Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘Jen Marlowe

From Palestine to Ferguson: Reflections on shared grief and liberation

Formerly incarcerated women of color perform the story of a Palestinian teen killed by Israeli police in October 2000. The act of Black-Palestine solidarity highlights shared trauma, but also concrete ways toward liberation.

By Jen Marlowe and Je Naé Taylor. October 1, 2018

Black Lives Matter activists organize a die-in action outside Memorial Church in Harvard University on December 7, 2014 in Cambridge, Mass. (Tess Scheflan/Activestills.org)

Black Lives Matter activists organize a die-in action outside Memorial Church in Harvard University on December 7, 2014 in Cambridge, Mass. (Tess Scheflan/Activestills.org)

 

On October 2, 2000, Aseel Asleh, a 17-year old Palestinian citizen of Israel, was shot and killed by Israeli police at a demonstration outside his village in northern Israel.

On September 3, a staged reading of “There is a Field,” a documentary play of Aseel’s life and killing, was performed as part of the Kennedy Center’s Page to Stage Festival, produced by the Gildapapoose Collective, a D.C.-based direct action and arts organization that seeks Black liberation.

Taylor: So There is a Field really started for you as a tribute to Aseel. What connections does this play make for you now?

Marlowe: I finished an earlier version of the play in 2010, and then I put the script down. Several years later, I decided that I wanted to develop the script further, so in the summer of 2014, I picked it back up. This was just as protests against police brutality and racism erupted across the U.S., after police in Ferguson, Missouri killed an unarmed Black teenager.

I couldn’t help but see the parallels between Aseel’s story and the state violence that plays out on Black and Brown bodies here in the U.S. I wanted the play to provide a framework for those connections to be explored.

Taylor: The connections felt so clear to me. When I first saw the play at the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights conference, I felt like I was watching a story about the lived experiences of Black people.

An unarmed teenager is killed by the police, there’s dozens of eye-witnesses, it’s national news – and no police officer is indicted.

Just here in D.C., Terrence Sterling, Alonzo Smith, Javon Hall, Bobby Gross, Ralphael Briscoe, Mariam Carey, Relisha Rudd, are all lives stolen from us by police violence. The play talks about Palestine, but it’s so similar to the injustices at home.

Nardeen at her brother's funeral in October 2000.

Nardeen at her brother’s funeral in October 2000.

 

Marlowe: You raised $16,000 through readings of the play, and the DMV (DC/Maryland/Virginia) Bail Out bailed out six mothers. You also have been able to offer the Mamas a paid theatre fellowship. How did you first conceive of using There is a Field to raise funds to bail out Black mamas?

Taylor: You and I were already brainstorming ways to use the play in D.C. to benefit folks most impacted by state violence. And this felt like a real, concrete way to do that.

Every Black person I know has been impacted by prison and cages. Either they’ve been locked up, they have someone locked up, or someone they know is a correctional officer, and these are all entry points to Palestine.

(Actually, over 60% of Palestinian youths have experienced administrative detention, extending to 6 months without trial)

Marlowe: Such a huge percentage of Palestinians have spent time in Israeli prisons.

Taylor: Exactly. Aseel’s father was a prisoner. He chose early on to educate his children about his time in prison. Aseel’s parents politicized him at an early age. Aseel’s mother reminds me of the mothers I organize with in Black Youth Project 100 (BYP100), a youth organization, who lead actions with their children at their hips.

Marlowe: There are so many ways you could have raised funds for the DMV Black Mama Bail Out. Why theatre?

Taylor: For me, theatre is liberation. Rehearsal is literally my church, it’s my spiritual practice. The stage gave me a sanctuary to move as big, as loud, as long as I wanted. I want to extend that gift to the people who receive it the least. Because if I believe that freedom is something that we all deserve, then we all deserve theatre.

Marlowe: I remember when I came down to D.C. for two of the fundraiser readings that you organized, and being profoundly moved watching the readings, seeing the concrete solidarity that was being enacted. It wasn’t only talk about Black-Palestinian solidarity.

Aseel’s story was literally, concretely part of bringing freedom to these Black mothers. A few months ago, when you emailed a link to the Page to Stage festival, saying you wanted to apply with There Is A Field, and that the mothers who the play bailed out would be the ones performing – I got chills up and down my spine.

