The exhibitionism of the Intifada, 20 years later

Don’t judge a play by its title, Two Palestinians Go Dogging is a highly engaging production about the mundane and cyclical nature of Israel’s occupation of Palestine. Funny and thought-provoking, the viewer is forced to speculate about our future.

Presented last month at the Royal Court, Two Palestinians are dogging sparked much speculation from audiences who might have naively assumed they were attending a play about libidinous and lustful Palestinians.

The truth is that the act of dogging is negligently presented as a choreographed dance between fully clothed and hooded guerrillas. Their hips thrust and their limbs throb as they chant in unison… “rough hands of the Palestinians”… before sniper fire interrupts them.

The title, although it looks like a red herring, like a hook, attracts onlookers and also serves as the perfect allegory for the occupation.

Much to the disappointment of those hoping to see fiery guerrillas on stage, director Omar Elerian and playwright Sami Ibrahim deliver a highly symbolic political play that is both didactic and reflective; gritty and compelling.

“Told in 27 short chapters, the play is in the tradition of ‘Theatre of the Absurd’. In the first five minutes, the audience is allowed to laugh at topics they would never dare to broach otherwise. So that humor is an important flavor throughout, there is no shortage of emotionally moving scenes.”

They tackle a myriad of messy questions about the Israeli-Palestinian “problem” and use the actors to express their cynicism towards cyclical violence, the cult of martyrdom and the fallen soldier. The play’s ruminations on these themes sometimes seem meaningful and thought-provoking, and at other times directionless, but overall the play succeeds in dramatizing the “tit-for-tat” nature of political violence, showing how failing to right historical wrongs.

Told in 27 short chapters, the play is part of the tradition of the “Théâtre de l’absurde”. During the first five minutes, the audience is allowed to laugh at topics they would never dare to discuss otherwise. Although humor is a major flavor throughout, there is no shortage of emotionally moving scenes.

Overall, the play entertains more than it educates, but encourages participants to scrutinize the playwright’s authorial intentions as a Palestinian who has never seen or lived in the occupied Palestinian territories, as he states in a letter read in the epilogue by a character he is trying to pull off.

So if the game as we’ve established it isn’t about dogging, then what is?

It’s the year 2045 and former Israeli Prime Minister “Bibi Netanyahu” has been resurrected and has sworn to avenge a slain soldier.

As for the main plot, the play revolves around two families. On one side is a Palestinian family headed by a married couple, Reem and Saeed (played by Hala Omran and Miltos Yerolemou).

Other members include their guerrilla-turned-son ICT Tac sensation, Jawad, (played by Luca Kamleh Chapman), and cousins ​​Tariq (played by Joe Hadad) and Salwa (played by Sofia Danu).

Mai Weisz, Sofia Danu, Luca Kamleh Chapman, Joe Haddad in “Two Palestinians Go Dogging” [photo credit: Ali Wright]

On the other side is an Israeli father-daughter duo, Adam and Sara Yeddin (played by Philipp Mogilnitskiy and Mai Weisz).

The two families are embroiled in a protracted, revenge-fueled conflict that culminates in the murder of Israel’s ‘Joan of Arc’, 18-year-old conscript Sara Yeddin, by Palestinian guerrillas, and the murder in reprisals of Salwa by the Israelis. military.

The real confrontation takes place after their death. As Salwa’s spirit leaves her body and begins her ascension, she is confronted by Sara searching for a body to serve as her host. The women engage in a fierce duel whose ultimate reward is existence.

Under the dim stage lights, the two actresses stand diagonally to each other, raising their voices, crisscrossing and crescendoing, as they face off. Their common plight as victims of senseless violence humanizes them and reinforces the idea that in war there are no winners. In a humorous plot, however, Sara wins the duel and her death triggers the start of a fifth Palestinian intifada (uprising).

More powerful is the play’s commentary on death, asking whether death is necessary, justifiable, or avoidable, and does human life have intrinsic value? If not, why not, and whose life matters and why?

The young cast of the play serves as a constant reminder of the youth fighting conflict on behalf of aging and deceased men. The play also does well to draw attention to the communities living under occupation – the victims and the aggressors – how and when they are pitted against each other. The reasons are never quite explained throughout the play’s full two and a half hour runtime.

Satire is also used to criticize the exploitation of civilian casualties to score political points.

Hala Omran in ‘Two Palestinians Go Dogging] [photo credit: Ali Wright]

In one scene, a resolute Reem declares that Palestinian deaths matter if “they help us win.” In a later scene, she attempts to kill her nephew who, though impaled on barbed wire, miraculously survived.

His pitiful state attracts “benefactors” from around the world to pay tribute to the “steadfast” Palestinian survivor. Reem is convinced that his death is the only way to condemn Israel in the courts of public opinion. The goal is not to demonize Reem, but to demonstrate the madness that war stirs up.

Another brilliant portrayal of this emerges in the most scathing critique of the play’s primal violence. The scene, a five-minute monologue, is delivered by Mogilnitskiy maddeningly chanting, Rambo-esque, the words “fight and fight and fight and fight” over and over, while bobbing in warlike poses; growling and growling, pacing erratically and aimlessly. This is how the scene ends, but it begins with him offering an explanation of the “primordial roots” of the conflict and his patriotic duties as an Israeli.

Joe Haddad in “Two Palestinians Go Dogging” [Photo credit: Ali Wright]

As for tempestuous Reem, “winning” is all she desires and her sweet tooth is revenge. Although his volcanic rage seems exaggerated – perhaps excessive at times – it is not unwarranted. Shortly into the second act, we learn that Reem’s daughter, Lubna, has been killed in an Israeli raid on her home. The fact that Sara Yeddin was part of the regiment that carried out the raid should come as no surprise to the public.

While Reem’s character doesn’t challenge the stereotype of the angry Arab, she embodies how pain begets revenge and how violence begets violence. Her exaggerated bitterness contrasts with her husband’s pacifist temperament.

Together, they represent opposite ends of the resistance spectrum: civil resistance versus armed resistance. The piece even covers the space in between — mundane acts of nonviolent resistance — such as Jawad’s TikTok antics, rock throwing, and above all, the supposedly political act of spitting.

Despite his fiery ways, Reem remains an edifice of power throughout. The story of Palestine is its story, and that of the women and the trauma they endure.

Although she seems tireless, we also catch a glimpse of her vulnerability.

The two most memorable occasions are when she sings Dilelol’s melancholic and haunting lullaby (sleep my child) to mourn the death of Jawad and when she watches his final moments on a cellphone whose glare casts a dark halo around of her as the stage fades to black. Silent tears stream down her face as she watches Israeli soldiers douse Jawwad with gasoline and set him on fire in the building where he killed Sara with a cinder block.

If the piece, as some critics maintain, embodies a call to action, it seems barely audible or tame at best. It offers a powerful critique of all actors involved and compels the audience to reflect on their own perception, commitment and solidarity with the Palestinian cause. Perhaps the overarching question guiding this absurd play is “what is it all worth,” and could the situation 20 years from now look exactly like it does today?

Nazli Tarzi is a freelance journalist, whose writings and films focus on Iraq’s ancient history and the contemporary political scene.

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