People of Gaza in yet another time of crisis. Notes on CV-19 plus model letter

45 people from all over the world joined our online conversation with Hossam Madhoun and his daughter, Selma, in Gaza on Friday 27th March.

Many initiatives were discussed. Action around the issue of education and the availability of resources was one focus.

Making a coherent response through sending letters demanding that Israel lift its blockade was another.

see below for links referred to in the online conversation

Here is a ‘model’ letter which you might adapt:

To whom it may concern

Regarding the likely impact of the Covid-19 epidemic on the people of Gaza and the necessity of ending the blockade of the territory by Israel

We demand that our political representatives make urgent representations to the Israeli Government to end the blockade of the Gaza Territories since it exacerbates the potentially catastrophic impact of the Coronavirus on the population there.

The blockade by land, air and sea has, over the past decade and a half, severely weakened the ability of the Gaza population to deal with the impact of the virus especially as it has involved the blocking of medical equipment, medicines and building materials.  Large sections of the population have no access to clean water and this is made worse by the severity of the electricity cuts, supply is on for only 4 hours per day. The medical services have also been incapacitated by three large-scale armed conflicts in the past decade.  The economic situation remains disastrous with 45% unemployment (60% amongst under 25year olds), 70% of the people are food insecure.  The territory is one of the most densely populated in the world with 2 million inhabitants in a total area of 365 square kilometres/141 square miles, 70% are refugees.  13,000 people are homeless.

People in Gaza will find the recommended required strategies of social distancing for prevention and self isolation in the case of infection almost completely impossible.

There are only between 60-100 ventilator/respirators in Gaza.  The Israeli Government announced that it was sending hundreds of testing kits.  It has sent 200. 

The United Nations has declared the Israeli actions in and around Gaza to be illegal since they constitute ‘collective punishment’ of an entire population. 

We call on our political representatives to demand that the Israeli government face its responsibility as the occupying power and lift the blockade. 

Hossam Madhoun, Child Protection Programme Organiser for a large NGO in Gaza and Co-Director of Theatre for Everybody sent this information about the Coronavirus in Gaza:

The Gaza Strip in the Days of Corona – Update March 28, 2020

Notes from Hossam Madhoun after online gathering of 45 people organised by Az Theatre on Friday 27th March

