Letter to a Friend in Gaza
The Coronet Theatre
Amos Gitai’s Letter to a Friend in Gaza, performed in Arabic and Hebrew with English surtitles, opens and closes with two brutal attacks on communities in the Middle East.
We begin with the back-screen projection of a confused movement of Roman soldiers as they kill and expel people from Jerusalem in 70CE.
The show concludes with pictures from the last couple of years' campaign in Gaza by Palestinians for a right to return, in which many who dared to walk too close to the Gaza border were shot by Israeli soldiers.
The explicit sympathy for Palestinian suffering links the various performance elements of film, music, poems and prose.
There is a short piece recalling Arab villages lost or destroyed, the poems of Mahmoud Darwish including the lines from “Think of Others” spoken in Arabic that say “As you wage your wars, think of others (do not forget those who seek peace)”.
Film clips include a camera shot panning across a lengthy stretch of the huge West Bank concrete Israeli wall, the terrible poverty of a Palestinian refugee encampment and an aerial view of bombed wreckage in Gaza or the occupied territories.
There is a sense of grief and haunting lament in the music played on violin, oud and accordion.
There is no doubt where this performance stands politically and yet the effect of its many separate elements can make it feel fragmented and remote.
Some of the poetry, all of which is projected in surtitles on the back screen, distracted me with the vagueness of its meaning. For instance, what was I to make of the line “dreamers pass from one sky to another carrying mirrors of water”, or the later line that urges us to “place our land above hopelessness”?
Perhaps it was to prepare us for the words from Mahmoud Darwish, asking, “as you express yourself in metaphor, think of others (those who have lost the right to speak).”
But distractions aside, this challenging piece had many moving moments and in particular “Only Following Orders” by Amira Hass, spoken in Hebrew by Yael Abercassis, in which Israeli children ask their parents how they could do such terrible things.
It begins: "'How did you destroy villages?' one daughter will ask. 'How did you agree to imprison two million people?' another will whisper. The answers will only make their weeping louder."
Reviewer: Keith Mckenna