Meanwhile, another Israel-undermining initiative, altogether smarter and more subtle, which has infiltrated the school system in the Aussie state of Victoria, appears to have gone relatively unnoticed.
I refer to the fact that the play City by the Sea, by poet, writer and activist Samah Sabawi, a Gaza-born (1967) Australian/Canadian, is now on the 2016 playlist for school students taking the Victorian Certificate of Education. It means that students in years 11 and 12 will be attending performances of the play at La Mama Theatre in Melbourne in May.
An official document listing the plays selected for study in 2016 states, inter alia:
'Students will undertake an assessment task based on the performance of a play on the Playlist. Question/s will also be set on the performances of the plays in the end-of-year Drama written examination.
While the VCAA [Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority] considers all plays on this list suitable for study, teachers should be aware that in some instances sensitivity might be needed where particular issues or themes that are explored may be challenging for students. Teachers are advised to familiarise themselves with the treatment of these issues and themes within the context and world of the play prior to students viewing the play and/or studying the playscript. This might involve reading the playscript, talking with the theatre company, researching the playscript, the work of the playwright, director and/or company, attending a preview performance and/or discussing the matter with the school administration. Information provided in this notice about themes and/or language used in specific plays is a guide only. In some plays, suggestive and potentially offensive words and phrases are used. This language may invite adverse comment from some areas of the community' [Emphasis added]Tailor-made, wouldn't you say, for teachers who may be left-wing anti-Zionists, and indeed any teacher who relies for information about the Middle East on such biased sources as the Fairfax Press (The Age, the Sydney Morning Herald), the ABC and SBS, wittingly or unwittingly to poison young minds?
The document continues:
"Tales of a City by the Sea explores life in Gaza through the lens of a generation who have grown up in a state under occupation. It tells a story of people who are experiencing very difficult life circumstances, but who are resisting being defined by their suffering. Before the play begins, the cast mingles with the audience and introduce themselves as actors who are there to share a story. There is no effort to create the illusion that they are their characters. The device of Brechtian alienation emotionally separates the audience from the story to allow them to take a critical view of the action. The actors are visible at all times, when onstage and offstage. Actors who play several characters transform in full view, through costume changes, gesture, and voice. While the story specifically takes place in 2008 during the siege of Gaza, the symbolic staging of the play does not include scenic elements that define place or time. The non-naturalistic set, composed of a set of white sheets on wires, has a makeshift sensibility. Time and place are indicated by transformations of lighting and set, which is operated by the actors as part of the action of the performance. A singer performs traditional songs a capella in Arabic throughout these changes, punctuating the action while connecting to the audience.The play combines scenes from life with conventions of epic theatre, including direct address, poetry, and breaking the fourth wall."To quote the Sydney Morning Herald during 2014:
'The play tells the story of Jomana, a Palestinian woman living in the Shati' (beach) refugee camp in Gaza who falls in love with Rami, an American-Palestinian doctor who arrives on the Free Gaza boats in August 2008. Theirs is a relationship met with more challenges than most; at one point Rami makes the perilous journey through the underground tunnels that connect Gaza to Egypt.
The script – which was born out of poetry that Sabawi wrote during the first Israeli attack on Gaza in 2008-2009 – is based on real events, with fictionalised characters, taking the audience through "a year in the life of Gaza"....
Liz Jones, artistic director of La Mama, said she was struck by what she calls a "beautiful work" when she first heard the script at a public reading two years ago.
"It's essentially a love story, as I see it, as well as a very passionate plea for compassion, harmony and a peaceful solution to all the troubles in the Middle East – an area that is seen as quite 'other' in this country," she says.
"It deals with the people involved as deeply human – as loving, as suffering, as caring, as we all aspire to be - and I think that's very important because it's not the way people from the Middle East are usually presented."
A longtime vocal advocate for Palestinian rights, Sabawi recently made headlines when she was taken off the panel at an Israel-Palestine debate at the Wheeler Centre, only to be promptly reinstated four hours later. At the time, Sabawi said that she thought her ejection from the panel was due to pressure from those who object to her support for the BDS [Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions] movement against Israel.
Tales of the City and the Sea is undeniably political, but Sabawi stresses that its message is a universal one. "It's looking at how human beings – not just Palestinians – at how human beings react in extraordinary circumstances and at times of war," she says.
"It's the idea of connectivity, it's the idea of defying the fragmentation of the Palestinian nationals ... before the last attack on Gaza began I was in constant contact with artists in Gaza and the West Bank preparing for this and everyone was saying, 'We're all one people.'"Not convinced of the play's power as propaganda? Then read this:
'Tales of a City by the Sea is the story of two people who meet and fall in love in the besieged Gaza strip, woven together from the actual experiences of people living under occupation.
Jomana, a Palestinian woman living in a Gaza refugee camp, falls in love with Rami, an American-born Palestinian doctor and activist who has just arrived on one of the first Free Gaza boats in 2008. Their love is met with relentless string of challenges. Ultimately, Rami must decide between returning to his comfortable life in Texas and staying in Palestine with Jomana. Choosing to stay means leaving his family and career behind for a life ravaged by war, while leaving means not only losing Jomana but also ignoring the plight of the Palestinians.
The play premiered in November 2014, with simultaneous productions at La Mama Theatre in Melbourne and the AlRowwad Cultural and Theatre Society, in Aida Refugee Camp in Palestine. La Mama saw a sold out season and both productions received passionate responses from audiences and critics alike. Hundreds posted on social media, encouraging their friends to see it and asking for remounts in other places.
Starting in May 2016, we want to take Tales of a City by the Sea on tour!....
We believe that sharing Palestinian stories is a key step towards a just and peaceful resolution, and that a view into the realities of life under occupation has the power to change hearts and minds.
“This gripping play is an act of resistance that implores its audience to take heed.”
— The Age' [Emphasis added]Not for nothing have those connected with the play expressed their delight in its exposure to school students:
Congratulations to all of us! Palestinian play highlighting challenges of life in Gaza during the war of 2008-2009 has been selected for the 2016 Victorian Certificate of Education Drama list. The play Tales of a City by the Sea by Palestinian Australian playwright Samah Sabawi was one of 16 of more than 50 submissions selected for the 3 VCE Playlists. As a result, it will be seen and studied by hundreds of year 11 & 12 Theatre students in Victoria and it will be published by Currency Press and disseminated among these students.There's more delight now: