MON 5 - 12 - 2022
Date: Mar 17, 2018
Source: The Daily Star
A story on belonging and identity
Nahla El-Zibawi

Two days ago, I watched “36 Abbas Street, Haifa,” a play written and performed by Raeda Taha and directed by Junaid Sarieddine. Raeda, a Palestinian writer and performer, is the daughter of Ali Taha, the man who along with “Fedaayeen” hijacked a plane “Sabena Flight 571” in 1972 and was killed after the abortion of the operation by Israeli commandos.

The play, which is a one-woman show, revolves around the concept of identity and belonging through telling the story of Palestinians and their displacement that started in 1948. Raeda plays different roles throughout the show to tell the story of two Palestinian families. “Abu Ghaida” a family that was forced to leave their home in Haifa and specifically in 36 Abbas Street after the city fell to the Israeli occupying forces. The “Rafi” family, a Palestinian family that stayed in Palestine, became citizens of the Jewish state of Israel and decided to move to Haifa in the ’60s where fate played its role and made them live in Abu Ghaida’s home in 36 Abbas Street.

After leaving the theater with tears in my eyes, I went home thinking and asking myself questions; What is belonging? What is identity? Which family belongs more to the home at Abbas Street? Who have the right to call it home: Nidal Rafi, who was born and raised there, or Dina Abu Ghaida who came back to Haifa searching for her identity because her family was once exiled?

This is more explained by Amin Maalouf in his book, “In the name of Identity.” Maalouf states that the identity of a person is a result of accumulation, sedimentation and not exclusion. He adds that “Someone’s identity is by no means divided, one does not possess several identities, but one alone, a composite of all the elements which have shaped it.” Thus, we cannot say whether Nidal or Dina belong more to the home in Haifa because each one of them collected memories and feelings that built up their belonging to Haifa and their Palestinian identity through different acquired dosages of belonging.

For Rafi and her family, Haifa is the place where they struggled to stay as Palestinians, it is the place where they were treated badly because of their origins. For Abu Ghaida and her family, Haifa is the place she always heard about from her grandparents and her uncle Fouad. It is the place she continuously imagined and continuously yearned to see.

Both families considering 36 Abbas street their home is indeed a rare moment for the two Palestinian families. The unique connection between the two families with conversations and looks that were filled with sorrow, grief and happiness that both Dina and Nidal felt and later Fouad and other family members, assures us that an identity is never divided and that no matter where life takes you and how far you are, your sense of belonging will always surpass the circumstances.

The last scene in the play where Fouad runs to his home after more than 50 years, shows us that one’s identity is secured if the feeling of belonging is secured and nourished at the same time and here we remember Mahmoud Darwich’s poem “Exile is more than a geographical concept. You can be in exile in your homeland, in your own house, in a room.”

Nahla El-Zibawi is project coordinator at the Outreach and Leadership Academy at the Hariri Foundation for Sustainable Human Development. Email her at [email protected]

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 17, 2018, on page 3.

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