Friday, September 14.
I got to Bethlehem this morning, after a 30-hour trip that went Ottawa-Toronto-(wait 5 hours)-Amsterdam-(wait 6 hours)-Tel Aviv Airport (arrive 2:30 am, so wait 4 hours)-shared bus/taxi to Jerusalem-bus to Bethlehem-taxi to Aida Refugee Camp. Dazed and confused, I walked into Abed’s office at Alrowwad Cultural and Theatre Centre where he and Dan, and several other Alrowwad staff were meeting. Abed is Dr. Abdelfattah Abusrour, former biomedical researcher, founder and now director of Alrowwad (co-producer of “Facts in Palestine)” and, oh yes, “Khalid” in Facts or (ha-qa-eq), as we call it here. Dan is Dan Daley, a Toronto theatre producer and associate producer of the Facts tour, in Palestine for almost a month, designing posters, making videos, writing, and basically making himself invaluable.
I was welcomed and embraced and offered coffee, and told that Friday and Saturday were the actors’ days off, and they and Samer, the director, were in Jerusalem or Ramallah, and we wouldn’t all get together until rehearsals resumed on Sunday, in Jerusalem. Which was fine with me, given my state. Salim, a man who supports all activities at Alrowwad, drove me to Abed’s house, where many of us would be staying, and I staggered into bed and slept for five hours. I woke in time for a wonderful dinner, with Abed, and his wife Nahil, and their two daughters, Safa and Rafa, and three sons, Canaan, Adam, Ahmad. Names courtesy of Amira Abusrour, our always helpful production assistant.
Sunday, September 16.
On Sunday, Dan and I took a bus from Bethlehem to Israel. The wall runs right along the northern edge of Bethlehem and getting through it means going through a checkpoint.
On my first visit to the West Bank, two and a half years ago, I’d been through the Qalandia checkpoint, said to be the biggest checkpoint in Palestine, between Ramallah and Jerusalem. Entering the West Bank, there was the long but normal delay of heavy traffic. But entering Israel, the bus pulled off to the side, and everyone started to get off. I was about to follow, when a passenger told me that if I have a foreign passport I can stay. A few people, some old, some clearly foreigners, waited on the bus until two soldiers armed with machine guns entered. They checked our papers and left. The bus pulled ahead, and 50 people re-entered. But I noticed: these were not the same people. The man who told me I could remain on the bus did not reenter. The family sitting across the aisle did not reenter. I understood: the people who had left would have to go through some kind of process and take a later bus.
On the same visit, I went through a Bethlehem checkpoint. Again, entering the West Bank presented no problems. I had a fantastic dinner in a Bedouin tent with Jamal Ghosheh and Kamel Elbasha, then general manager and artistic director, respectively, of the Palestinian National Theatre (PNT), during which they informed me that they wanted to produce Facts. At some point I told them about my experience at Qalandia. Kamel said I should get off the bus next time, so I would know what it was like for Palestinians. Returning to Israel, Jamal and the car were allowed through the checkpoint, but Kamel and I had to get out and find our way, at night, to an unmarked pedestrian entrance. Kamel was seething but quickly calmed down, as I became increasingly angry. We descended into an enormous underground room and followed others to a hallway. There were maybe 15 of us, a mixture of foreigners and residents. Buzzers buzzed, doors clanked and locked or unlocked, three or four at a time were able to pass through a floor-to-ceiling turnstile. Then we showed our documents to an Israeli soldier, almost invisible behind thick, darkly smoked and dirty glass. It was about 45 minutes before we emerged, into a somewhat more pleasant room, where there was poster of a family on a beach with a caption that read, “Welcome to your holiday”. In Israel? Security checks are always irritating; they don’t have to be demeaning. Kamel said: “Now you don’t have to get off the bus at Qalandia.”?
But this time, leaving Bethlehem, things were quite different. The bus pulled over at the checkpoint, but no one got off. Two soldiers armed with machine guns entered, checked our papers, and exited. A half hour later, we were at Jerusalem’s Damascus Gate. And a ten-minute walk from there brought us to the Palestinian National Theatre, where Samer, Abed, Kamel and Amer were rehearsing. This was very exciting.