The solemnity of a world premiere at the College of Charleston’s Emmett Robinson Theater was no match for the passions roused by Amos Gitai’s Letter to a Friend in Gaza.
From the moment it started, with a mighty video projection of wars past and a young man riding in a military helicopter, there was seat-shifting and pointed whispering.
[image-2]Measured clapping and sporadic booing marked the end of the mixed-media performance — a combination of poetry and letters read in Hebrew and Arabic, performance art, and videos that encapsulate how it feels to flee one’s home, to fight for your freedom at a border, or to look back, with a hint of shame, only to say that you were just following orders.
Gitai, knowing that people would have a lot to say, sat for a brief interview with a Spoleto organizer followed by an audience Q&A. One viewer’s quest for a “conclusion” sparked a debate about the meaning, and merit, of the work.
“Your play scares me because I feel the hatred towards Israel that it could create,” said one woman.
A young man said he lived in the West Bank during the Second Intifada. He thanked Gitai for a thoughtful portrayal of Palestinians, whose humanity, he said, is often overlooked in conversations about the conflict.
All of this to say: the conflict is not over, so to draw a conclusion would be premature. Letter to a Friend in Gaza was inspired by Albert Camus’ Letters to a German Friend, in which the French philosopher recounts a discussion with a German friend during World War II.
“There are means that cannot be excused,” Camus wrote. “And I should like to be able to love my country and still love justice. I don’t want just any greatness for it, particularly a greatness born of blood and falsehood.”
Letter to a Friend in Gaza is driven by memory. In one powerful dialogue, two actors portraying a father and daughter remember the quotidian details of the home they were forced to leave behind. (The actors on stage on opening night were not all listed in the program.) The conversation is punctuated by blissful vignettes of the sort that go under-appreciated until they can no longer be recreated.
After the Q&A, Gitai compared the shared trauma of the Jewish people to the pain that will haunt young Palestinians for generations to come.
“It will not vanish,” he said.