So we open our latest production - Arab Nights - six weeks today at the Soho Theatre in London (crikey - that's soon!) - and to celebrate the six diverse and wonderful voices that make up the play they are each going to write a little something for the Metta blog. First - the wonderful novelist and all round lovely human being that is our Palestinian writer Raja Shehadeh...
Just back to Palestine after a seven week absence in the UK promoting my new book, Occupation Diaries. Slight feeling of let down after the exciting time going from one literary festival to another. As expected found the garden in a dismal state, with only the shrubs barely surviving the heat and dryness of a hot Palestinian summer.
But before plunging into work on the garden, at my law office and on my various writing projects, had to take my wife to Makassed Hospital, a Palestinian hospital in East Jerusalem, to check on her arm which was broken during a hiking trip to Skye last July. Heard from the Orthopedic Doctor about the difficulties the hospital faces because of the closure of Jerusalem.
Fortunately I don’t need to go often to Jerusalem. But most of the hundreds of the hospital’s employees, doctors, trainees and patients come from the Palestinian areas around Jerusalem and must get a permit from the Israeli military to get to work, to train or get medical treatment at this specialized, training hospital which has better facilities than any in the rest of the West Bank. They have to endure the daily ordeal of crossing the checkpoints around the eastern, mainly Arab part of the city. I cannot imagine how they endure this ordeal twice every day of their working week. In Arab Nights I wrote how Jerusalem now has not one but two walls. Within the older Ottoman-built wall today (Friday October 5th) there were confrontations between extremist religious Jews and Palestinians inthe precinct of the Al Aqsa Mosque.
Every day no less than 20,000 Palestinians cross one of the gates in the concrete wall newly constructed by the Israeli government around the expanded area of Jerusalem. They do so in silence, a heavy silence at that. Except, that is, for the orders they hear from the Israeli soldiers whom they do not see, just as though they were invisible Djinnis.
It was only natural then that when Metta Theatre proposed that I participate in writing a play that uses the style ofArabian Nights I found this the perfect style for presenting the surrealistic reality under which we live in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
We in Palestine are part of the rest of the Arab region. The revolutions taking place around us give us hope. It is this hope makes it possible to endure what appears for the time being to be a desperate situation, here. As the Palestinian character in Arab Nights endures his ordeal before the wall he remembers the scaling by Palestinians and Syrians of another border, a few months earlier, during the Arab Spring, when they crossed the Syrian- Israeli border daring to traverse what was thought to be a minefield.
It sounds like magic and in some ways it was. And yet it happened. One episode in the play leads to another, just like in our turbulent life in this unstable region. From despair to hope, to dreams, to frustration just like the life here that I returned to after my few weeks in the UK.
Raja Shehadeh | Friday October 5th 2012