Marlowe: What was it like for you to see the play at the Kennedy Center?

Taylor: It felt very significant to me. People who haven’t been a part of the theatre know the Kennedy Center. Part of the point was to offer a space for dignity to be restored. You just feel differently when you’ve been seen, validated, valued. From being in a cage in May, to being at the Kennedy Center in September! What was it like for you?

Marlowe: I was just totally struck by what the Mamas and the other performers shared in the post-play discussion. Qiana Johnson [who played Jamila, Aseel’s mother] talking about being locked away from her own children for two and a half years, and how the loss of that time with her sons allowed her to relate to Jamila’s trauma.

And how much it meant to Qiana that Kahari, her 14-year-old son, was in the audience watching her.

Qiana had never even seen a play before, much less performed in one. She told me afterwards how comforting it was to have Kahari come and watch his mother be part of this, and be a part of her healing, as he, too, heals.

Taylor: To know what Qiana and Andrea Nelson [who portrayed Hassan, Aseel’s father] endured inside of a cage, and to hear their actual voices outside and on stage – it’s poetry. This is what Jamila would sound like, this is what Hassan would sound like. It’s the voices of those who have struggled with some weighty things.

Marlowe: Was there any moment that particularly stood out to you?

Taylor: During the talk-back, Andrea thanked Gildapapoose for bailing her out and called us her angels. In that moment, I saw someone sitting in the audience who had hosted one of the readings of the play. We raised $2,000 that night, I remember seeing the donations fly in. At that one reading, we had raised most of what it took to bail out Andrea.

Marlowe: I was also really struck with what Alé shared [Alé Pablos, a Mexican woman who grew up in Arizona, spent 43 days inside an ICE detention center earlier this year, after having previously spent two years inside the same prison. Pablos portrayed Nardeen, Aseel’s sister]. She resonated so much with both Aseel and Nardeen, as an activist who has been physically attacked by police, and as a woman struggling to create a family in these conditions with man-made borders.

Taylor: Alé’s case opened me up to how difficult it is for people to live where they want to live, and that has everything to do with this play. People decided that they have a right to be here more than you have a right to be here, and you have to move. That happens over and over, time and again in America.

Someone coming and saying, you don’t deserve to be here, we have things bigger than yours, we are going to move you, to slaughter you, to rape you, to kill you.

Formerly incarcerated mothers, organizers and activists at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C., after performing a play highlighting Black-Palestinian solidarity on September 3, 2018. (Will Johnson)

Formerly incarcerated mothers, organizers and activists at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C., after performing a play highlighting Black-Palestinian solidarity on September 3, 2018. (Will Johnson)

Marlowe: Is this the kind of art you want to be creating?

Taylor: It’s difficult to feel gifted in this process in the same way as if it were a fictional story. Aseel’s story is something that’s very real. There’s so much grief and sorrow. But then there’s a gift to keeping Aseel alive through this storytelling, and that’s connected to how I feel about the beautiful performance at the Kennedy Center.

As glorious as it was, these women had to suffer for us to do this. If prison did not exist, if cages did not exist, I would not be making this type of theatre.

Taylor: What is your highest dream for this play?

Marlowe: I think we may have just achieved it. Knowing that Aseel’s words and story have been a part of bringing other people their freedom. The full-circle solidarity of the Mamas performing his story. Hearing Qiana say, “I am forever a part of Aseel’s living legacy.” I can’t imagine a higher purpose for this play.

What made the event unique: Black and Brown women directly impacted by incarceration led the performance. Even more unique: some of those women were bailed out due to funds raised through staged readings of the very same play. Here, the director and Gildapapoose founder, Je Naé Taylor, reflects on the process and performance with the playwright, Jen Marlowe.

Taylor: Why did you first write There is a Field?

Marlowe: Aseel was a friend of mine – he had been my camper in a peace organization that I was working for at the time. When he was murdered, I knew I had to do something to make sure that his life and how he was killed would be remembered. A few months after his killing, I asked his older sister Nardeen if she wanted to partner with me on writing a play, and that’s when we began.

 

This Young Man Lost 3 Family Members in Gaza.

