Here’s the first of what’s sure to be many comments from students in the University of Michigan’s “Michigan in Washington” Internship program, and the University of California (at Berkeley and also Merced) DC Program. They’re enrolled in a Political Theatre class I teach for them, and you’ll be hearing a lot from students on our blog this semester. This first posting comes from Marsheda Ewulomi. Look for other responses to this in the COMMENT section.
As anticipation mounts for the new stage production Return to Haifa , students of theater and life may experience conflict when reading the novella from which the play was adopted. I will not give an in-depth background (go see the play and read the novella).
One often reads history and may only take away a two dimensional picture or the winners and losers, the oppressors and the oppressed. However, are these lines ever so simple? Are there more consequences and sentiments involved with this notion of winners and losers? It seems that Return to Haifa in either play or novella form creates a dialogic sphere for the discussion of these questions and those like them.
After 20 years of a closed border, Palestinians, Sa’id and his wife Safiyya are returning to their old home, Haifa. Haifa, now a Jewish settlement is not only the place from which they were thrust out, but where they were forced to leave their infant child. The story grapples with notions of home, entitlement, identity, and displacement where this child/man is the battle ground.
I will not go further than that. Instead I will go on a selfish tangent derived from my exposure to the novella.
What I have the most trouble dealing with in the novella is how Said writes off his son Khaldun at the end of it. He gives a long impassioned speech about the notion of wrong and somewhat incapsulates his disdain for the outcome of the war in his son. Did he not expect a human being to grow and change the same way he expected Haifa to never change? Although the son read as somewhat arrogant, how come Sa’id never apologized for leaving him? Maybe my relationship is different with my family but I would think that my father would take arms to come to me. Did either side attempt to empathize with the other? Notions and inquiries such as these lead me to conclude that I do not buy Said’s last action completely. I do think culturally disowning one’s son is highly possible, but losing sentiment towards that individual seems impossible. I use the phrase “loss of sentiment” because Said makes the statement that he does not feel any sentiments for Khaldun/Dov. That seems like an extensive load of waste to me–beyond this being a story about a conflict, this is a story about people, about human nature. Though expressed and dealt with in different manners, love, and the power of it does not differ from culture. Love is a thing of life, not an item limited to cultural practice.
I acknowledge that I could be completely wrong. I am not Jewish. I am not Palestinian. Nor have I been displaced. Maybe only someone who lives with this history everyday is entitled to have a valid opinion. However, as an English major I have yet to find a writer who does not want his or her story told to the world. Why do any of us write, other than the fact that we have something to say? I see political and world issues when I read the novella, but they do not overshadow the issue of human. At our barest levels, regardless of race, sexual orientation, political party, gender, height, age, ethnicity, or whatever, we are human. I am not sure of the author’s intent, but I am sure that I don’t buy the loss of sentiment for the child that one’s dreamt about in every breath taken for twenty years.