March 22, 2010 / 12:43 PM / 8 years ago

In Gaza, theatre gives critics a rare voice

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.

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

“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.

“Instead of one government, we have two and instead of one television system, we have two,” laments a humble cobbler.

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

INSIGHTFUL MADNESS

The plot recounts how a schoolteacher, maddened by grief after political thugs murder his father, first shocks his neighbors with crazed rants against the system but gradually wins their support as they realize the truth of what he says.

”Two economy ministers, and the economy is ruined,“ the cobbler concludes as understanding dawns on him. ”Two education ministers and we have a generation without discipline.

“Two interior ministers and we have no security.”

“The play tackles a thorny and a daring topic,” the play’s director, Hazen Abu Hmaid said.

“It speaks of the funding of the factions and it tells them that all their different colored cords have tangled up our Palestinian decision-making and cost us our freedom to choose.”

Hamas-run authorities approved the staging of the play but, the artists said, may not have been fully aware of its content.

For playwright Eyad Abu Shareea it was important to give a voice to the ordinary people of Gaza, as well as in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, whose main wish in politics was for their leaders to work together: His message? “There is a gap,” he said, “Between people’s needs and their leaders’ deeds.”

Many in the audience confessed to fighting back tears in between the laughter, as the satire gave way at times to the grief and anxieties of a population weary of lengthy speeches and empty promises from rival leaderships down the years.

But there were cheers at the end when the people rose up behind the schoolteacher to push the leaders off the stage, in the process cutting and scattering their many colored cords.

Editing by Alastair Macdonald and Paul Casciato

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