Here’s Why Their Stories Matter.

 posted July 18, 2014

We were sitting at Lincoln Park in West Seattle, with a handful of friends who had gathered for a picnic potluck, awaiting others who would be joining us shortly.

A Facebook message came through on my Smartphone from my friend Yousef Munayyer:

Hey Jen, just saw some news about a young man from the Shurrab family in khan yunis being the latest victim, Name is Tayseer. Have you heard from Amer recently?

It’s been almost two years since I was last in Gaza. But every day, especially during these times, Gaza is in me.

Amer Shurrab. Photo courtesy of Jen Marlowe.

Amer Shurrab was, as a matter of fact, sitting across the picnic table from me at that very moment. He had come for a few days’s visit from Monterey, Calif., where he is finishing his MBA.

Though we had planned the visit weeks before the shit hit the fan in Gaza, the timing of it felt oddly right. I think it felt somewhat comforting to Amer to be surrounded by people who had some notion of what he was going through, and the beautiful Pacific Northwest was allowing some respite from the obsessive news-checking and strangling stress that is inevitable when one’s family is under bombardment.

We had just returned to Seattle after spending the last two days in Olympia with Rachel Corrie’s family. (Rachel, a peace and justice activist from Olympia, had been crushed to death in Gaza in 2003 by an Israeli military bulldozer as she stood in front of a Palestinian family’s home in order to prevent its demolition.)

In between deep acknowledgment of the horror of the situation in Gaza, some of it spoken and some of it silent, we spent several hours on Mount Rainier.

Just a few hours earlier, Amer took his first ride in a kayak. And then, as we were waiting for other Seattle friends and activists to come and meet Amer, which had been the impetus of organizing the picnic potluck, Yousef’s message came through over Facebook.

I walked around the picnic table where everyone was introducing themselves and gently touched Amer on the shoulder, asking him to step aside from the group with me. He did, and I showed him Yousef’s message.

“Is he a relative?” I asked.

Amer’s face instantly clouded with fear and worry. “It may be my cousin Mohammed Tayseer,” he answered.

He immediately pulled out his phone, and walked up a path towards the woods so he could call his family with some measure of privacy. I stared at him for a moment as he sat on the railing of the path, head bowed down, cell phone pressed against his ear, and could think only about the incident that led to Amer and I reconnecting after many years of not having been in touch—the incident in January 2009 during Israel’s “Operation Cast Lead” when two of his brothers were killed and his father injured.

In the months and years since that horrific event, I had grown very close to Amer, holding him in my heart as family. I had visited his family in Khan Younis twice—the second visit, tragically, was just two days after his father passed unexpectedly, due at least in part to the grief and stress related to the murder of his sons.

And now. And now, here was Amer, on the phone to confirm if the most recent killing in Gaza was another member of his family.

Amer continued to sit on the rail, head down, but his arm with the phone was dropped limply by his side. I approached.

“Was it your cousin?”

It was.

I went back to the group at the picnic table. Amer needed a few minutes alone, he told me, and he would join us when he felt ready.

The mood of the gathering shifted instantly. Where there had been casual, light conversation, there was now mostly silence laden with sadness, anger, dread, and, overlaying it all, worry for Amer, who was now sitting on a log by the water’s edge, head still bowed.

The only clear thought echoing through my mind in those next minutes: This is so unfair. This is so fucking unfair.

Amer’s father outside the car in which he was shot and two of his sons (Amer’s brothers) killed by the Israeli military in January 2009.

How I remember their humanity

Since the attack on Gaza started a few days ago, I have been frightened not only by the bombing, and people fleeing their homes in anticipation of a bloody invasion, but by the dehumanization of the very real humans in Gaza.

It’s happening as people label them “terrorists” or “Hamas supporters,” or placidly suggest that they are victimized only by Hamas using them as “human shields.”

It’s happening as they are spoken of only as numbers and statistics; and as people post photos of small children with heads blown open or limbs blown off, causing us to look at these children not in their human childness but as gory images.

I have been trying to resist this dehumanization, if only for a moment, by describing the Palestinian human beings I know in Gaza.

I’ve been going there for 14 years, first when I was working with a peace organization (which is how I first met Amer), and now for the work I do as a writer and documentary filmmaker.

I know pharmacists in Gaza.

I know doctors.