  • Every person who comes into Gaza is required to go into quarantine.
  • There are three quarantine centers that are currently full (~1400 people)
  • There are approximately 2000 people in quarantine at home. The numbers grow exponentially (as in the rest of the world)
  • The Hamas announced that it is planning on building additional quarantine centers.
  • The conditions in the centers are difficult:
  • Many people in a room (up until 8)
  • Low level hygiene
  • Lack of food
  • Unprofessional care
  • 118 tests have been undertaken that were marked ‘suspicious’ (unclear what this means)
  • There are 9 known cases as of today. There is a fear that the real number is much higher
  • There is a serious shortage of hygienic materials, gloves etc.
  • In the past, Israel transferred hand sanitizers, but stopped providing this due to needs here in Israel
  • These products can be purchased in India, but the shipment will take at least one month.
  • The WHO has sent tests, but there are not enough (less than 1000)
  • There is money (from the Emirates and Qatar among others). The problem is finding a source for supply
  • There are not enough medical staffs. The Hamas is trying to increase the staffs. Meanwhile, they have added 80 people to the medical and para-medical teams.
  • There are 59 respirators in Gaza. Twenty of them are used by people who do not have the virus. In any event, the number of respirators is much too small to handle an outbreak of the pandemic.
  • The parts of the existing respirators are dual-purpose and, therefore, hard to attain.
  • Gaza is competing with all the countries in the world over the respirators, gloves and safety suits. Gaza is usually at the bottom of the list.
  • There is one factory in the West Bank that is producing the suits, so there is some hope that Gaza will be able to purchase them from there. However, Israel is also trying to purchase suits from that factory.
  • The situation in the hospitals is better than it was a year ago/half a year ago. Most of the hospitals are directly connected to the power station in the Gaza Strip. They also have electricity 24 hours a day. However, there are hospitals that have electricity 14 hours a day (or on for 8 hours, off for 8 hours)
  • The power stations are working better than they did in the past – all of the turbines have been replaced and they are no longer dependent on an Israelis source; they receive fuel from Qatar.
  • The water situation has not changed; it remains very bad. There is no possibility of drawing water from the coastal aquifer. Most of the population depends upon water donations and on mineral water.
  • Even with the improvements in the electricity supply to the sewage facilities, there are still many problems concerning waste and sewage treatment.
  • There are many cases of illness due to the water situation.
  • It is unclear whether there are fewer breathing problems because there is less need to use generators.
  • The Gaza Strip needs, now more than ever, to depend on local production. The fishing industry has become an important source of food and income.
  • Israel returned fishing boats to Gaza that they had previously taken away; however, most of these boats are not in a usable condition. Organizations have asked permission from Israel to let in boat motors, fiberglass and ropes for fishing in order to rejuvenate the fishing industry.
  • Concerning agriculture – there is a demand that Israel allows in ‘dual-purpose’ materials that can increase the ability of Gazan farmers to meet the dietary needs of the population. One of the fights now is over letting in fertilizer.
  • 80% of all the products are bought from Israel. This is the reason that Israel (in addition to the blockade) remains the key for Gaza to be able to increase its production of products for the local population. 20% comes mainly from Egypt.
  • Hamas announced that it is stopping marketing its agricultural products to Israel and the West Bank. The economy in Gaza is dependent upon income from selling its products outside its borders. The reason for forbidding this export is tied to the desire to prevent increasing prices in Gaza. This decision has internal logic, but it will not be able to last in the long-term.
  • Organizations asked Israel to allow Gaza to market processed food products to the West Bank (canned goods, olive oil, spices etc.). As of today, Israel only allows exporting of these products to countries outside of the region.
  • All of this is relevant only if it possible to still work (that is, there is no lock-down/quarantine).
  • There are major communication problems in the Gaza Strip. There is a great need for equipment. Without this equipment, Gaza could find itself without the possibility to have internet, which has become the main way in the world to continue to provide education, engage in hi-tech and to market products, due to the Covid-19 virus. Israel has never allowed 3rd or 4th generation of networks into the Gaza Strip. Organizations have demanded that Israel change these restrictions so that society can function.
  • The Erez terminal is closed most of the from both the Israeli and Gaza side. Everyone who enters Gaza goes into quarantine. All of the movement of workers from Gaza into Israel has stopped. There is no arrangement for workers to remain in Israel during this crisis.
  • The Rafiah crossing is open, but there are rumors that it will close soon.
  • Kerem Shalom and Salah-el din are the only crossings that are open now (for specific merchandise – construction materials and gas for cooking)
  • Small numbers of critical patients can still come into Israel from Gaza for treatment.
  • The Ministry of Health has established a committee in Gaza to deal with the lack of doctors, hospitals and equipment. However, they cannot supply what they need.
  • If products are purchased, they can enter via Kerem Shalom.
  • Help for Gaza is dependent on Israel explicitly allowing such help to be given (border crossings, treatment ship, etc.)
  • There is a Palestinian-Israeli committee that works together on certain issues, but it only works in the West Bank. There does not appear to be an Israeli official in charge of managing the Corona crisis in Gaza. We should try to learn if there is an Israeli politician who is willing to work on this crisis.
  • The Gaza Strip and the West Bank remain separated from one another (due, in part, to the Israeli government’s policy). Therefore they cannot work together on this issue, even if they wished to do so (which is unclear). The economic systems are separate. For example, Gaza farmers cannot simply sell their produce in the West Bank.
  • Israeli organizations are calling for lifting the blockade on Gaza, due to this crisis.
  • It is important that Israel allows Gazans – especially medical staff – go to the West Bank so that they can get training, as well as get a little time off. It is also important to be able to let patients out so they can get needed medical treatment.
  • It is important for Israelis to learn from Gazans what is happening here – in terms of Covid-19 and in general. A campaign is needed that will convince Israelis that the outbreak of the virus in Gaza is also ‘our problem.’
  • There is a need to find movers and shakers who have the clout and the money and the network to make a difference in Gaza (e.g., Bill Gates). It is important to get this story into the media and keep it there.
  • Gaza is now facing a real humanitarian crisis. It is no longer ‘theoretical.’ This message needs to get out to the world.

