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

Turbulent Transition Imperils Tunisia’s Arab Spring Gains

Critics say new anti-terrorism laws worsen Tunisia's situation while others put faith in country’s vibrant civil organizations, women’s movement More

Burundi’s Political Crisis May Become Humanitarian One

United Nations aid agencies issue warning as deadly violence sends tens of thousands fleeing More

Yemenis Adjust to Life Under Houthi Rule

Locals want warring parties to strike deal to stop bloodletting before deciding how country is governed 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.
Texas Town Residents Told to 'Just Leave' Ahead of Flood Threati
Greg Flakus
May 29, 2015 11:24 PM
Water from heavy rain in eastern and central Texas is now swelling rivers that flow into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening towns along their banks. VOA’s Greg Flakus visited the town of Wharton, southwest of Houston, where the Colorado River is close to cresting.

Video Texas Town Residents Told to 'Just Leave' Ahead of Flood Threat

Water from heavy rain in eastern and central Texas is now swelling rivers that flow into the Gulf of Mexico, threatening towns along their banks. VOA’s Greg Flakus visited the town of Wharton, southwest of Houston, where the Colorado River is close to cresting.

Video New York's One World Trade Center Observatory Opens to Public

From New Jersey to Long Island, from Northern suburbs to the Atlantic Ocean, with all of New York City in-between.  That view became available to the public Friday as the One World Trade Center Observatory opened in New York -- atop the replacement for the buildings destroyed in the September 11, 2001, attacks.  VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports.

Video Seoul Sponsors Korean Unification Fair

With inter-Korean relations deteriorating over the North’s nuclear program, past military provocations and human rights abuses, many Koreans still hold out hope for eventual peaceful re-unification. VOA’s Brian Padden visited a “unification fair” held this week in Seoul, where border communities promoted the benefits of increased cooperation.

Video Purple Door Coffeeshop: Changing Lives One Cup at a Time

For a quarter of his life, Kevin Persons lived on the street. Today, he is working behind the counter of an espresso bar, serving coffee and working to transition off the streets and into a home. Paul Vargas reports for VOA.

Video Modular Robot Getting Closer to Reality

A robot being developed at Carnegie Mellon University has evolved into a multi-legged modular mechanical snake, able to move over rugged surfaces and explore the surroundings. Scientists say such machines could someday help in search and rescue operations. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video Shanghai Hosts Big Consumer Electronics Show

Electronic gadgets are a huge success in China, judging by the first Asian Consumer Electronics Show, held this week in Shanghai. Over the course of two days, more than 20,000 visitors watched, tested and played with useful and some less-useful electronic devices exhibited by about 200 manufacturers. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Video Forced to Return Home, Afghan Refugees Face Increased Hardship

Undocumented refugees returning to Afghanistan from Pakistan have no jobs, no support system, and no home return to, and international aid agencies say they and the government are overwhelmed and under-resourced. Ayesha Tanzeem has more from Kabul.

Video Britain Makes Controversial Move to Crack Down on Extremism

Britain is moving to tighten controls on extremist rhetoric, even when it does not incite violence or hatred -- a move that some are concerned might unduly restrict basic freedoms. It is an issue many countries are grappling with as extremist groups gain power in the Middle East, fueled in part by donations and fighters from the West. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Video Al-Shabab Recruitment Drive Still on In Kenya

The al-Shabab militants that have long battled for control of Somalia also have recruited thousands of young people in Kenya, leaving many families disconsolate. Mohammed Yusuf recently visited the Kenyan town of Isiolo, and met with relatives of those recruited, as well as a many who have helped with the recruiting.

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.

VOA Blogs