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An old man enters, poking around on the ground with his cane, looking for something as he mumbles: 1
GRANDFATHER: This was Ibrahim El Khalil's house. This was Ahmad Khalil's house. So Asad Zidan lived...here. The Mukhtar's house must be in this area...or maybe...over there... Ah! Here it is.
A young man, Habeeb, has been sitting in the audience and now speaks:
HABEEB: What? The Mukhtar's house?
GRANDFATHER: No. This is Abu-Adel's house. Your uncle.
HABEEB: I always thought my uncle was from Haifa.
GRANDFATHER: (Continues to search the ground) Your uncle is from Sahmatah. He will always be from Sahmatah. So are you.
HABEEB: I'm from Sahmatah?
HABEEB: Grandpa, I never even saw Sahmatah.
GRANDFATHER: You're seeing it now.
HABEEB: All I see is a hill covered with pine trees.
GRANDFATHER: We never had pine trees. They planted pine to hide the village...
At one point, the Grandfather asks an audience member to move aside, since one of the buried homes was under that chair. The audience giggles nervously. They think that the old man is idly puttering among old stones. The young man in the play thinks so, too. In a little under one hour, the young man and the audience will come to understand that those scattered stones are all that remains of a village called Sahmatah, where that old man grew up and lived until the village was destroyed.
There are some Palestinians in the audience, many of whom have hardly ever spoken aloud of their history of exile. For some of them, this performance will change that. [End Page 113]
The play, titled Sahmatah, was performed in Seattle and around the Pacific Northwest in 1996. In 1998, Sahmatah traveled to Israel/Palestine, to be performed on the actual stones of the village itself.
The project began five years ago.
If your heart might fall for this
In May of 1995, I got a phone message from Hanna Eady, a Palestinian American whom I had met only once, the day before. The mutual acquaintance who had introduced us knew I was looking for ways to collaborate with Palestinian theatre artists. Hanna's phone message asked if I would consider collaborating on a playwriting project, and he suggested we "get together and talk, and you can see if your heart might fall for this." 2
I had recently met with some Palestinian theatre directors in East Jerusalem. I learned about the obstacles they must regularly overcome to present serious theatre to their people. Not only must they endure censorship and a lack of support by the Israeli government, but also a total lack of university theatre programs and other training resources within the Occupied Territories. A culture like that of today's Palestinians--urban, secular, educated, politicized by years of oppression--is ripe for theatre, but Arabic culture, while rich in literature, music, dance, and other arts, has no tradition of theatre as we know it. I came back to the U.S. committed to finding ways for American theatre artists to collaborate and share skills with Palestinians. And so I came to meet Hanna.
Hanna was planning a trip to Israel/Palestine that summer with the purpose of video-interviewing Palestinians from the Occupied Territories and inside Israel Proper. His proposal was to turn this material into some kind of theatre script. In my work as a playwright, I have grown cautious about committing to material I haven't seen; but still I was interested, and we agreed to meet when he returned with videotapes.
Hanna came back at the end of summer and his idea for the project had changed; he had, in that short time, discovered his own history. Hanna had learned about Sahmatah. [End Page 114]
Growing up Arab in Israel
Hanna is from the village of Buqayah, in the Upper Galilee inside Israel Proper. On the maps of Israel the village is called Peqiin, or Ancient Peqiin, because New...