Arab iconic star in solidarity with Gaza
First Published: 2009-07-27
Duraid Laham visits Gaza to show support for people of besieged Strip after destructive Israeli bombardment.
By Iqbal Tamimi – LONDON
To those who do not know what it means to welcome the Syrian – Lebanese – Arab icon Duraid Laham in Gaza, I will try to come as close as can be to the shadows of this gigantic human figure. Duraid was chosen as a Goodwill Ambassador of the United Nations but long before that he was The Arab people.
The political Syrian drama and theatrical art finds itself in a predominant place in the Arab world. This position has been earned by the best script writers, actors, producers and researchers who took the acting mission seriously, especially when it comes to producing masterpieces about the history and the political struggle in the Middle East.
Duraid, well known by the nickname of one of his characters as Ghawar Al-Toushi is a Syrian actor who occupied every Arab heart through his satirical and sarcastic roles on TV and the stage of the theatre. And as much as he made us laugh he forced us many times to cry when he criticised corruption and identified with the poor, oppressed, and the vulnerable – especially the Palestinian symbols who were part of almost every role he played.
Duraid was the leading actor in many theatrical plays, one of which was titled Kasak Ya Watan which meant in Arabic “to drink the toast of one’s homeland”. In his genius roles he was the platform that represented everybody, but some would wonder, why did he call to drink a toast of his country? Duraid is a Shia Muslim born 1934 in Lebanon and lived all his life in Syria, but most of us never knew that because he was never the voice of one area or certain faith, he was any one of us, whoever we choose to be.
He knew the rules in our part of the world, the law will not punish him if he criticised the authorities or the government while he was drunk. In his extra special play Kasak Ya Watan he declares that he is about to burst with pain and disappointment, he was longing to say how he feels about corruption and defeat in a society governed by censorship, so he knew how to get out of such an awkward position by deciding to get drunk, so that he could express himself and escape the punishment at the same time, for the legislations dictate to ignore and pardon the drunken for he does not know what he says.
But here he is, arriving in Gaza as the first leading Arab artist to show support for the city under siege, and after the Israeli attack. The comedian and icon of the Arab political theatre arrived upon an invitation by the theatrical women’s team of Gaza who are playing Sabr Ayyoub which means the Patience of Jacob. This expression is used by Palestinians when describing reaching the limit of perseverance and patience. Of course the women of Gaza are as patient as the messenger of God and the prophet Jacob, who came in terms with losing everything including his children and health, but never lost faith or hope.
Duraid’s visit to Gaza is a great gesture since he taught politics in small doses while we were smiling. The people of Gaza needed him, especially the mothers who were the axis of most of his great works; the mother was a key figure in his plays. I can almost hear him sing from behind the prison bars to his mother Yamoo ya set Alhabayeb Yammo the song that made every mother cry. …Yamoo is the slang word for mother in Syria.
As a Palestinian mother, I just could not hear about his visit and not cry of joy, for he is the son of every Palestinian mother. He played sometimes characters of a troublesome mischievous son, who always got himself in trouble, nobody could tame him, but when it comes to his mother’s memories, he turns to show a fragile character of a boy wearing the skin of a grown up man, in desperate need to be hugged by his mother.
Supporting the theatre in Gaza is of great importance, for Palestinians need to vent their pain through art and literature to rise above the rubble and shake off their homes the ashes.
The play had its opening debut at the Rashad Shawa theatre in the Cultural Centre of Gaza City, the drama talked of a Palestinian woman searching for her children in the rubble of her house that was bombed by the Israeli air force.
Then comes the birth of Ayyoub, the leading actor in the play, played by the author and director Saeed Beetar. He emerges carried on the shoulders of Palestinian women in a basket made of straw, that resembles the baskets used during the harvest season.
The play portrays the struggle of Palestinian women detained in Israeli prisons through the character of Maryam the Palestinian young mother who was imprisoned by the Israeli system and had to give birth to her baby boy Mahmoud inside the prison. Somehow this story reminds me of the Palestinian prisoner Fatima Alziq who has given birth to her son Joseph inside an Israeli prison too, she is also from Gaza and she and her son are still prisoners.
One of the most important scenes of the play portrays the exceptionally strong relationship between Christians and Muslims in Palestine where a Christian nun offers refuge to Muslim women who fled from the Israeli bombing in the church, then sacrifices herself while trying to protect an injured woman.
The play demonstrates the agony of women suffering the siege, but also talks of the divisions in the Palestinian society, a subject Duraid dealt with over and over again on the stage. The play ended with the leading actor refusing to leave the basket when he found out that his society was divided.