The martyr’s daughter: a review of ‘Where Can I Find Someone Like You, Ali?’

US Politics
on 17 Comments

This year marks my 30th year living in Washington, DC area. The US premier of “Where Can I Find Someone Like You, Ali?” on March 24th and 25th at the Kennedy Center, pinnacle of Washington prestige and high culture, marks a milestone for the center of the US political establishment. It’s the first time I can recall a theatrical performance in this city featuring a Palestinian who witnessed first-hand the drama and trauma of of the Palestinian armed resistance movement of the late 60’s – early 70’s, albeit at a very young age.

The one-woman performance was written, produced and performed by Raeda Taha. It was one of three theatrical productions produced at the Kennedy Center hosted by the Sundance Institute Theater Program, “Theater by Palestinians.” Produced in Arabic with English subtitles, Philip Himberg, the program’s artistic director, explained in his introduction to the performance that Sundance encourages artists to “write in the language in which they dream.”

Taha provides her audiences with a touching, at times heart-breaking but never sentimental, glimpse into the lives of Palestinians who have lost family members at the hands of the Israeli military.

Before the showings in Washington DC, Taha took her dramatic, no holds barred autobiographical performance piece to seven cities around the world. Eight hundred seventy people attended a performance in Ramallah and 650 attended one in Bir Zeit. During the post-performance discussion on March 24, Taha told the audience that after her performances in Palestine and Lebanon, she was inundated by members of the audience who thanked her for telling her story.

On May 8, 1972, Taha’s father, Ali Taha, and three other armed Palestinians were killed during a botched airplane hijacking. Ali was just 33 years old. He left behind a 27-year-old wife and four young daughters. Taha, the eldest, was 7 at the time. So began her life as the daughter of a Palestinian “shaheed” (“martyr” in English)—a term that signifies a special place in Palestinian society.

Because Taha came from a martyr’s family, the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat decided to take them under his wing, giving them special attention and showering them with gifts throughout Taha’s childhood. Later Taha worked as Arafat’s press secretary for eight years when the leadership the PLO was exiled to Tunis during most of the 1980s and early 1990s. Taha also includes a dramatic recounting of a deeply traumatic experience that occurred during that period, exposing some of the underbelly of Palestinian culture, particularly the inequitable treatment of women that is normally kept under wraps.

Taha goes on to describe Palestinian admiration for their freedom fighters and martyrs—along with the pain and suffering of those the martyrs left behind. She recalled her mother’s screams when she learned of her husband’s death. She described in intimate detail the aftermath of his death, in which their home quickly filled to capacity with mourners, along with the smell of sweat and cigarette smoke.

Taha’s subtle use of video and slide projections add poignancy to various aspects of her story. At one point, the hands of the female mourners are projected. They remove the red nail polish from Taha’s mother’s fingers during the Muslim period of mourning. Taha’s mother pulls back and protests that her husband admired the red nail polish. “But you are now the wife of a martyr,” a woman tells her.

Another projected image shows an empty kitchen with a sink brimming with dirty coffee cups and ashtrays.

Taha and her sisters were made very aware of their special status within the community as the “daughters of a martyr.” While still a child, Taha asked her school principal about the meaning of a “shaheed.” He explained that it meant “He is the one who dies as a sacrifice for the thing he loves most.” Taha then responded, “Oh, then my father loves Palestine more than me.” At that point, the principal broke down into tears. Taha tells the audience that her sister later proudly told her that it showed that the principal was merely jealous because “baba was the shaheed, not him.

A particularly moving part of Taha’s performance is her depiction of her aunt’s attempt to retrieve her brother’s body. The Israeli authorities kept him in a morgue freezer for over two and a half years, and refused to release him to the family because he was an “Arab terrorist.” Upon learning of this, Taha’s mother suffered nightly dreams of her husband calling out to her, “I’m cold. I want to go to Jerusalem and pick figs with our daughters.” The visual imagery of figs and fig trees—both verbal and visually projected—are prominent throughout the performance.

