Ray Goodlass

Rays peace activism

Verbatim Theatre project, Alrowwad Centre, Aida Refugee Camp, Bethlehem, Palestine

The highlight today was seeing the Dabka dance, the finale I introduced yesterday, in its entirety. The student actors can all do it, and Ismael, the male host, is the lead dancer and he’s superb.

I also like the male-female interaction segment, which seems a bit provocative: cheekily combative is about the best way I can describe, but as I see it more I may find better words.

It was good today to be also able to do some detailed work with Lulu, the female host, as she has missed a lot of rehearsals. She’s on notice that if she is even late tomorrow she loses her host role and will have to content herself with her story, which, though short, is powerful.

We also got Motasem’s story today. He was my original interpreter, but as he works as a nurse in one of the local hospitals I’ve hardly seen him since. But despite that he’s committed and passionate, as well as being smart and articulate, so its good to have him finally locked in.

The others didn’t backslide from their gains yesterday, which is a relief, though one young woman really lacked energy, so I hope we can spark her up over the next couple of days.



Verbatim Theatre Project, Alrowwad Centre, Aida Refugee Camp, Bethlehem, Palestine, 21 July 2017

I now have the ending for the play! As the stories describe horrific events suffered by the Palestinians at the hands of the Israeli military, and are so relentlessly depressing I was wondering how I could finish it on an up-beat note, and then I remembered the Dabka, a very spirited traditional dance I haver seen danced by young Palestinian men. Young womenm dance it too. It’s certainbly up-beat, and very vigorous! I think the seed was planted in my mind by Ismael, who plays the lead Host and has the final story doing a few steps as he waited for rehearsals to begin one day.

He has a reference towards the end of his story about how we ‘continue to suffer the Nakba (the catastrophe of 1948) every day’, so I’ve given him a new line to finish on: ‘We are resilient people and celebrate our culture’, then the lights change, the music swells, and its on with the dance!

To (mis) quote Paul Keating, ‘Who said I couldn’t throw the switch to vaudeville?’ Seriously though, the Dabka is an important p[art of Palestinian culture, and the particular one we have selected is a celebration of traditional life.

Also today we had several breakthroughs as more of the actors got the hang of acting out their stories rather than just reciting them, which was very encouraging.

I was also relieved today, when I ran into Ribal, the EO, to settle the performance day, next Thursday 27 July, and with Murad, the Centre’s film teacher/director (aka ‘the cameras guy’) the day for filming, which will be Friday 28 July. It’s very good to have a specific date to aim for.

And to conclude today, as I was walking home from rehearsal I stumbled on a peaceful demonstration in solidarity with the people of Occupied East Jerusalem, which was good to witness. Today the Israeli government announced that men under 50 could not enter the Al Aqssa Mosque / Dome of the Rock compound for Friday prayers tomorrow, so it was good to see this street payer service (which blocked the entire Hebron Road) in front of a huge model of the Dome of the Rock taking place. The Israeli ban really worries me as it could really stir up big trouble – which of course is probably what the government wants.

Verbatim Theatre Project, Alrowwad Centre, Aida Refugee Camp, Bethlehem, Palestine. 20 July 2017

We did it! Put the whole play together for the first time, that is. It was a bit of a shemozzle, we started an hour late, and not all the student actors were there, but nonetheless we do have a play.

Its pretty much as I envisaged it two weeks ago, though there are changes. The hosts, and the story tellers will stand rather than sit, which gives the storytellers more flexibility to physically act out their stories, convey the through line or arc of the story, the intentions of the characters they are talking about, and to express the emotions buried deep in there.  The stories are horrific, after all.

The hosts too will have more of a presence if they are standing, though when the stories are being told they will sit.

The other big news today was that Murad, our film guy, was there for the duration of today’s rehearsal. He was a great help with the actors, but more than that, he confirmed my original hope, that it will be filmed twice: once with the audience, and once without, to allow for separate set ups and shots and so forth. I’m really stoked about this confirmation.

The other big news is that for the last couple of days I’ve had an Honours graduate from Charles Sturt University’s BA Acting for Screen and Stage (the course I developed and coordinated for umpteen years) with us – Bethany Simons, who has had a very successful career devising her own plays (Green Room awards and all) since graduation. Beth has also been a great help, and I’m very grateful for her input.

