‘A space for mourning and community’: The Gaza Monologues shares the hopes, fears and struggles of Palestinian youth

On January 14, people gathered in the Frederic Wood Theatre for a reading of The Gaza Monologues organized by UBC Theatre and Film Students.

The Gaza Monologues is an initiative started by ASHTAR Theatre, a Palestinian theatre company that promotes the medium as an avenue for creativity and change, and encourages individuals to navigate their trauma through art.

The monologues are stories by 33 young ASHTAR Theatre students from Gaza, written in 2010 after the first Israeli strike on the Gaza Strip in 2008. According to a 2009 report by Amnesty International, 1,400 Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces during this time, around 300 of whom were children.

Though these testimonies were written more than a decade ago, they stay relevant — so much so that ASHTAR Theatre published another collection of personal stories in 2023.

On a fold-out table, boxes of masks and programs were set out for the evening. In lieu of speaker names, the program detailed the origin of the monologues and their continued resonance, as well as a QR code to a collection of action items and educational resources, including local initiatives and mutual aid funds.

Two speakers prefaced the readings with land acknowledgements, noting the interconnectedness between Palestinian and Indigenous struggles and solidarity.

In this same vein, they also raised the question of dissonance between UBC’s commitment to reconciliation and its ongoing investments in companies complicit in Palestinian human rights violations. While the AMS submitted a motion to divest in 2022, this was rejected by UBC — as of 2023, UBC states that “this remains the university’s position.”

The staging was spare and austere. When the room went dark and the first speaker began, the first monologue was projected onto the large screen above — the words flooded the space, boundless in their size and meaning. They felt like the only important thing in the room, conveying the magnification of life during wartime.

Several of the monologues were read in Arabic, with both Arabic text and an English translation by Fida Jiryis appearing on the screen. The speakers introduced their piece with the name, birth year and place of residence of the child who had written it.

Many of the pieces read like diary entries where the war is situated in moments of everyday life, framing decades-long turmoil and struggle through the eyes of the youth. The first airstrike sounds in the halls of school, during exams, football games and in homes.

The first piece read, written by Ahmad El Ruzzi (born 1993, Al-Wehda Street) tallies a list of items acquired by their father to prepare for sheltering as if it is a grocery list.

“I dream of living one day in freedom,” they wrote. “I don’t think that’s a big dream, but it’s hard to come true.”

The pieces were mournful and angry; young people grieving for friends and a childhood lost, and wishing for a future that their families and their country might not have. A speaker reading a piece by Anas Abu Eitah (born 1995, Ash Sheikh Radwan) recounted the funeral of their best friend Mohammed.

“As I was leaving the cemetery there was heavy bombing, I felt that the angel of death was following me and not leaving me alone, but thank God I’m still alive,” they read. Grief, terror and gratitude are held together closely and painfully.

A piece by Amjad Abu Yasin (born 1993, Ash Shati’ Camp) pointed to the sociopolitical forces beyond Gaza — “The crisis is that the whole world is watching us, as though there’s nothing going on, and they’re still making speeches!”

Another speaker, reading an account from Yasmeen Abu Amer (born 1996, Al Shuja’iyeh), lamented that “our dream has become to die a good death, not live a good life.”

There were also glints of humour and hope in the monologues, another reminder that these are children’s perspectives of the violence. Despite everything, the writers’ testimonies resounded with deep love for their home.

“I want to go back to being small,” said a speaker reading a piece by Reem Afana (born 1996, Al-Saftawi Street). ”I don’t want to grow up. But the only thing that comforted me was the love of people who didn’t leave us for one moment. Gaza is full of love.”

Ending on a hopeful note, the last speaker performed an original poem celebrating the Palestinian people.

This event was one of many readings that have taken place since the monologues’ publication in 2010 — ASHTAR Theatre notes that “more than 2000 youth … in more than 80 cities in 40 countries have presented the monologues that are translated and presented into 18 languages.” Last year, they urged theatre makers around the world to organize public readings of the monologues on November 29, the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People.

Through the readings, the audience was briefly immersed in and forced to reckon with the weights of grief and trauma of the Palestinian people, but also the abundance of love and care they practice daily, and to reflect on the resilience it takes to do so.

The event advocated for fierce commitment to justice and community, and was urgent in its call for Palestinian sovereignty. Admission was free of charge, but attendees were encouraged to donate to ASHTAR Theatre to help fund their ongoing work, and to donate an eSim to Connecting Gaza, a campaign helping Palestinians stay connected across and beyond the region.