
While most people living in Gaza Strip were keen on following the latest developments of the Israeli withdrawal, Palestinian reforms or even the political situation in general, a group of Gazans was keen on following up a different issue.
With charts and diagrams scribbled across the little room allotted to them within the Palestinian General Union of Cultural Centers, the organizing committee of Gaza’s first theatre festival struggled to meet its deadline in June 16.
Jamal Abul Qomsan, the committee’s chairperson, admitted the task was not an easy one. Beside the uncertainty of how would such a festival appeal to the Gazan conservative community, the frequent Israeli closures and siege of the Strip stand as a huge obstacle before the guest performers.
“The initial idea was to hold an international theatre week in Gaza, and we received many positive responses from local and international theatre groups, in addition to some Arab theatre groups from Israel,” Mr. Abul Qomsan says.
However, with the announcement of the imminent implementation of the Israeli Disengagement Plan, some of the groups, Abul Qomsan adds, backed away from their agreement in fear of being trapped inside the Strip during the disengagement.
Another huge obstacle before the organizing committee was the financial one, “as any budding project in Gaza,” says Sami Abu Salem, of the committee’s media division.
The innovative idea of the project found half-open arms at the donors. The European Union agreed to donate €28,000 “while the rest was sponsored by local companies,” says Abul Qomsan.
The participating local performs include a number of rising groups; their experience in theatre not exceeding 10 years. However, recent plays for some of the performing groups were positively reported on local and foreign media outlets, in what was considered as a rise from the ashes for the Palestinian theatre.
Due to the obstacles Abul Qomsan enumerated, only groups from Gaza Strip, West Bank and Israel would take part. “For the groups from Israel, we are still having problems with obtaining permits for their entry to Gaza, though we were promised facilitations from the Israeli side with regards to their entry,” Mr. Abul Qomsan explains.
He stated that the arrangements for their accommodation and transportation were already made in Gaza Strip, through deal reached with operators of some of the stages these groups would perform at.
A long believer in the role of theatre in the community, Abul Qomsan maintains that the problems from within Gaza Strip mainly relates to the lack of a suitable atmosphere for the growth of theatre culture and taste, stressing the importance of theatre in reflecting the community’s perspective on all sorts of phenomena.
On his part, Abu Salem argued that unofficial polls conducted by the committee in this regard showed a great appeal among Gazans for theatre. “They’re just too busy with the occupation, politics and their daily bread than with going to see a play, but that doesn’t mean they won’t go if they had some free time.”
A quick look on the schedule of plays shown at the festival reveals that most of them present community problems or political situations in a form of political satire.
Following the establishment of the Palestinian Authority, intellectuals, artists and writers were encouraged to create a renaissance for the Palestinian theatre, in light of the new atmosphere of peace and stability. The Palestinian Authority also established a number of institutions to care for arts and theatre, mainly the Ministry of Culture.
Between the ups and downs of the peace process, the intellectual layer of the Gazan community sought refuge in the theatre to express its emotions, ambitions and future expectations.
“Palestinians tend to express their bitter reality and tackle social and political problems through comedy. It is one of the weapons with which we resist the occupation’s oppression,” Abu Salem adds, with a grin, before sipping the remainder of his coffee.
Lighting a third cigarette and interrupting the stream of Abu Salem’s ideas, Jamal asserted they have contacted several organizing committees of Arab and international theatre festivals in order to list Gaza’s festival on their agenda and set a date that doesn’t contradict the dates of these festivals.
Confident of the success of this year’s festival, Abul Qomsan declared that next year Gaza’s festival would be an international one, without having to delay its date or place due to the Israeli measures or lack of funding.
“This festival would be a test ground for us, and next year there won’t be any Israelis left in Gaza after the withdrawal, so our chances to succeed next year are higher.”