Tuesday, March 25, 2008

rachel corrie's writings published

Five years ago, 23-year-old American Rachel Corrie was killed by an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) bulldozer in Rafah, Gaza, as she tried to prevent the demolition of a Palestinian family’s home. She was a member of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), a non-violent group that supports the Palestinians through direct action in Gaza and the West Bank. Corrie’s horrific death on March 16 2003 sent shock waves around the world, and drew attention to the desperate situation faced daily by the Palestinians in Gaza, and to the highly questionable actions of the IDF.

Since Rachel’s death her memory has been kept alive through the Rachel Corrie Foundation, set up by her parents. In addition, Rachel’s own words and views have been brought to the public through the play “My Name is Rachel Corrie” based on her e-mails and journal. The play was first staged to acclaim at the Royal Court Theatre in London in April 2005, and has since then been performed in various venues around the world.

Now, to mark the fifth anniversary of Rachel’s death, the book “Let Me Stand Alone: The Journals of Rachel Corrie” is being published simultaneously in the US by W W Norton and in the UK by Granta. To publicize the book, Rachel’s parents Craig and Cindy are to embark on an eight-city book tour of the USA in April, attending book readings, signings, and question and answer sessions. The tour will take in San Francisco, Seattle, Olympia (the Corries’ home town in Washington State), Portland, Washington DC, New York, Iowa City and Minneapolis.

“Let Me Stand Alone” presents Rachel’s essays, poetry and drawings from the age of 10 to the last days of her life. Endlessly self-questioning, Rachel had decided while at school to become an artist and a writer. Her writings express her preoccupation from an early age with major questions of existence, as well as reflecting the more personal concerns experienced by a young girl growing up.

The book builds up a portrait of a remarkable young woman who combined a zest for living and a mischievous sense of humor with an unusual degree of awareness. In autumn 2002, reflecting on feelings of being alone, she wrote: “What if our aloneness isn’t a tragedy? Tragic passing of love affairs and causes and communities and peer groups. What if our aloneness is what allows us to speak the truth without being afraid? What if our aloneness is what allows us to adventure – to experience the world as a dynamic presence – as a changeable, interactive thing?”

From Rafah, she sent an e-mail to her mother a few days before her death describing how she had spent ten hours with a Palestinian family living on the front line. “When I am with Palestinian friends I tend to be somewhat less horrified than when I am trying to act in a role of human rights observer, documenter or direct action-resister,” Rachel wrote.

“They are a good example of how to be in it for the long haul. I know that the situation gets to them (and may ultimately get them) on all kinds of levels, but I am nevertheless amazed at their strength in being able to defend such a large degree of their humanity – laughter, generosity, family time – against the incredible horror occurring in their lives and against the constant presence of death.”

The Corrie family’s home town of Olympia lies not far from Seattle. Rachel’s father Craig worked for many years as an insurance executive and her mother Cindy is a musician and teacher. But since Rachel’s death her parents and her sister Sarah have not returned to their previous jobs. Craig and Cindy set up the Rachel Corrie Foundation in their daughter’s memory to promote peace and justice in the Middle East and are constantly on the move, addressing schools and giving media interviews. They highlight human rights abuses suffered by Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, and lobby to have Rachel’s death properly investigated. They are also trying to realize Rachel’s wish for Rafah to be twinned with Olympia, and have visited Rafah twice.

The fifth anniversary of Rachel’s death is being marked not only by publication of “Let Me Stand Alone”, but also by new productions of “My Name is Rachel Corrie”. The play is currently being produced in Israel for the first time, in Arabic translation. After its Haifa premier the play will tour a number of places in Israel and the West Bank.

The New England premier of the play was held a few days ago at the New Repertory Theatre in Watertown, Massachusetts. It is a sign of the sensitivities surrounding this dramatization of the words of a young woman who was an ardent supporter of the Palestinians that the theatre felt it necessary to “balance” it with a play on Israel.

The theatre originally intended to pair the play with the one-act play “To Pay the Price”, about the late Yonatan Netanyahu (brother of former Israeli prime minister Binyamin), regarded in Israel as a war hero, but the Netanyahu family vetoed the idea. So the Corrie play was instead paired with the solo show “Pieces” written and performed by Israeli-American Zohar Tirosh, and based on her experiences of serving in the Israeli military in the mid-1990s. The staging of the two plays was accompanied by relevant panel discussions, films and readings.

