Palestinian theater company shows Vermont a different view of their life

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(Host) A group of young Palestinians is visiting the state this week in an effort to show Vermonters a different view on life in the occupied territories.

As VPR’s Steve Zind reports, their journey has also given them a new perspective on America.

(Zind) In the school that sixteen-year-old Salam attends, classes end when tear gas from fighting between Israelis and Palestinians drifts into the building and she and the other students have to be evacuated.

(Salam) “When we go to school, my school is beside the wall”.

(Zind) The controversial security wall Israel has constructed to cordon off some of the occupied areas.

Danger, violence, the constant presence of soldiers, and living under a net of tight security are all part of daily life for children like Salam, who have spent their lives in crowded refugee camps.

She and the ten other young Palestinians visiting Vermont are part of the Al Rowwad Cultural Center, founded by Abdel Fattah Abu-Srour in Bethlehem’s Aida refugee camp. Abu Srour says one reason he’s brought the children to the United States is to allow them to see a different way of life.

(Abu-Srour) “So this is part of it. When they talk about peace and freedom, which are mysterious notions for them, that they know what they are talking about.”

(Zind) For fifteen-year-old Mohammad the trip has also changed his view of the American people.

(Mohammad) “I think that most of the American people hate us. I think that. But when I come here I see that a lot of people love the Palestinians.”

(Zind) Just as they’re finding Americans are not as they imagined, Abdel Abu-Srour says the children hope to show that Palestinians aren’t all like the people Americans see in news stories from the Middle East.

(Abu-Srour) “They only show people who are throwing the stones or burning the tires or suicide bombings. And they don’t talk about the other face of the Palestinians.”

(Zind) To show another face of Palestinians, the young refugees in Abu-Srour’s group are performing a play that mixes theater, video and music. It depicts the history of the occupied territories and tries to present an honest portrayal of daily life in refugee camps. Mohammad says for him the play is a form of non-violent resistance.

(Mohammad) “Other boys like me fight to resist. We use theatre to resist. It’s a beautiful way to resist.”

(Zind) Mohammad says he hopes someday to have a career in medicine. Salam says she wants to work in theater direction or genetic engineering. Peace in the Middle East would make it easier for them to achieve those dreams, but it’s hard to find optimism in the words of a child who has spent her life in a refugee camp.

(Salam) “I hope we have peace in the future. (pause) But I don’t know.”

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind.

Note: The Al Rowwad Children’s Theatre will perform this evening at 7:oopm at Trinity Methodist Church in Montpelier, and Sunday July 3rd at Bread and Puppet Theater in Glover.

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