Verbatim Theatre project, Alrowwad Centre, Aida Refugee Camp, Bethlehem, Palestine, 19 July 2017

Wednesday is Alrowwad’s closed day of the week, so not a lot to report. I did though take the opportunity to pop over to Occupied East Jerusalem to have breakfast with (Senator) Lee (Rhiannon).

In relation to this project I’m glad I did because we discussed the filming of the play, the booklet I hope to produce of the stories, and ideas for future projects, so it was all very encouraging.

Today I also received by email a couple of stories that didn’t make it through to me on Monday, so I have all now bar one, that being the surprise we got yesterday when an older Alrowwad  student turned up with a story to perform. It was very good too, and will be a real asset to the project, so I hope his word processed version turns up tomorrow.

I also discussed with Lee a couple of other ideas for the future. One is future funding, particularly whether I could overcome the embarrassment of going for crowd funding, given that self-funding for this project has been a real struggle, so funding future projects I am thinking of will need a boost from somewhere. I’m pleased to say that Lee warmly encouraged the idea.

The other idea bears no relation to any of the above at all, but I’m wondering if I could persuade my home city, Wagga Wagga, to become a Sister City of Bethlehem. We have three sister cities already, and though my interest in Bethlehem is as a Palestinian city surrounded by illegal Israeli settlements and its Apartheid Wall I reckon I might be able to persuade Wagga’s city fathers because of the Christian links. Worth a try?

Verbatim Theatre Project, Alrowwad Culture Centre, Aida Refugee Camp, Bethlehem, Palestine, 18 July 2017

A productive day. I’ve started to add relaxation exercises to the personal growth, group cohesion, problem solving and breathing warm ups I’ve been doing. Some of the student actors are very tense when telling their stories, and as we near the performance date they will become more so, therefore its about time to pay attention to relaxation work.

More stories were performed today, and I’ve started to encourage them to tell their stories as a frightening experience (for example), rather than woodenly recite them. Its starting to work with one or two, and with work will grow to include them all.

I tried our two co-hosts standing up today, and that worked much better. Next rehearsal I’ll try the story tellers standing up too, though whether that will work remains to be seen – there may be way too much nervous foot shuffling.

And, nothing to do with the theatre project, walking a slightly different route home today I spotted an sign reading Olive Wood Factory. So I amble down its side street, poked my head in, and was made most welcome. It’s quite large, and though mechanised, it is still a process of individuals working at their craft. When I expressed interest in Peace Doves I was even given samples: a pendant, a broach, and a (fridge) magnet. Just a lovely little experience, one of many that happen here.

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for Tuesday 18 July 2017: Islamophobia flourishing at home and abroad, unfortunately

My main story for this week comes from a report published by own Charles Sturt University (CSU), which was headlined “Australian Muslim women who ventured out on their own were almost three times more likely to face harassment of an Islamophobic nature”.

This was one of the key findings in a first-of-its-kind research report on Islamophobia in Australia, released last week at the NSW Parliament as a joint study conducted by the Centre for Islamic Studies and Civilisation, CSU and the Islamophobia Register of Australia.

The report captures and critically analyses 243 verified incidents reported to the Islamophobia Register Australia between September 2014 and December 2015.

The key points of the report, which are unpleasant reading and something to be ashamed about, also show that there is a clear relationship between Islamic terrorist attacks and an increase in Islamophobic incidents.

Furthermore, media coverage is found to exacerbate Islamophobic attitudes, and 79.6 per cent of women abused were wearing head covering, and more than 30 percent were with children.

In cases where the gender of the victim was known, 67.7 per cent were female. Nearly three-quarters of abusers were male.

Linda Briskman, Margaret Whitlam Chair of Social Work at Western Sydney University and a key contributor to the study, said the gendered nature of the attacks was disturbing. “Women are often quite vulnerable, they’re out there in public spaces, they’re out with their children, and they’re not seen as being likely to speak back or attack,” she said.

“It’s a finding of great concern, and not only women themselves. When women are targeted it has an impact on their children.” She’s not wrong, these are disturbing findings.

