News / Middle East

Lebanon Theater Stirs Palestinian Emotions

Heather Murdock

Lebanon is home to more than 400,000 Palestinians, many are second, third and fourth generation refugees that fled the Arab-Israeli wars in 1948 and 1967. On Saturday, a Beirut theater company performed Return to Haifa, a play about a Palestinian couple visiting their old home in Israel, and finding the son they abandoned raised an Israeli.

In the play,
In the play, "Return to Haifa" Said and Safia, played by Ghanam Ghanam and Raeda Taha, return to the home they fled in the 1948 Arab-Israeli war to find the son they abandoned raised Jewish, and an Israeli soldier.

In Return to Haifa, characters Sa'id and Safia evacuated their home by force during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, abandoning their baby.  Twenty years later, Israel wins the Six Day War, and the borders are opened.  Like many Palestinian families, Sa'id and Safia travel to Haifa, once their home, now an Israeli city.

In Haifa they find their house is now home to Miriam, a Jewish World War II refugee, and the adopted mother of Dov, the son they abandoned.  Dov was raised Jewish, and is now an Israeli soldier.   Dov, played by Hussein Nakhal, blames his parents for leaving him and insults Arabs in general.

"Twenty years have passed sir.  Twenty years!  What did you do during that time?  What did you do to bring your son back?  You are all impotent.  You are ignorant," he says.

At the opening of the play a young Palestinian couple, played by Haroutioun Izmirilian and Samira al-Asir (front), stands in their home in Haifa, which is now an Israeli City.
At the opening of the play a young Palestinian couple, played by Haroutioun Izmirilian and Samira al-Asir (front), stands in their home in Haifa, which is now an Israeli City.

The play opened on Saturday to commemorate the 62nd anniversary of the passing of U.N. Resolution 194 which promises all refugees, Jewish and Palestinian, the right to return to their homes or be compensated for their properties.   Much of the non-binding resolution was never implemented and Palestinians have now suffered the world's longest refugee crisis.

The story was written by celebrated Palestinian author the late Ghassan Kanafani.  But audience members say in this story, everyone is a victim, including the Israeli family living in the once-Palestinian home.  In this story, everyone is also at least partially responsible for their own fates.

After the show, Arab-American professor Laila Farah, of DePaul University in the United States, says the story resonates deeply among Arabs in the Middle East.

"The Palestinian issue is the heart of all of the conflict in this region and people take it very personally, whether it is support of or being against," said Farah.

In Lebanon, Palestinians live on the margins of society, mostly in camps, without the right to vote, own property and work in many professions.   Even though most were born and raised in Lebanon, they are considered foreigners and can rarely work outside of the refugee camps, where 60 percent of the people are unemployed or underemployed.

Many Palestinians in Lebanon say gaining basic civil rights in the country they live in is more important, and more realistic, than having the right to return to their homeland.  Many Lebanese people say Palestinians should not be given civil rights in Lebanon because they may lose the motivation to return to their homeland, but actor Hussein Nakhal, who plays the son, says Palestinians will never stop wanting to return.

"If you have your civil rights, it will not change your essence," said Nakhal.  "The essence is to return home."

Audience members say Return to Haifa also explores the nature of identity and asks the question of whether a person is who they born to be or who they were raised to be.  American University in Beirut Professor Robert Myers says the play created a world that allowed the audience to examine the question.

"Was he or is he still their son?  It is a real interesting question," he said.  "Because is genetics destiny?  It is a question that we live with now."

Myers says, for a Palestinian child raised by Israeli parents, there is no easy answer.

NEW: Follow our Middle East reports on Twitter
and discuss them on our Facebook page.

You May Like

Video Afghan Refugees Complain of Harassment in Pakistan

Afghan officials and human rights organizations assert that Pakistani authorities are using deadly attack at school in Peshawar as pretext to push out Afghan refugees More

At Boston Bombing Hearing, Sides Spar Over Boat

At final pre-trial hearing, lawyers for suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, prosecutors disagree on whether vessel where he hid from police can be shown to jurors More

Iran Judiciary 'Picks' Lawyer for Detained WP Reporter

Masoud Shafii has been attempting to secure official recognition as Rezaian’s attorney, but is not allowed to see his client in prison More

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Casei
Katherine Gypson
February 25, 2015 11:30 PM
The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.

Video US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.

Video Falling Gas Prices Hurt Nascent Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Industry

Falling oil prices are helping consumers purchase cheaper petroleum at the pump. But that’s made hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” less economically viable for the companies in the United States invested in the process. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports on one Midwestern town that was hoping to change its fortunes by cashing in on the next big U.S. oil boom.

Video Fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan Fuels Mass Displacement

Heavy fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan state is causing hundreds of thousands to flee into uncertain conditions. Local aid organizations estimate as many as 400,000 civilians have been internally displaced since the conflict began more than three years ago, while another 250,000 have fled across the border to refugee camps in South Sudan. VOA's Adam Bailes reports.

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.

Video A Filmmaker Discovers Her Biracial Identity in "Little White Lie

Lacey Schwartz grew up in an upper middle-class Jewish family, in a town in upstate New York where almost everyone she knew was white. She assumed that she was, as well. Her recent documentary, Little White Lie, tells the story of how she uncovered the secret of her true racial background. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more on the film.

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.

Video US-Cuba Normalization Talks Resume Friday

Negotiations aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba resume Friday. On the table: lifting a half-century trade embargo and easing banking and travel restrictions. There's opposition in Congress, but some analysts say there may be sufficient political and economic incentives in both nations for a potential breakthrough this year. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.

Video Pakistan's Deadline For SIM Registration Has Cellphone Users Scrambling

Pakistani cell phone users have until midnight Thursday to register their SIM cards, or their service will be cut off. While some privacy experts worry about government intrusion, many Pakistanis are just worried about keeping their phone lines open. VOA Deewa reporter Arshad Muhmand has more from Peshawar.

Video Myanmar Warns Factory Workers to End Strikes

Outside Myanmar's main city Yangon, thousands of workers walked off their jobs earlier this month demanding a doubling of their wages, pay raises after a year and input from labor unions on industrial regulations. Since Friday, the standoff has grown more tense as police moved in to disrupt the sit-ins, resulting in clashes that injured people from both sides. VOA correspondent Steve Herman visited industrial zones which have become a focus of Myanmar's fledgling workers rights movement.

Video Oscar Winners Do More Than Thank the Academy

The Academy Awards presentation is Hollywood’s night to reward the best movies from the previous year. It’s typically a lot of glitter, a lot of thank you’s, a lot of speeches. But many of this year’s speeches carried messages beyond the thank you's. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti takes a look.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.