The theatre critic of the Boston Herald, Jenna Scherer, protested at this attempted balancing act. She wrote: “Art shouldn’t require even-handedness...Issues don’t get more hot-button than the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a subject on which you’d be hard-pressed to find an objective account. But shouldn’t that be all the more reason to allow an individual voice to ring clear without apology? Isn’t theatre supposed to incite people to think and react?” She praised the Corrie play as “a superlative work, here in a superlative production by director David R Gammons and actor Stacy Fischer.”

“My Name is Rachel Corrie” had its genesis in the moving e-mails Rachel had sent from Gaza, published by the London-based Guardian newspaper some days after her death. The e-mails, and Rachel’s journal, were edited into a play by the well-known actor Alan Rickman, who also directed the play, and by journalist Katharine Viner.

The production at the Royal Court Theatre in 2005 won the Theatregoer’s Choice Awards for best director and best new play, as well as the best solo performance for actress Megan Dodds. The Guardian’s critic Michael Billington described it as “a stunning account of one woman’s passionate response to a particular situation. And the passion comes blazing through in Corrie’s eloquent reaction to their father’s enquiries about Palestinian violence. As she says, if we lived where tanks and soldiers and bulldozers could destroy our homes at any moment and where our lives were completely strangled, wouldn’t we defend ourselves as best we could?”

The play was to have been transferred to the New York Theatre Workshop in March 2006, but the theatre decided to indefinitely postpone the play out of fear of the reaction of certain Jewish and pro-Israeli groups. Rickman and Viner denounced the decision, and withdrew the play, declaring: “This is censorship born out of fear, and the New York Theatre Workshop, the Royal Court, New York audiences – all of us are the losers.” There were also protests from such theatre luminaries as actress Vanessa Redgrave and playwrights Harold Pinter and Tony Kushner. The play was eventually staged off-Broadway in autumn 2006.

The continuing difficulty over the staging of the play in the USA - as shown by the recent controversy over the production in Watertown - shows how some quarters are alarmed at the continuing power of Rachel’s eloquent words five years after her death. Critics of Corrie and of the ISM allege that she was militantly pro-Palestinian, and naïve to go to Gaza, and they dispute the circumstances of her death and the claimed culpability of the IDF bulldozer operator. But as Corrie’s testimony shows, she was no hot-headed, blinkered fanatic, but a highly-intelligent, sensitive young person who felt she could not just stand by in the face of Palestinian suffering. And in these days of an unprecedented humanitarian crisis in Gaza, her message still rings out loud and clear.

Susannah Tarbush
Saudi Gazette March 17 2008

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Book of Palestinian embroidery motifs

The embroidery with which Palestinian women have traditionally decorated their dresses is one of the most characteristic elements of Palestinian material culture. In her recent book Palestinian Embroidery Motifs: A Treasury of Stitches 1850-1950 - published jointly by Melisende Publishing of London and Rimal Publications of Nicosia - Margarita Skinner focuses on the motifs used in embroidery. They include the Tall Palm motif (also known as Ears of Wheat) of the Ramallah area, Scissors and Roses from Gaza, the Key of the Heart from Bethlehem and the Cypress Tree motifs found all over Palestine.

Skinner writes: “The embroidered dresses of the Palestinian women are very much like Persian carpets. They are not only unusually beautiful. They also tell stories.” In the Negev, unmarried Bedouin girls and widows wear dresses with blue embroidery. Once a widow remarries, red or pink embroidery is added.

Skinner wrote the book in association with her friend of 40 years Widad Kamel Kawar, the legendary Amman-based collector of Palestinian costume. Skinner documents more than 200 motifs, giving their names in Arabic and English and identifying the areas of Palestine from which they come. Falak Shawwa’s photographs capture the artistry and vibrant colours of the motifs, and the splendour of festive dresses. There are also diagrams of each motif.

Assembling information on the motifs was not easy. The names of motifs change from area to area, and often from one generation to another. “What is a Moon in Ramallah is a Star in Hebron. What is an Orange Branch to a grandmother is a Rose Branch to the granddaughter,” says Kawar.It is not known exactly when women in Palestine started to put thousands of stitches on dresses, coats, jackets, veils and cushions. Research on Palestine embroidery has found no examples earlier than the 19th century.

In the 1930s, the French company Dollfus, Mieg & Co (DMC) distributed pattern books that introduced foreign motifs. Before long, these appeared alongside traditional motifs on women’s costume. DMC also introduced perle cotton thread. Previously, women had used lustrous floss silk thread from Syria.

