After spending months of preparation for their street theater performance,Young Stories of Bedouin Life and Prejudice Project got the opportunity to share the fruit of their hard work on the streets of Gaza. The project employs street theater to challenge discrimination against the Gaza Strip Bedouin community, particularly the Bedouin community of Umm-El Nasser Village located in the North of the Gaza Strip. By representing the story of Salem, a young boy growing up in Umm-El Nasser who leaves his village and starts slowly discovering the other world outside of it, TDP aims at shedding the light on the negative attitudes faced by Bedouins trying to integrate into the rest of the Gazan community. Rafat Al-Aydi, TDP’s Artistic Director, spoke to the Drama, Diversity and Development project in a recent interview about his experiences working with the project and ‘In the Rectangle of Doubt’ performance in Gaza’s streets.
What does the project symbolize for you?
Many of TDP’s members are Palestinian refugees living in Gaza, which allowed our team to connect to what Umm-Al Nasser’s community is experiencing and understand what it means to be different. Umm-Al Nasser villagers suffer from labeling and discriminatory attitudes from the bigger Gaza community just because they are Bedouins. As a result, this community does not feel accepted by the majority of Gaza’s large population. Gaza Bedouins are also forced to sacrifice a lot of their nomadic lifestyle, unique traditions, customs, rituals, and identity to blend in with the larger local community. Palestinian refugees experienced and still experience a similar stigmatization to the one experienced by Umm-Al Nasser’s community. Therefore, this project was important to us on the personal level as most of our team members knew exactly what it meant to feel like a stranger in your own homeland.
On the professional level, this project was important to us as a domestic theater group, actors, and directors in Gaza. With the increase of intolerance to difference and different ideas in the Gaza strip as a result of different political and social reasons, innovative ideas are sometimes treated with suspicion, rejection, and disdain by different segments of the Gazan community. So, somehow, we can say that theater practitioners in Gaza are viewed as ‘weird’ and ‘crazy’, which poses a challenge to us as TDP and to other cultural practitioners in the city. Therefore, we believe that one of the ways to challenge this view and change the current situation is by using drama, theater, and storytelling as a tool for bringing change and raising awareness about local issues.
What was your favorite part of the project? And why?
My favorite part of the project is the discussions that took place at the end of our drama workshops with the youngsters from Umm-Al Nasser village. I liked the discussions that happened after the presentations with the village girls in particular. These discussions gave us the opportunity to witness the internal dialogues that occurred between the villagers from different ages and genders. What we witnessed presented how desperate Umm-Al Nasser villagers were to have an open and true conversation as parents, students, and elders about the issues related to their community.
The girls addressed their parents and the older generations. They did it with all the courage of the youth, passionately and enthusiastically. Their energy was contagious. Their message to the village adults was heartfelt and powerful: “Yes, the bigger community does not treat us well, but we have problems too… inside our village community. To change the attitude of the bigger community towards us, first, we need to make the first step.” The internal problems of the village community were discussed openly. The girls spoke about how much the village’s women and girls are oppressed.
The continuous discrimination against the Bedouin minority of Umm-Al Nasser from the bigger Gazan community triggered restriction and discrimination within the Bedouin minority of Umm-Al Nasser village. Violence causes more violence; discrimination causes other kinds of discrimination. Our drama work through Young Stories of Bedouin Life and Prejudice project allowed us to push the villagers, especially the village youngsters, to act towards a positive change inside their own community.
What is the goal you’re trying to achieve with this project?
When we started the project we had one main objective in mind, which was our commitment to fighting the injustices faced by Gaza’s Bedouin community, especially the one in Umm-Al Nasser’s village. As I mentioned before, the Bedouin community struggles with negative attitudes, labeling, negligence by the authority and discrimination from the larger Gaza community because of their unique identity and different living styles.
As we processed with the project, our objectives expanded. We realized that it was crucial to address issues that are taking place inside the village and encourage the bigger Gaza community to think of that aspect as well. By doing that, our project aimed to tackle both the discrimination faced by the Bedouin community and the social issues within the village community that exist in the larger Gazan society.
What kind of reactions did you receive regarding the project?
Gaza’s streets and open-air schoolyards met us with surprise, curiosity, and high interest. In some places, people passing by stopped their cars, motorbikes, and donkey-carts and joined the audience. We had kids, youth, the middle-aged and the old. We had boys, girls, men, and women. People who were in the areas we were performing at were watching from the roofs and leaning out of the windows of their homes. After the play, we invited the audience to share their feelings about what they had just watched. Some said that it was their first time to hear about Umm-Al Nasser village; some recognized that they are part of the problem as they practice discrimination against Bedouins; others spoke about how they and their communities are discriminated against by the bigger community as well; and the majority agreed that Gazans should discuss these negative social issues and work on finding solutions together as a community.
What were the main challenges you faced throughout the implementation process of the project?
While we didn’t face any major challenges, getting accustomed to Umm-Al Nasser’s customs and traditions as outsiders was a challenge that our team faced at the beginning of the project. Fitting and adjusting our working schedule of the theater practice according to the village’s regulations and customs was the way our team dealt with this minor challenge. Moreover, as the street performances required certain professional skills, amateur actors who joined our project struggled with the ability to perform in public places in front of an enormous and diverse audience. That’s why we couldn’t have the Bedouin youth volunteers do the acting in our street shows, however, they were intensively involved in the production as observers and our advisors. They were also in our improvisations and took part of some of our street debates.