Deir Yassin Remembered 2001:
Personal Report from Paul Eisen,
"Deir Yassin Remembered"
Deir Yassin Remembered Director,
to Prime Minister Tony Blair
Sunday April 1st 2001 - Peacock Theatre, London
"Deir Yassin Remembered" commemorating the 53rd anniversary of the Deir Yassin massacre took place on Sunday April 1st at the Peacock Theatre in London. At the commemoration was an audience of 1000 Palestinians, Jews and others including 9 Arab ambassadors, 7 MPs, 4 rabbis and our guests of honour Tony Benn M.P., Sheikh Dr. Zaki Badawi, Rabbi John D. Rayner and H.E. Afif Safieh.
This was a creative evening of readings, poems, song and drama performed by, amongst others, Reem Kelani, Roger Lloyd-Pack, Clive Merrison, Corin Redgrave, Michael Rosen, Nadim Sawallha, Alexei Sayle, Andy and Frances de la Tour and Susan Wooldridge. The performance was directed by Steve Tyrrell of the Hydra Theatre Company whose actors performed the two short dramas. These and other parts of the commemoration were written by British Palestinian playwright Razanne Carmey.
Ten days before curtain-up, tickets began selling fast, five days later the event was sold out and three hours before the box office opened, a queue started to form of those hoping to find tickets. Most telling was the sight of groups of Palestinian families appearing at the theatre hoping for tickets. These people were on no mailing list. They had received no appeals and no emails. Many spoke little or no English. But they came, having heard of the event by word of mouth, in the hope of joining the commemoration and remembering this important piece of their history.
The enclosed programme will tell you much about the performance. Most memorable was Reem Kelani, whose singing gave voice to Palestinian experience and history. Michael Rosen's self-effacing delivery of Mahmoud Darwish's "Identity Card" and his own "Sharansky" was particularly effective. Lina Abu-Bakr's "Deir Yassin", despite being delivered in Arabic, of which many in the audience understood not a word, affected many with its sheer sound, Ms. Abu-Bakr's moving performance and the accompanying projected visuals of Palestine and the Naqba.
There were two dramatic pieces. In "Friday Morning", set in Deir Yassin on that Friday 53 years ago, a father is taken out while his wife and their children sing to drown out the sounds of his execution. "Exodus" allowed Palestinians to tell their stories of exile and dispossession. Since these stories were based on real stories handed down in our own Palestinian community, many in the audience will have recognised their own grandmothers and grandfathers.
We understand that there was weeping in the audience as Palestinians saw, for the first time, their story so portrayed. And Jews were moved too. Firstly, as they, for the first time ever, encountered Palestinian history and experience, secondly as they witnessed the Palestinian response to what was being enacted on stage, and finally, as they saw and heard images from a history so reminiscent of their own.
As Reem finished her last song, an affirmation of Palestinian longing and determination to return, Rabbi John Rayner, Father Michael Prior and Dr. Zaki Badawi took the stage in preparation for the final commemoration. Each in turn moved forward to remember Deir Yassin, "the terror it caused, the flight it precipitated, the tragedy of dispossession and exile that has resulted from it." As Rabbi Rayner affirmed, "having looked into the tragic past, we wish to look forward to a better future, and resolve to do what we can to bring it about."
As Dr. Badawi concluded his remarks, they left the stage. A few seconds passed, and the lights went up to Beethoven's Sixth Symphony. Sober but uplifting, it pointed to a better future as the audience hesitantly made their way to the exits. There were no curtain calls, no bows, no bouquets. On this night at least, all eyes were on Deir Yassin and the Palestinian people.
Deir Yassin Remembered 2001 continues . . .