Here are links that were referred to during the online conversations:

OCHA: https://www.ochaopt.org/content/covid-19-emergency-situation-report-1

THEATRE FOR EVERYBODY: https://www.facebook.com/TFEPalestine/

GAZA IN CONTEXT: http://www.gazaincontext.com/

WE ARE NOT NUMBERS: https://wearenotnumbers.org

WHO: https://www.who.int/emergencies/crises/opt/en/

WHO TWITTER: @WHOopt 

DONATE: https://www.maan-ctr.org/

PSC ACTION: https://www.palestinecampaign.org/digital-day-of-action-for-palestine/

#LiftTheBlockade

Please contact info@aztheatre.org.uk for further information



 

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Az Theatre collaborating on My Heart is in the East

Please contact Az Theatre if you want to be invited to this reading on Friday 6th September

My Heart is in the East 

By Jessica Litwak

  1. The Project

The My Heart is in the East (MHITE) project centres around a play that deals with Moslem – Jewish relations across centuries. 

The play is a thwarted love story that reclaims the transformative power of language;  a place for poetry in the relentless face of twitter, wider social media and words that polarise, to overcome our loneliness and find out what might be the language of our hearts. Confronting the deep divisions of faith, culture and gender in unexpected ways, My Heart is in The Eastpresents possibilities of re-imagined beginnings for those who are no longer young.

In addition to the play itself we will be providing different strands of community engagement: workshops, classes, seminars, discussions. These activities will extend intercultural dialogue and creative connections across borders and communities. 

MHITE shines a light on a cultural heritage neglected by most Western narratives: La Convivencia, when Moslems and Jews were able to co-exist fruitfully for centuries. Not through rose-tinted spectacles, but by the working out of differences in religion, gender and social status through belief in the power of language and the imagination. MHITE seeks to explore a shared identity around what binds us rather than divides us – both 1000 years ago and today.

We are partnering with theatres and also multi-faith centres to bring this project to life in the UK, prior to its touring abroad. 

We see MHITE as a play with lots of potential in creative learning and community engagement.  A flexible, portable, technically savvy project going to non-traditional spaces as well as theatres. The point where international touches local.

  • The Play

My Heart is in the Eastis a 2-handed play that takes place across two time-frames: present-day New York / Iraq and Medieval Spain, where oral poetry contests contributed to communication and cultural exchange between Moslems and Jews.

In New York a Jewish American professor (Miri) receives an invitation to Basra, Iraq to lead a series of puppet building workshops. An Iraqi Muslim (Ishmael), a street poet who is employed as a mercenary gravedigger, is hired to be her translator. Their relationship is both discordant and interdependent. They travel to Beirut trying to find a way out, but can only connect when they find themselves cast into the anteroom of a large poetry contest 1,000 years earlier in Cordoba, Spain. The play uses magical realism, music, puppets to carry us through time and space. At the core of the story is a rich and complex relationship between two actors, the characters they play and the language(s) they speak.  

  • The company

Az Theatre is a UK based theatre company which focuses on: 

Performing arts inspiring activism; 

Research, development and production projects;
International and local partnerships.

Az is led by Artistic Director Jonathan Chadwick

Jonathan Meth is a Director of Az and previously an associate of the company.

Az Theatre is a Limited Company and a Registered Charity

  • What we want to do

Combine playing in recognised performance spaces with performances in multi-faith spaces.

In this way audiences from different communities can access the production as well as the public engagement work we are offering around it.

This is with a view to building a model for transnational touring, where either programmers or multi-faith spaces have expressed an interest.

We have an extensive network of international connections that we have developed.

We now want to build the prototype production for summer 2020, to test an initial incarnation in order to deliver a high-quality experience to audiences, but also to present the work to interested festival programmers, multi-faith organisations and performance venues.

  • Why this project now

We are in a time of increased Islamophobia, Anti-Semitism, Xenophobia, cultural division and anxiety. Through history we can re-frame the present and re-shape the future. There was a time when Jews and Muslims lived together harmoniously and the Arts and Sciences flourished: Spain 1000 years ago. (Few people know that in AD 1000 Cordoba was the most populous city in the world). MHITE crosses divides to open up the possibilities of dialogue in the minds of the audience: East / West; ancient / contemporary; women / men; Muslim / Jew – with insight, wit, humour and the transformative power of language.  Cordoba thus becomes a code for creative coexistence. 

