Interview Samah Sabawi

Samah Sabawi, 48 years old
Bor: Moving around. From Gaza, Palestine
Yrke: playwright, poet, political analyst and human rights advocate.
www.talesofacitybythesea.com

Even though many Palestinians find solace in artistic expression, and even though there is no shortage of very talented writers, musicians, painters, sculptures and performers, the reality is that very few of them are able to produce their art, put it on display or make any money out of it. When life necessities are not available, investing in art can be a frivolous luxury. It is almost impossible to get funding for art projects when you know that people are in desperate need for food, water, shelters and basic medicine. Funding aside, there is also the daily interference of Israel’s occupation in the lives of Palestinians by way of bombing cultural centers, schools and academic institutions and by way of detentions, assassinations, destructions of properties.

Art, in any form, offers a window into our souls. It keeps us in touch with our humanity and of­ fers us a mirror through which we can examine our own actions, our thoughts and our truths. The best kind of art is not one that can only re­ sonate with those who are on our side, the best kind of art is the one that has the power to move those on the other side of the divide.


That’s what I hope my new play ”Tales from a City by the Sea” can do. I want it not only to humanise the Palestinians in Gaza, but to also appeal to the humanity of those on the other side of the wall.

The play is a love story set against the backdrop of Israel’s assault on Gaza in 2008­2009. The story begins with the arrival of the first Free Gaza boats to break the siege in August 2008 and takes the audience through a year in the life of the people in Gaza through the stories of the characters I’ve created.

The script was born out of real life experiences that my family and loved ones have lived through. The stories demanded to be written and it have taken on a life of their own. There was great support for this work from the start. We had three very successful readings of the script; one in Gaza, one in the West Bank and one in Melbourne. The plan was to stage the play in three cities at the same time as a way of bridging the physical and the political barriers that have fragmented the Palestinian people. Sadly though, as we were ready to begin production, Gaza began to face a horrific assault which lasted 51 days and saw most of the city turn into rubble. As a result of losing loved ones and possessions, our partners in Gaza were no longer able to continue the journey with us. So now we are staging the play in Aida refugee camp in the West Bank and in Melbourne Australia.

Of course for any cultural worker under siege in Gaza, there it is very challenging to find the proper venue for funding their work when there are so many other needs taking priority. Artists in Gaza are also prevented by the reality of the siege from taking their work outside of Gaza. For artists in the West Bank, there are similar challenges at times with the prevalent system of checkpoints and permits that restrict the movement of Palestinians. Israeli forces also target Palestinian cultural workers with many Palesti­nian artists held in Israeli prisons under administrative detentions, and some cultural figures assassinated. Worth mentioning is the destruc­tion of a tower in Gaza this last war the Pasha tower ­which had many offices belonging to vi­deo artists, recording studios etc.

Culture is dangerous to the oppressors as art as been used over the ages as a weapon to expose and protest injustice. For example, the rise of the Palestinian film industry has been instru­mental in conveying a truth beyond the news headlines. I can think of the iconic documen­tary ”5 Broken Cameras” and the amazing awareness it has helped spread. The film put a spotlight on Palestinian non­violent resistance to Israel’s occupation which is often completely ignored by the media.

I write from my heart about experiences I or others have lived that are well documented. I try to be as honest as possible in the stories I tell and the reality my people live through. Alt­hough my characters are fictional their lives are not. But films and art can only go so far. There is no substitute for serious objective journalism which is sorely lacking in covering the conflict.

Words!
I stand Dispossessed
No congress behind me
No statesmen surround me
No lobby to breathe hellfire
No media eager to appease
No three­ring circus
Of intellectual jesters
Academic clowns
And policy experts
Who truly do not see
the big elephant in the tent
No legal acrobats
Dance for me
On a thin robe of decency
No politicians
Juggle oppression
And human rights
On my behalf
No trips to boost careers
For MPs and their wives
No propaganda movies
No radio broadcasts
No myths
No lies
No hasbaranites
No army,

No country
Not even
One leader to believe in
All I have are my words
To tell my story
My voice
To demand justice
But you tell me
My language is too strong
You my friend
My perfect the skill of delusion
The talent of denial
You may express
Regret and lament
And cry tears of indignation
And insist
You’re on my side
But without naming the crime they commit
Without naming
‘Ethnic Cleansing’ and ‘apartheid’
Your words ring hallow
So I will hold on to my words
I use them sparingly
I utter one word
And a house is resurrected

From memory
On a hill in Palestine
I utter another
... and I am in a courtyard
under a sycamore tree
And another
And the scent of Jasmine
fills the air
Words lift me up from despair
And take me home
Words disarm tyrants
Bring down empires
And reveal
All the oppressors wish
to conceal

Humanity!
I stand dispossessed
Of everything
But my words
They are words of truth
Of fire and steel
I use them deliberately
Not to incite hatred
Not to frighten
But to light up this darkness
That tore me into

11 million pieces
And scattered me
Across the earth
Words tell my story
Nakba
Naksa F
orced exile
Ethnic cleansing
Apartheid
Words
Carefully chosen
Purposely uttered
These are the words
That lay the foundation
Of the language of liberation

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