In Palestinian villages, the tending of chickens and selling of eggs was the domain of women, who used this source of income to buy thread and fabric. Girls grew up watching their mothers embroidering, and learnt the skill from the age of about ten.

The main stitches used in Palestinian embroidery are cross-stitch and couching. In couching a thick thread is positioned on top of the fabric, and a thinner thread is stitched over it to keep it in place. This gives a curving design, of which there are many examples in Palestinian Embroidery Motifs.
Each area of Palestine had characteristic embroidery. Ramallah, together with Bethlehem and Beit Dajan, was well known for its lavish embroidery. The embroidery on a festive dress could have 200,000 cross-stitches. Bethlehem’s skill in the art of couching made it “the Paris of Palestinian village fashion”.

The book organises the motifs within six sections. The first consists of border motifs, while the others sections are based on the sources of inspiration: daily life, fauna, the garden and fields, nature and the environment, and trees.

From the mid-20th century Palestinian embroidery started to decline. The establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 and the 1967 Arab-Israeli war uprooted hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, many of whom ended in up refugee camps. “With their own local culture dispersed, they lost parts of their village identity and the embroidered motifs of certain areas became mixed with others in names and motif arrangements,” Kawar notes.

A style referred to as The New Dress developed in refugee camps. This dress tells us only that the wearer is Palestinian, and indicates little about its origins. Some organizations now run modern embroidery projects, helping to keep skills alive.

Skinner hopes that her book will help to preserve and revive the heritage of Palestinian embroidery. “Let the stitches speak to us again,” she says.

Susannah Tarbush

original of article published by qantara.de

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

David Hare's The Vertical Hour

At long last theatre goers in London have had the chance to see the UK premiere of the celebrated British playwright Sir David Hare’s latest play “The Vertical Hour”, at the Royal Court Theatre. Seats sold out early, with the play selling faster than any new play in the history of the theatre. “The Vertical Hour” is Hare’s second Iraq-related play. The first, “Stuff Happens”, took its title from the phrase uttered by the then Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in shrugging off the looting of Baghdad during the 2003 invasion.

There was shock in 2006 when Hare decided not to stage the premier of “The Vertical Hour” at the National Theatre in London, where 13 of his previous works had premiered. Instead, he took the play straight to New York where it was directed on Broadway by the British director Sam Mendes with a cast including Hollywood star Julianne Moore and British actor Bill Nighy.

Hare explained that the reason for his decision was his frustration over the way the National Theatre had handled “Stuff Happens” two years earlier when far more people wanted to see the play than could get tickets. In Hare’s view, the National closed the production of that play too early.

“The Vertical Hour” deals with the Iraq war in a more oblique manner than “Stuff Happens”. It explores the attitudes of individuals towards the war, and the interweaving of political arguments and private lives. Hare has a gift for making compelling theatre from political discussions between his characters. “The Vertical Hour” has virtually no action, but the characters are far from being mere mouthpieces articulating opposing positions on Iraq and so-called liberal interventionism. For a play with a serious theme, there were plenty of jokes and laughs over the ironies of politics and the Iraq war, and over the deceptions and delusions of personal behavior.

The play revolves around a visit by US academic Nadia Blye (Indira Varma), and her British boyfriend Philip (Tom Riley) to a house in a remote corner of England where Nadia meets for the first time Philip’s doctor father Oliver (Anton Lesser).

The part of Nadia is a plum role for British actress Varma (34), who was born in the city of Bath in south-west England to an Indian father and Swiss mother. Since making her acting debut in Mira Nair’s film “Kama Sutra: A Tale of Love” in 1996, Varma has tackled a wide variety of roles in film, theatre and TV. Nadia is her biggest theatre role to date.

Nadia is a former foreign correspondent who is now a professor of international relations at Yale University, appearing frequently on TV and at think tanks. Slender in build, with fine facial bone structure, Varma portrays the lively Nadia as strong but with an underlying fragility.

Anton Lesser, who plays Oliver, is a leading British classical actor. He is shorter than Varma, and has a lightweight physique compared with his physical therapist son. And yet something in him draws Nadia. Oliver is witty, waspish and enjoys playing psychological games. It is not altogether clear whether his aim is to undermine his son, and influence Nadia. He quotes to Nadia the definition of a doctor as “someone who tells you the truth and stays with you until the end.”

Oliver has retreated from life for a reason that is at first a secret, and is now living in a virtually unpopulated part of Shropshire, on the English-Welsh border. He was once a highly-regarded kidney specialist but is now a general practitioner.