Taha portrays her very colorful aunt—using colloquial Palestinian Arabic—as she searches for and eventually confronts Henry Kissinger in West Jerusalem in 1975. According to Taha, her aunt succeeded through perseverance, and at times humorous means, to convince Kissinger to intercede with the Israeli authorities. Taha goes on to provide a heart-wrenching description of the horrific experiences that both her mother and aunt underwent to finally bury their beloved Ali in Hebron.

Ultimately, the production is not only about Taha’s own experience as the daughter of a shaheed but about the experience of all those left behind by Palestinian martyrs.

As Taha said during the post-performance discussion, “My mother, my sisters and me… we never had a chance for memories.”

Taha wrapped up the evening by asserting that “Revolutions are not perfect. Revolutionaries are not perfect. We are not perfect. Our main intention was to free our land. Along the way, we made some mistakes. What is perfect is the dream of Palestine. Our intentions were good.”

About Jamal Najjab

Jamal Najjab has worked as a journalist in Jerusalem and America, as a political campaign organizer in the Arab-American community, and on the staff of several humanitarian Palestinian aid organizations. He has appeared on numerous news programs, such as CNN, Al Jazeera English and Al Jazeera Arabic, and has published numerous articles in the mainstream and alternative press.

Other posts by .


Posted In:

17 Responses

  1. Jon66
    March 28, 2017, 9:38 pm

    The plane was freed from the hijackers in Operation Isotope.

    “Operation Isotope was all the more remarkable for the fact that two other future Israeli prime ministers – Ehud Barak and Binyamin Netanyahu – were among the commandos. Hence a headline in the Times of Israel recently: “When the prime ministers took down the hijackers.”
    https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/nov/11/sabena-flight-571-hijack-plane-black-september-film

    • talknic
      March 29, 2017, 12:35 am

      Instead of adhering to the law, getting out of all non-Israeli territories as required by law the stupid Israelis caused more bloodshed. Nothing to cheer about Jon66. They’re still at it, still morons and still supported by morons.

      • Jon66
        March 29, 2017, 8:28 am

        “Nothing to cheer about”
        Agree to disagree.

      • Mooser
        March 29, 2017, 1:22 pm

        “Agree to disagree.”

        Well, isn’t that nice of you, “John 66”, condescending to us in that way.

        Why, I don’t know what Mondo would do if you refused to “agree to disagree”. They would have to shut the place down.

      • talknic
        March 29, 2017, 2:07 pm

        @ Jon66 March 29, 2017, 8:28 am

        “Agree to disagree.”

        Sure. You want to just walk away from supporting crimes against humanity and the repercussions of committing those crimes. I believe the expression is quite deservedly, Go f*ck yourself!

        The State of Israel’s illegal actions are wholly responsible for the repercussions to those actions. No one forced the Zionist Federation in 1897 or Israel post 1948 to decide to colonize other folks territories.

        If the Zionist Federation had not insisted on a Jewish State instead of the fantastic deal offered in the LoN Mandate for Palestine (Article 7) albeit in non British territories, and;
        if Israeli forces had not been in other folks territories on the day Israel’s borders were declared and;
        if Israel had not willfully dispossessed some 711,000 non-Jews and;
        if Israel had not attacked ALL of its neighbors and;
        if Israel had not decided to illegally settle its citizens in non-Israeli territories,
        no one would have been subject to the repercussions for those actions.

