It was a July evening, and everyone was making their way through the old town of Birzeit to attend a children’s play. Everyone. The children, their parents, young adults, and the elderly.
We sat on plastic chairs under lines of yellow light bulbs while the children sat on a carpet in front of the stage. The tiny stage was set, an LCD screen being the background and speakers on either side.
Suddenly, hares Al-Tantura, or the guard of Al-Tantura, walked out. Al-Tantura was a Palestinian village that was destroyed while Israel was being born. The man who played the guard (and throughout the play, many other characters) was in his 40s. His real life job is to create and act in children’s plays with his family. The entire cast and crew are is his family: his wife and children. I learned about this because the little kid sitting next to me told me. I was wondering outloud who these people were when he proudly told me it was his family and raced to get me their business card.
Throughout the play, I realized something I never really gave much thought to. When I was growing up, the first stories I ever heard of were scary Halloween tales and the story of the Grinch who stole Christmas. I heard religious tales about the prophets. I don’t recall hearing what my younger sibling and her generation are hearing – stories of nostalgia and war that never ended and politics they can’t being to comprehend. Then again, that’s a by-product of where we are now – in Palestine as opposed to the “free world.”
Here’s a few things the hares of Al-Tantura told us.
The hares described the orange groves that used to surround the village. The stories I heard as a child never started out with such descriptions. The stories I listened to when I was a child started with “Once upon a time.”
In one of the scenes, he began chasing a train that filled up the LCD screen so he could go to the sea in Akka. When it passed him and kept going, the hares stopped, hurt and annoyed, and said, in Arabic, “That’s the train of negotations passing by.” The adults and elderly shook their heads at the sly criticism they did not see coming (some even applauded his daring comment), and the children kept watching in bewilderment. They felt what he was feeling when the train passed by. I could tell by the look in their eyes.
In another scene, as an actress playing a girl going to visit her grandmother in Akka was on stage, she was stopped by a wolf. The wolf told her she was not allowed to pass by. I have seen this story before: Little Red Riding Hood. Except the wolf, in this case, was depicting Israel.
“Did you enjoy the play?” I asked my youngest sibling.
“Yeah, I did,” she replied. “Did you see that wolf?”
I saw the orange groves that have been passed around in stories for 68 years+. I saw the sea. I saw the beauty of the village that was not allowed to stand. I saw the wolf clearer than ever.
“I did. It was a scary wolf, right?” I replied.
“Yeah, but she got past him, anyways.”
She did. She got past him.
Get past the wolves standing in your way.