“The Report offers a window into the types of religiously motivated Islamophobic incidents taking place out in suburban Australia and its release is especially timely as there is a continuing debate over the existence and the scale of Islamophobia in Australia” said Mariam Veiszadeh, Lawyer and President of the Islamophobia Register Australia.

The principle researcher and editor of the report Dr Derya Iner, a Senior Lecturer at CSU said, “The report documents and analyses the present manifestations of Islamophobia in Australia both at an institutional and individual level and provides authentic and vigorous data by quoting from the victims, their proxies and witnesses”.

Women, especially those with Islamic head covering (79.6% of the female victims), have been the main targets of Islamophobia and more than half of the female victims had their children with them at the time of the reported incident.

98% of perpetrators were identified as ethnically Anglo-Celtic, as indicated by the reporter and the typical perpetrator tended to be male.

On the same day as I read of this Australian research I read a key report that Israeli universities discriminate against their Palestinian students (‘Survey: Half of Arabs in University suffer racism’, Haaretz, Jerusalem, 5 July 2017).

The report went on to say that half of all Arab university students reported experiencing racism and discrimination in the academic setting, and some 40% say racist comments come from the faculty.

Readers might not be aware that Palestinians account for 20% of Israel’s population, that they also suffer discrimination in many other walks of life, and that the Israelis incorrectly insist on referring to them as Arabs rather than as Palestinians, no doubt in large part so as to avoid acknowledging their rights as a conquered people.

Verbatim Theatre Project, Alrowwad Centre, Aida Refugee Camp, Bethlehem, Palestine

A short entry today, for as all but one of my cast had to go to a Alrowwad Summer Camp event today. I think they had been asked to look after the little kids, as they were off an excursion today. This is a lovely feature of life here that we seem to have lost much of in the ‘West’ – i.e. family bonds and caring for one’s siblings. We seem to have replaced that with sibling rivalry!

Anyway, though I’ve no project rehearsal to report, I do have very good news: almost all the stories have been translated into English, so I can now i) fully understand them, and ii) begin the process of organising them into a script. That will take some time of trial and error as I try differewnt permutations, but it is a great step forward.

The translations all need a bit of finessing, which I will be happy to do as the need arises, which I hope will first of all be when we do the sub-titles for the film, and then the booklet, if the project ever gets that far.

Each day I’ll include a different story in my blog. Today I’ll begin with Shaima’s Story, as it includes a fair amount of the history of the Nakba (The Catastrophe, which is the Israeli conquest and expulsion of the Palestinians in 1948), though as I asked, she has beautifully personalised it by making it a family history.

Shaima’s family Nakba story:

My grandmother used to tell my father stories about how she was expelled from her hometown of al-Malha to Aida refugee camp in Nakba Day in 1948 and my father passed all of the stories to me. The stories told how happy life was in al-Malha village, full of joy and peace. They used to wake up at dawn for dawn prayer, go to their farms where they used very simple primitive tools and brought water from old wells. Life was simple and peaceful, until one day Israeli Zionist forces invaded the village, occupied it and expelled Palestinians. They were forced to live in tents after that day. Life became so despicable and diseases spread and then UNRWA was established and provided refugee camps for displaced Palestinians. My grandmother came to Aida refugee camp, gave birth to her children in the camp and was forced to adapt with a completely different life than the one she had in al-Malha. My family as all other Palestinian refugees tried their best to adapt to the new life, but Nakba Day kept repeating itself as Israeli Zionist forces raid refugee camps constantly, execute Palestinians and put so many behind bars. Challenges continue to face Palestinians where military checkpoints, separation wall and Israeli Zionist procedures are blocking them from life.

Here I faced my problem when israely forces areest my brother for the third time, when we want to visit him in Israeli jail we woke up at 3:00 am, take the bust that took us to the checkpoint, and there we were referring to the ill-treatment and inspection of Israeli soldiers. Then we boarded another bus to take us to prison. We waited for long hours in a small place where there was no ventilation to see my brother for only 45 minutes. (All this suffering for only 45 minutes), of course we could not see my brother directly, but behind a transparent glass reinforced, we hear his voice only through the phone.

