Postcards From Palestine |FOUR: Nablus (Where All My Stories Come From)

Mount Jerzim chez les Samaritans- Nablus.jpg

The City of Nablus is in complete silence. Yes it is again one of those days when all shops are closed to express the sadness and anger against the political situation. This is what we call a full strike. This time we feel sadness and outrage over the 53 Palestinians who were killed in Gaza yesterday. I spend the day between watching the news and trying to absorb all these emotional events that my brain has to deal with. These are my people in Gaza who for me are a real example of the Walking Dead - walking to a fence to achieve their final death, from a place where they have already died many times. Watching the footage of the big march yesterday is sad but also scary. All these young people want to die and by walking close to the fence that separate the Gaza strip from Israel they get what they want. The Israeli soldiers voluntarily help them to die.

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In the West Bank people are dead and desperate as well, but they are still grasping onto some sort of life – a life they want to make better. People stayed at home. Only a few guys walked to the checkpoint at the entrance of Nablus but nothing serious happened. These are the same guys who came to see Two Ladybugs in Arts Hub in Nablus last week, people who are trying to make art, theatre, dance and sing rap, and who are the same people who get angry and walk to the checkpoint to protest. They are also protesting to achieve a better life. 

We played Two Ladybugs in Nablus last week, the room was full of young people, only young people, and not that many people from the institutions. This was our perfect audience. It was our best moment. The place was not well-equipped so it was hard to play, but we managed. We had Diaa – a technician who works at the Qattan Foundation (one of the organizers of the festival).  Diaa doesn’t know what “impossible” is. He has a magical hand. He can make things work whatever the conditions are. We are lucky to have him with us.

Two Ladybugs with Arabic subtitle - Nona Buhrs and Femke Stallaert.jpg

We played to the young audience. They interacted with us after, and we had a nice after-talk. The team and I were very happy to hear some of the guys say they liked us and felt connected to the play. It meant a lot to me to do this play in Nablus. I was so happy to hear one of the guys saying: “You’re talking about me in this play, I’ve experienced this story, everything in the play is real.” Which is true, because most of the incidents or scenes are inspired by true stories that happened in Nablus. After the show I asked the driver, who also has many stories to tell us, to drive us to the place where the major incident in the play happened, so we could show the actors. This incident was the “shooting of a girl on a swing by a bored sniper”.

Nona Buhrs and Femke Stallaert - the subtitle say say it you think Im naive.jpg

The Belgian actors were trying to take in all this information, which they heard every day. They left with sadness but also a feeling that this visit wasn’t real for them. It felt like a dream. I’ve also heard from many of them that even after they left they had the feeling that the place hasn’t left them.

It hasn’t left me either and even now after six years living abroad I’m still connected to this place and I still write about it  and I’m still inspired by it.

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After the festival is over, I spend the second half of my stay in Nablus.  Two days ago I had a talk with the guys who saw the play at Arts Hub in Nablus, which is a new space that opened just three weeks ago. Within these three weeks they have received three official complaints from people, through the Palestinian Police, that it should be closed because they support Gays. People say that because one of the guys who runs the place joined a page in Arabic on Facebook that supports Gays. The police came to check the place out, but didn’t do anything. They checked the place out and left. This is what Ali, one of the coordinators, told me. He feels that their struggle with society and the community around them won’t be easy. I believe that, but I also believe that people can change easily and they are willing to change secretly. We just have to push them and not spoil them. Over time they will get used to seeing these young artists who look different than the norm, with their long beards and long hair.

Together Two ladybugs team-Qattan foundation team and rts Hub team and my mother in a blue scarf.jpg

A Talk was organized with me for the guys who saw the play. There were no women. That was my first comment to the organizers. I said: “I’m not starting this discussion until I have talked about the absence of women in the room.” There was a big discussion about this. I asked the participants about their sisters, and each one had a different answer. They all agreed that women should be more presents at the Arts Hub but they also have to work on it themselves.  By the end of the talk there were two women in the room and a promise from the organizers that they will involve more females in the activities and also in coordinating positions. 

Two ladybugs at Arts Hub in Nablus-Nona Buhrs playing a headless chicken running in circles with a lot of pain.jpg

I loved this conversation. These guys are still very young but they are aware of their surroundings and of their cause. They want to change the society. But when things happen like what happened in Gaza yesterday, or even what is happening in the West Bank every day, they will not be able to continue. They will be interrupted all the time by political events.

But I’m sure the people in Nablus will like them and will support them. On my first day in Nablus, I was walking in the old city and people were very welcoming to my foreigners friends who accompanied me. They welcomed them and respected them. We sat in the morning in a very old café – maybe the oldest in the old city – “Sheikh Qasem Café”. I was told that the old man passed way last year. It is very sad to hear this because he was a figure in this café. We had our morning coffee while waiting for the Knafeh to be ready in Al-Aqsa shop. Knafeh is the most famous sweet in Nablus. At the Knafeh shop – Al-Aqsa – a very well-known shop in the old city –  the lineup was big. Those who get served first are people waiting for the knafeh in the street,  then they serve the people sitting at the tables. 

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After having a heavy breakfast, we split – me and the Two Ladybugs team. I have to go work with another friend of mine on her text and the group of Two Ladybugs walk in the city, to buy Za’atar and some gifts. They tell me, when we meet afterwards, that a man helped them by giving them a map in English since they were walking back and forth in the same street and the man thought they were lost! They also visited Mount Jerzim, where the Samaritans live. What I want to say is this: the people of Nablus are still how I remember them – welcoming and open. They will, over time, accept Arts Hub and other new art spaces. It is known that the city of Nablus has always produced art, and writers – including female writers.  It is also known that women in Nablus are strong and outspoken. I have hope in the new generation and I have faith in the old generation to support them.

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The show in Nablus was very emotional not only because I played in my hometown, but also because it was the last time we played Two ladybugs together, me and the actors. We had one performance left in Jerusalem but I couldn’t be with the team because my permit to enter Jerusalem was rejected. In general, Israelis reject any permit application if it has to do with cultural activity or art. So I played on Skype, which was really hard for me and for the actors, but we didn’t want to cancel the performance. It was sad to play the last performance on skype, but I appreciated the actors’ decision to do it this way. Nona, one of the actors, said to the audience: “Luckily they couldn’t build a wall inside the web”. We had a nice audience there – on the other side of the wall – with whom I talked via skype after the show. I apologized to them for my physical absence.

As a Palestinian you get used to apologizing a lot for your physical absence.

1)     Samaritans: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samaritans
2)     Arts Hub https://www.facebook.com/ArtsHub.Nablus/