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Sunday Aug. 1, 2010 2:02 PM (EST+7)
Gaza theater struggles with obstacles and self-censorship

Read more: theater, art, culture, censorship, self-censorship, Gaza Theater Festival, European Union

GAZA CITY, August 1 (JMCC) - Hundreds of Palestinians attended on Friday night the closing ceremonies of Gaza Theater Festival launched last week in Gaza City.

Seven casts staged seven plays, two of them of international providence -- The Pearl by American author John Steinbeck, and al-Sajara based on Guernica by Fernando Arable – and the rest by Palestinian playwrights.

Festival director Jamal Abu al-Qumsan said that its main goal was to enliven Palestinian cultural life, largely frozen since Palestinian politics broke into open conflict in July 2007.

Then Hamas forces in Gaza took over Palestinian Authority security installations in deadly clashes, resulting in a political split with the West Bank, where rival faction Fateh remains in power.

The plays featured in the festival tackle the political and social crisis in Palestinian society, especially since the split, says Abu al-Qumsan.

He slammed Palestinian government and private donors who he said ignore cultural activities in Palestine.

This festival is donated by the European Union. I wonder why the Palestinian Authority, which pays lots of money for security, does not donate some of it to support cultural activities. It is obvious that they do not care about investing in human resources, he said.

Gaza official Ayman Ftiha, speaking at the festival, said that the European Union supports musical, art, and theater activities in Gaza and called on civil society organizations to apply for the EU support.


It was standing room only in the Askalan theater, which seats 400, as the night’s performance began. Entrance was free, and the crowd restless as children cried during the performance.

People should learn more about theater before coming to stage, said
Khaled al-Askari, a member of the audience.

Glaringly apparent was the absence of guest actors from Arab or western countries. Abu al-Qumsan says the union of cultural centers, which sponsored the event, tried to invite other thespians, but found it too difficult.

Israel has imposed a tight blockade on the Gaza Strip since Palestinian armed men captured an Israeli soldier, believed to still be held in Gaza, in June 2006.

The staging of the festival faced numerous obstacles – not least of which is the lack of a proper stage.

The most acceptable stage was the one belonging to the Red Crescent Society, but it was bombarded by Israel in the last war, says Abu al-Qumsan. Now we use Askalan stage, which is hardly acceptable.

In December 2008, Israel launched Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, killing 1,500 Palestinians and leaving thousands of destroyed buildings behind. The blockade on Gaza has made it nearly impossible to rebuild damaged structures.


Abu al-Qumsan said that Gaza’s complicated political realities mean that self-censorship is a real problem – Palestinians shy from messages that are unpopular or simply hard to address.

It is true that we are living in a siege,” said Abu al-Qumsan. “But there is another kind of siege, which is more dangerous and more difficult than the material one -- it is self-censorship.

He said that directors felt obliged to present certain performances, and this “reduced the quality of the plays.

Nor did the festival have access to the kind of equipment and technical devices that it needed.

Lack of equipment was obvious in the performance of Dying Hard when actors faltered after disturbances in the sound and light system.

Following each play, open discussions were held, and the audience and critics invited to praise or play down plays.

First prize went to The Pearl, directed by Nahed Hannona. He said that he chose an international play because there are no good Palestinian texts.

I looked hard for a strong text but I could not find one,” Hannona said. “There is some fiction with good, strong ideas, but the structure is not good enough to be staged.”

Following his participation in Dying Hard, young actor Ala al-Rai said he was so proud to practice his craft for the first time.

I love being an actor. It is my hobby, but I had no opportunity to experience it, and I am so appreciative that the Gaza Festival Theater offered me such valuable chance, he said.

Critic Salah Tafesh praised the organizing of a theater festival, but thought the festival should be organized as a competition rather than just to present plays.

I saw that some plays were good and deserve respect, but some others do not deserve to be on the stage, they were so weak, he said.

Tafesh said that theater in Gaza needs to be developed to create real actors and a generation interested in theater. We must strengthen real theater based on academic, classical and professional criteria, he said.







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