Nadia supported the invasion of Iraq, whereas Oliver was opposed to it, and from the start he engages her in verbal sparring. Nadia had been invited to the White House to advise George W Bush on Iraq. She was in favor of what she insists on calling “the liberation...I don’t think the president would have asked me if I wasn’t.” She believes strongly that the invasion of Iraq was justified to end the tyranny of Saddam Hussein. This belief in “humane intervention” is partly rooted in her experiences as a foreign correspondent in the Balkans where the West did nothing to alleviate the suffering and 300,000 people were killed. She says of Iraq: “I don’t think the mess that’s followed invalidates the original decision.”

Oliver uses a medical analogy to explain his opposition to the invasion. “I knew who the surgeon was going to be, so I had a fair idea of what the operation would look like.” He argues that “the West’s been using Islam as a useful enemy for as long as anyone can remember. ‘Shall we go to Constantinople and take the Turk by the beard? Shall we not?’ It’s from Henry V.”

There are unresolved undercurrents between the three characters. Philip has a lot of suppressed rage towards his father for what he sees as his cruel philandering while married to Philip’s mother. Oliver prefers to explain it to Nadia as an “open marriage”. Oliver advises Philip not to show self doubt in Nadia’s presence, and says she picked Philip out because he appeared to be strong. Philip suspects Oliver of having an intention to try to seduce Nadia away from him,

It is only in the course of a long discussion with Oliver during a sleepless night that Nadia admits that in Iraq “we certainly made a mess of it didn’t we?” She is upset, and momentarily she and Oliver hold hands. She tells him of her love affair with a danger-loving Polish reporter she was with in the Balkans and then met again in Iraq. After the trauma of the love affair she went back to America and met Philip, but the visit to Oliver has shaken up her ease in the safety of her relationship with Philip.

Oliver confesses the secret of why he retreated to Shropshire. He had given a lift in a car to a woman he had been having an affair with and the car crashed, killing the woman as well as an old man in another car. The woman turned out to be married, and her husband had threatened to sue him.

The play is framed by first and last scenes in which Nadia is in tutor mode with a student. The first is a young man who declares he is love with her, despite having a fiancée. The final scene is with a black female student, Terri, who has decided to leave Yale after a painful breakup with her boyfriend. At the end of their discussion Nadia says to her: “I used to be a war correspondent. Recently I’ve noticed I miss it. I’m going back to Iraq”. Philip has already told the audience that after Nadia and Philip returned to America he heard nothing from them for some time. “In fact, next time I read Nadia’s name it was in another context entirely. When I saw what it was, forgive me, it made me smile.”

Susannah Tarbush
Saudi Gazette, March 3 2008

credit for photos: Keith Pattison

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Omar Sabbagh's poetry published by 'The Reader'

The latest issue of The Reader magazine features poetry from Omar Sabbagh, the London-based Lebanese poet who has been steadily making his mark on the British literary scene. This isn't the first time Sabbagh's poetry has been published in the magazine: 'Editor's Pick' in the Liverpool-based publication's issue 29, dedicated to "voices that should be heard", describes him as "one of The Reader's favourite new poets".

When The Reader published poetry by Sabbagh in issue 27, it said: "We have great new poetry by Omar Sabbagh, a poet (The Reader says) to look out for in the future. He’s got a strong voice, a decisive standpoint which makes you aware of his presence in the poems and which makes the sheer delicacy of his observations a surprise as well as a pleasure. More than anything when you read his poems, you are aware of the solidity and lightness of life."

Sabbagh is finishing an MA in Creative and Life Writing at Goldsmiths College. His poetry has appeared in Poetry Review, Agenda Online Broadsheet, Stand and The Warwick Review, and Stand will be publishing further poems from him.

Sabbagh's fellow contributors in issue 29 include poets David Constantine, John Kinsella, Kenneth Steven, Jeffrey Wainwright and Penny Fearn, as well as the novelist and critic A S Byatt (examining the ways that "novelists have taken up the slack after the absconding of God", Jewish novelist and essayist Howard Jacobson (taking apart Richard Dawkins), an "unusual" interview with Mark Rylance (actor and theatre director, starring in the new Hollywood release 'The Other Boleyn Girl'). Novelist Joanna Trollope is among those participating in a roundtable on William Wordsworth.

The Reader was launched in 1997 by three teachers from Liverpool University's Continuing Education department. "We are still providing a platform for personal and passionate responses to books, as well as identifying new and exciting writers."