        You and your lying wholly holey Hasbara bearing friends simply don’t want to get it. No one actually likes scum who lie, cheat and steal and no one likes those support those who lie, cheat, slaughter innocents, dispossess people in order to take their lands. The moment you start to be truthfull, people you thought were your ‘friends’ now, will stab you in the back. You want to be associated with their kind? Be my guest, you deserve ’em

        Israel and anyone who supports Israel’s illegal expansionist policies are simply wrong and in breach of the basic tenets of Judaism, which, on behalf of an alleged Jewish state, is quite simply bizarre

    • eljay
      March 29, 2017, 9:54 am

      || Jon66: … https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/nov/11/sabena-flight-571-hijack-plane-black-september-film ||

      … When prime minister Netanyahu spoke at the film’s premiere in Jerusalem in September, he recalled that in the 1970s, “terrorists were like preying animals, grabbing planes, kidnapping passengers and threatening to kill them and sometimes doing so”. …

      In the 1970s, Zionists were a larger and more-powerful predator, stealing and colonizing territory, oppressing or expelling non-Jews and torturing and threatening to kill them and sometimes doing so – all in the name of Jewish supremacism in/and a religion-supremacist “Jewish State” in as much as possible of Palestine. Nothing’s changed.

  2. Boris
    March 28, 2017, 10:38 pm

    “Our intentions were good.”

    The road to hell are paved with good intentions.

    That’s where these shaheeds end up.

    • eljay
      March 29, 2017, 7:26 am

      || Boris: … The road to hell are paved with good intentions. … ||

      Indeed. Zionists will tell you that the “Jewish State” project was all about good intentions and you can see how nicely that road is paved.

    • Mooser
      March 29, 2017, 1:23 pm

      “The road to hell are paved with good intentions.”

      And the road to Zionist heaven is paved with bad intentions? Ooo, That Boris is bad enough! Such a tough Zionist.

  3. Theo
    March 29, 2017, 12:50 pm

    The palestinians are a colonized folk and according to international laws they have the rights to use any means to free themselves, even killing their oppressors!
    However Ali was not a hero, he was a terrorist, instead of fighting the israelis he and others decided to caper a civilian plane with many innocent civilians on it, because those civilians are not armed. In other words an easy target. Using any means does not cover such acts!!

    • echinococcus
      March 29, 2017, 2:36 pm

      Theo,

      “Any” in English, means just any.
      It’s not up to anybody, any, to second-guess what or who invaded and occupied Palestinians should target.

      • Jon66
        March 29, 2017, 6:34 pm

        The more accurate phrase is “any available means”. This does not include illegal means. Targeting Belgian aircraft to gain exposure to your cause is not legal. The right to resist, like any right is subject to limitations. You can’t yell fire in a crowded theater.

      • Theo
        March 30, 2017, 10:07 am

        echi

        Thanks for your english language lesson, however the subject here is not how great my knowledge of it! Apropos, I can find in most comments or even articles grammatical mistakes, however I would be a piss poor person to concentrate on that!

      • echinococcus
        March 31, 2017, 12:59 am

        Theo,

        What is “piss-poor”, to use your words, is your attempt at pretending that this is about English. Not. It’s obviously about the fact that it is up to the occupied and invaded populations to determine what to do to resist. It’s not up to you, me, or one of the Zionist weasels.
        I won’t insult your intelligence by believing that you mean that nonsense about a language lesson.

    • talknic
      March 29, 2017, 2:40 pm

      @ Theo

      “instead of fighting the israelis…”

      The Palestinians and Arab States had been using legal arguments since 1922. They tried every peaceful means to avert being colonized by foreigners before resorting to violence then terrorism because of the simple fact that peaceful means and legitimate armed resistance, like today, achieved nothing. The Zionist colonization of Palestine continues

      The state of Israel is to blame for repercussions to its illegal actions

      • Jon66
        March 29, 2017, 6:38 pm

        Humans are responsible for their actions. Choosing to wake up and hijack a plane is a decision. You are taking autonomy away from Palestinians and assume that they cannot make their own decisions to which they are accountable.

      • Mooser
        March 29, 2017, 8:03 pm

        “Theo” is always expecting a modern, well equipped and battle-hardened Palestinian Army (and Air Force, I guess) to show up and fight the Israelis.
        But it doesn’t, so the reason must be:

        ”It hurts to say this, however the palestinians are nothing, but cowards!” http://mondoweiss.net/profile/theo/?keyword=cowards#sthash.ibgBXT58.dpuf

Leave a Reply