Suffering we are living through the difficult living conditions in the camp, and we mean this economic in the first place, the social, health and psychological.

فهنا واجهت مشكلتي عندما اعتقلوا أخي الوحيد للمرة الثالثة, فعندما كنا نذهب لزيارته كنا نستيقظ الساعة الثالثة فجرا , حيث نستقل الحافلة التي تقلنا الى الحاجز العسكري , وهناك كنا نعني من المعاملة السيئة والتفتيش من الجنود الأسرائيليين , وبعدها نركب حافلة أُخرى لتقلنا الى السجن وكنا ننتظر لساعات طويلة في مكان صغير لا يوجد به تهوية من اجل رؤية أخي لمدة 45دقيقة فقط (كل هذه المعاناة من اجل 45دقيقة فقط) , بالطبع لم نستطع رؤية أخي بشكل مباشر, وأِنما من خلف زجاج شفاف مقوى , لا نسمع صوته الا من خلال سماعة الهاتف .

من المعاناة التي نعيشها باستمرار الظروف المعيشية الصعبة في المخيم , ونقصد بهذا الاقتصادية في الدرجة الأولى ,الناحية الاجتماعية والصحية والنفسية .

Verbatim Theatre Project, Alrowwad Centre, Aida Refugee Camp, Palestine, 16 July 2017

Very impressed by several aspects of today’s rehearsal. We now have all the (verbatim)stories written, all but one of them typed up in Arabic (by the students!), and all are now being translated into English. That’s largely for my day to day working benefit, and a script and even a booklet I have in mind, but also I’m conscious that this theatre piece is the start of an interactive project between the young people in the Camp and Australian young people, through the Friends of Alrowwad Australia.

Today’s session also got me excited because of the improvement in the way the stories were presented. The students really are good at taking direction and I felt quite proud of (some of) them today.

Tomorrow class is cancelled because there’s a major Alrowwad Summer Camp excursion happening and my students have been roped in to help – minding the littlies, I suspect. I fully understand and of course I too took a day off last Friday to go off with Lee around central and southern Palestine meeting the locals.

I’m probably feeling sanguine about the students needing to take a day off because I’m feeling almost ready to put it all together. I’ll need to do more work on individual stories on Tuesday, and Wednesday is Alrowwad’s weekly closed day, but by Thursday I’ll try putting it all together. I’ll be rough, and nowhere near complete enough to call it a ‘run’, but nonthless it is progress.

Verbatim Theatre Project, Alrowwad Theatre & Culture Centre, Aida Refugee Camp, Bethlehem, Palestine. Thursday 13 – Saturday 15 July, 2017

Three days without a blog post, but I’ve been having a very fulfilling time with Australian Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon since late last Thursday afternoon.

That day began with a productive class/rehearsal, and the students didn’t seem too daunted by my instruction that they type up their stories when I can’t be present on Friday.

I followed that by taking part in an Australian Greens Global Issues Group meeting as a Greens NSW delegate via TeamSpeak, though my role was confined to listening, as apparently when I spoke I sounded like a ‘chipmunk’. Oh well, I tried.

The it was off to meet Lee in Ramallah, by bust via Jerusalem. The final leg, being late afternoon rush hour, was hot, crowded and so I arrived feeling dizzy and nauseous, but soon made a good recovery. From Ramallah we drove to the village of Nabu Saleh (where I was tear gassed four years ago) to meet with Dr Tamimi, who is one of the founders of the nascent Palestine Greens part. It was the back to Bethlehem for me, via shared taxi. Here I was helped by APHED staffer Jeremy. who negotiated the late night bus station for me, which I doubt I coulkd have managed on my own. Jeremy was our guide and driver/helper throughout this little trip, and he was wonderful throughout.

