- Ashtar’s Forum Theatre: Writing History in Palestine
Rania Jawad is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies at New York University. Her research focuses on Palestinian theatre, for which she has been awarded a Fulbright-Hays Fellowship and an NYU Torch Fellowship to conduct research in Israel/Palestine for the 2008–2009 academic year. She completed her Master’s in the German Department at NYU writing on popular education and the early theatre work of Bertolt Brecht.
1. While I limit my discussion here to the U.S. mainstream media, an analysis can also be considered regarding the mainstream media in other areas of the world.
2. Popular Memory Group, “Popular Memory: Theory, Politics, Method,” in Making Histories: Studies in History Writing and Politics, ed. Richard Johnson, et al. (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1982) 205–52.
3. While I focus on the West Bank because this is where Ashtar Theatre is based, one can extend an analysis to the Gaza Strip, as well as to the work of Palestinian citizens of Israel and those in the diaspora.
4. Stuart Hall, Representation: Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices (California: Sage Publications, 1997) 1.
5. Ella Shohat and Robert Stam, Unthinking Eurocentrism: Multiculturalism and the Media (New York: Routledge, 1994) 180–1.
6. Said also describes the book as “an attempt to render Palestinian lives subjectively,” noting that it emerged out of being denied that very right of self-representation. He recounts how the book came out of circumstances at the U.N.’s International Conference on the Question of Palestine in 1983, in which Jean Mohr’s photographs of Palestine were permitted to be hung in the entrance hall only under the condition that no text be affixed to the photographs. After the Last Sky is thus comprised of Moh’rs photographs accompanied by Said’s text. Edward W. Said, After the Last Sky: Palestinian Lives (New York: Columbia U P, 1999) vii, 3, 4; and Edward Said, “The Burdens of Interpretation and the Question of Palestine,” Journal of Palestine Studies 16.1 (1986): 36.
7. The denial of the Palestinian people is captured most succinctly in the oft-cited Zionist slogan, a land without a people for a people without a land. For more scholarship on the silencing of Palestinian history and the Palestinian narrative, see Said’s The Question of Palestine, in addition to articulations in After the Last Sky. From another perspective, that of biblical studies, see Keith W. Whitelam’s The Invention of Ancient Israel: The Silencing of Palestinian History (New York: Routledge, 1996).
8. These different audiences may include the international theatre world as well as current and potential funders.
9. Ella Shohat, Israeli Cinema: East/West and the Politics of Representation (Austin: U of Texas P, 1989) 3.
10. I choose to speak of performance and writing along these lines in order to emphasize how each shapes and is shaped by the other. Moreover, in the case of Palestine, I want to specifically challenge the limits of who has access to and contributes to the body of text about Palestine, as well as the potential of that text.
11. Popular Memory Group, “Popular Memory” 240–41.
12. Lila Abu-Lughod and Ahmad H. Sa’di, ed. “Introduction: The Claims of Memory,” in Nakba: Palestine, 1948, and the Claims of Memory (New York: Columbia U P) 3.
13. Ghassan Kanafani was a prominent Palestinian writer of literary, critical, and journalistic texts. Born in Acre in 1936, Kanafani was forced to leave Palestine in 1948 and remained in exile his entire life. He was assassinated in Beirut in 1972. The Israeli secret service is said to have claimed responsibility.
14. Barbara Harlow, After Lives: Legacies of Revolutionary Writing (New York: Verso, 1996) 55, 71.
15. Popular Memory Group, “Popular Memory” 207.
16. In the introduction to their edited book on the role of memory to the events of 1948 (referred to as the Nakba, “catastrophe” in Arabic), Lila Abu-Lughod and Ahmad H. Sa’di speak of the Nakba as an ongoing condition. They write that “the Nakba is not over yet,” for after...