I know people who work for the United Nations, who work for humanitarian organizations, who work for human rights organizations.

I know people who run youth programs and I know teachers.

I know mothers who love their children with a fierce protectiveness.

I know a father whose 9-year-old son was executed while he was holding him in his arms—and who then struggled with how to raise his surviving children without being surrounded by trauma and violence.

I know a father who bought his little girls bunny rabbits so they would have something small and cuddly to hold; so his daughters could retain their own humanity and have a chance at growing up emotionally intact.

I know accountants.

I know taxi drivers who have invited me to their homes for lunch and introduced me to their families; whom I have dodged bullets with and brought cigarettes to during long months of siege.

I know small children who, while living in tents in horrible conditions, wake up in the morning and have their faces scrubbed clean by their big sisters and the sand brushed out of their hair with what little water there is so that they can go to school looking fresh and have a chance at learning.

I have friends who are new mothers and new fathers, just figuring out how to meet their infants’ needs.

Many of the young men and women I know I remember as teenagers: We used to gather at pizza restaurants in Gaza, and in later years gathered at beach-side cafes and smoked arghillas—reminiscing, talking, laughing.

It’s been almost two years since I was last in Gaza. But every day, especially during these times, Gaza is in me.

Insha’allah

I saw a rather large group approach and walked toward them to see who was joining us. It was my friend Kara and her husband Hakim, who is from Gaza. With them were Hakim’s 6-year-old sister Hiba and his mother.

Hakim had been working on bringing them to the U.S. from the Gaza strip for months but had managed to get them out, in the end, just a day before the bombardment began. Other friends from Gaza, one from the same neighborhood that Amer is from, joined us shortly afterward.


Standing on the Side of Peace: One man’s journey changed everything I knew about the Middle East conflict.

I sent a quick prayer of thanks for the new arrivals. There were people here who shared Amer’s pain. Hakim and his friends Anas and Mohammed lit coals on a barbeque and started to grill meat patties and chop peppers and tomatoes. Hiba found some sidewalk chalk and began to draw a stick figure of a smiling little girl under a big colorful tree next to a house.

Amer came back from his perch by the sea and soberly joined the group which had now tripled in size. It had the Gazan dialect of Arabic chatter intermingling with English and the wafting odors of grilled meat prepared with Middle Eastern spices.

Hiba gave Amer a rock she had specially decorated for him with the sidewalk chalk. People began to eat.

In some way, we needed to directly confront, as a group, what had just happened to Amer’s cousin, what was happening to every family in Gaza. We had to find a way to hold space for the pain and the loss. And to honor those who had been killed these last eight days, those who loved them, and those who were living in terror that they, or their family members, would be next.

And so, as the sun set and the mountains turned a deep purple, our group of 17 (six of them from Gaza) gathered tightly together around the picnic table.

Passing around a smartphone with the information loaded, we read aloud, one by one, the names and ages of every one of the 194 human beings who have been killed (at the time of this writing) in Gaza—as well as the one Israeli killed—since the assault began. A reminder that those killed are not numbers. They are people. Many of them children. Some of those children even younger than Hiba. Each one with a family. Each one an entire world.

The web-based list had not been updated in the last hour. Amer’s cousin was not yet on it. But we didn’t need a website to know his name. “Mohammed Tayseer Shurrab,” Amer said in a strong voice when the last name on the smartphone had been read.

Insha’allah, he added, this would be the last name. Insha’allah, the list would grow no longer. Then, as the mountains deepened from purple to black, Amer led us in a prayer for the dead. We held silence together for a moment. Anas and Hakim spoke about what this simple act of solidarity meant to them.

Then, we shifted our circle from around the picnic table to around Hiba’s chalk drawing. It was by the narrowest of threads that the 6-year-old girl was not, at that moment, shuddering under fierce explosions from bombs dropped by warplanes and drones.

The drawing: A smiling girl. A home. A tree.

What every child deserves to draw.

What every child deserves to know.


Jen Marlowe is a Seattle-based human rights activist and filmmaker and the author of three books, The Hour of Sunlight: One Palestinian’s Journey from Prisoner to Peacemaker; Darfur Diaries: Stories of Survival; and I Am Troy Davis. For more information, visit Donkeysaddle Projects.

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