In Gaza, theatre gives critics a rare voice

Mon Mar 22, 2010 10:35am EDT
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By Nidal al-Mughrabi

GAZA (Reuters Life!) - Live theatre is rare in the Gaza Strip; public criticism of its Islamist rulers is rare too. So perhaps it was no surprise that a play which gives vent to Palestinian's frustrations with their leaders should be a hit.

"The Cord," which opened this month to audiences of 1,000 or more in Gaza's main auditorium, takes aim at all the parties involved in the bitter, sometimes bloody, divisions that have hobbled the drive for an independent Palestinian state.

But in the coastal enclave, blockaded by Israel, the despair felt by many focuses on Islamist Hamas, which has had a virtual monopoly on politics and the economy in Gaza since its rout of the forces of Western-backed President Mahmoud Abbas in 2007.

The play gives audiences, and any Hamas leaders who might be offended, plenty of opportunity to jeer Abbas's long dominant Fatah, as well as other Palestinian parties, all of whom, many ordinary folk believe, share responsibility for the chaotic and often corrupt conduct of their affairs down the decades.

"We've heard you! We know you and have tried you and we're fed up with you!" one character yells at a gaggle of political leaders on stage.

Their party allegiances are revealed by the color of the cords binding the sheaves of bureaucratic papers they carry and which also snake backstage to where, the audience assumes, the leaders are umbilically bound to their foreign paymasters.

Green cord is for Hamas, backed by Islamist Iran, yellow for Fatah, supported by Western aid, red cord is for leftists like the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), and black denotes Islamic Jihad and its allies.

Every jibe was greeted by cheers from an audience who could identify with the scene of despair conjured up by a set that represented the slums of a refugee camp, its walls covered in graffiti from the warring factions.   Continued...

<p>Palestinian artists perform at al-Shawa theatre in Gaza City, March 9, 2010. REUTERS/Suhaib Salem</p>