  • Public Engagement

There is a menu of offerings that the MHITE team can provide for producing or hosting venues. Among the many options are:

The Post show experience: After the scripted play ends, audiences are invited to participate in a poetry contest in the spirit of ancient Andalusia. This group effort builds community with laughter and creativity, warming the group to participate in a guided discussion about the issues in the play of art and peace. Each performance hosts a special guest panelist. 

Workshops: The creative team offer a variety of workshops. Puppets for the People (a workshop in a unique form of puppet building), Performance and Peacebuilding (a theatre and drama therapy workshop that teaches varied tools in theatre for personal and social change), Playwriting, and Conflict Transformation.

Lecture/Seminars: The team members offer lectures and seminars on the history, the poetry, and the cross-cultural communications within the play.

Through collaboration with multi-faith spaces we will consult with them as to what their communities might best engage with.

  • Target Audiences 
  • Standalone piece of theatre.
  • Also operates as generator of community engagement.
  • Jews and Moslems
  • Not simply interfaith. 
  • Other communities that may be divided.
  • Reaching across silos.
  • History of Al Andalus – an alternative version of Europe. 
  • Who we are

Jessica Litwak,(Playwright, Actor) an Internationally recognized leader in socially engaged theatre is an award-winning playwright, actress, educator and puppet builder, based in New York. She is the Artistic Director of The H.E.A.T. Collective and the founder of Artists Rise Up New York.

Fred Fortas,(Actor) a Paris-based actor born in Algeria and fluent in French, English, German and Arabic, has worked extensively in theatre, film, radio and television in England, France and around the world.

Jonathan Meth(Director) is a London-based dramaturg, producer, and lecturer, and has directed over 20 UK productions. He founded and curates – The Fence – a network for 250 playwrights and cultural operators across 50 countries. In 2013, with Steve Tiller he co- wrote, directed and produced Two Schmucks, Three Opinions, which looked at the Israel / Palestine conflict through argument, social media, biography, and audiences sharing food. 

Rosalind Parker(Creative Associate + Interfaith Liaison) is a researcher and practitioner in the area of religion and aesthetics. Her work focuses on inter-faith contexts and Muslim / non-Muslim relations. She has worked for London Jewish Museum and King’s Cultural Institutes collaboration, the Women’s Interfaith Network. She was the Artistic Director of Ulfah Arts and Media, a Muslim women’s social enterprise.

Anna Oggero (Producer/Production Manager) is a London-based performer, theatre producer, and legal consultant born in Italy. She is currently Project/Production manager at Opera Co-Pro Ltd. the innovative London born service to help opera companies co-producing operas and renting or selling recent productions, and Production Manager of the JEWish Cabaret Theatre Company.

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Lazhar Ghozlane(musician) – Paris-based oud player with l’Ensemble Alhambra, to provide live musical accompaniment.

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  • Future Plans

Our initial aim is to produce MHITE in the UK, to which we will invite interested international programmers from venues, festivals and multi-faith spaces.

For example, Thomas Engel has offered to host a reading/presentation at the German ITI headquarters in Berlin, where they have a small theatre space and to invite programmers from eg Gorki Theatre and other theatres in Berlin. At the same time we will look to link up with The House of One, Berlin’s dedicated multi-faith space.

In addition to Berlin, building on existing connections, we are exploring potential interest in: Brussels, Prague, Lille, Stockholm, Amsterdam /Rotterdam, Washington DC, Haifa.

  1. Work have we done so far

An early version of the script was given a staged reading at Graeae’s space in 2015, (with actor Philip Arditti) with an invited audience of 35. Following feedback the script was reworked and Fred Fortas was brought on board. The intention was always to involve a Muslim actor. We worked with Philip as an initial vehicle for text exploration because he is London-based and known to the director as both an excellent performer, and an actor who would ask searching questions of the material.

With the main creatives living in New York, Paris and London we have developed the work when our schedules permitted, taking a consciously slow approach. 

August 2016 two-day workshop on My Heart is in The East with Jessica Litwak and Fred Fortas in London to explore not just the play but the whole project.

August 2017 two-day R&D laboratory on My Heart is in The East with Jessica Litwak and Fred Fortas at Bazar Café, La Charité sur Loire.

June 2018 four-day R&D laboratory on My Heart is in The East with Jessica Litwak, Fred Fortas & Rosie Parker at Bazar Café, La Charité-sur-Loire.

The development of the play has been supported by LaMama in New York and Bazar Café in La Charité-sur-Loire