After only a few hours sleep it was back to Ramallah early Friday morning to meet Xavier Abu Eid, Communications Adviser for the PLO, with Lee and Jeremy,

Then Jeremy drove us to the village of Bili’in, which has a very well known weekly march on Friday to Israel’s Apartheid Wall, which has taken a huge chunk of their farmland, burnt or uprooted hundreds of their olive trees, and has cut them off from what trees remain. The protest involved reminding the Israeli military, esconced behind the wall, via a loud hailer, of their misdeeds, and also setting fire to a tyre at the gate, which doesn’t sound much, but was very effective

We then drove south to Hebron, the largest Palestinian city (after Occupied East Jerusalem) in the West Bank. What a horrible situation for the people of this fine old city, for here the illegal Israeli settlers have established themselves in the centre of town. There a famous street where the locals have to stretch nets and tarps over the street because the settlers throw rubbish down onto them, including filled nappies.

The ratio of soldiers to settlers is 3 to 1, so as there are about 600 settlers there are 1,800 or so soldiers

These Israeli soldiers made our visit as difficult as they could, refusing us permission to go to almost everywhere we had planned to visit, including the Ibrahim Mosque (tomb of Ibrahim (Abraham in English), but we did manage to get to the wonderful little Shuhada Street kindergarten, made possible with funding from the Leichardt (Sydney) Friends of Hebron and APHEDA.

The on to Bethlehem, where Lee was able to see the Wall at close quarters, including where it has cut off Rachel’s Tomb from all but Israelis, and the Story History Wall Museum, before dinner at Banksy’s Walled Off Hotel.

A terrific and very busy day, and I’m graterful for the honour Lee showed me in letting me accomnpany her.

Today (Saturday) a really encouraging class. The student actors are now becoming very adept at the exercises and games, but the b onus today was that all but two had typed up their stories, and when they read them to me they took direction very well, showing real development as they moved on to having another go. Very encouraging.

I also talked to Isa, the film teacher and set goy about my ideas for how we could stage it, which is essentially a ‘Poor Theatre’ version of as TV studio. Again, very encouraging, as he understood what I was trying to convey.

Oh, to add another bonus, one of my Charles Sturt University graduates, Bethany Simons, turned up at Alrowwad. I say ‘one of my graduates, but I had been promoted to postgraduate courses supervision by the time Bethany was at CSU. She’s had a very successful career (Green Room awards and all), but is now taking a year off to travel, and has already been to 20 countries. Here she’s living at Aida Refugee Camp and teaching in a community cooking classes project for people with a disability. Beth is going to drop in to my class/rehearsal tomorrow.

Verbatim Theatre Project, Alrowwad Theatre and Culture Centre, Aida Refugee Camp, Bethlehem, Palestine, 12 July 2017

A very short entry today as Wednesday is the one day of the week Alrowwad closes, so all I’ve done is reach a decision that I need to have the student actors’ verbatim theatre stories sorted by the weekend, and I’ve acted on it.

By ‘acted on it’ I mean I’ve prepared an instruction sheet for the student actors, which I’ll copy and paste below, laying down the time frame for having their typed up stories in by Saturday so that they can be translated for me by Monday.

I can them start to assemble a script, which in its early stages will be the running order of the stories. I’ll need to impose this time frame or we’ll never have a show ready before I finish;. cup here at the end of the month.

Here are the story instructions:


 Story Instructions

 All student actors must choose at least one of the following types of story for our play/film. You may choose to write more than one.

They must all be about things that happened, and must be written in the first person. However, if you are telling the story of how your family came to be at the Aida Camp because of the 1948 Nakba you can write that you are telling the story that your great grandmother (for example) told top your mother or father.

Please remember this is a verbatim theatre/film project, so all stories must be truly told, as things really happened, or how you feel about living in the Camp.

Please type these up in Arabic on your own computer, or use one in the Library at Alrowwad.

Please give them to Ray on Saturday morning so that they can be translated into English, ready for him to start to asse3mble the script on Monday.

The types of story are:

Long Story: How your family came to be at the Aida Camp because of the 1948 Nakba. To keep it in the first person you can write that you are telling the story that your great grandmother (for example) told to your mother or father.

Short Stories about things that have happened to you at the Aida Camp or in Bethlehem: such as Momen’s ‘Rubber Bullet’ story.

Stories about living in Aida Camp: You could write about a normal day, or an unusual day, or a bad day, or a very good day when something special happened.

Ambitions: You could also write about your ambitions for the future, including the career you would like to pursue, and what obstacles there might be in your way.

Thank you,