“It’s in our blood, us Arabs love a good love story.”
Bilal Hasna and Aaron Kilercioglu reflect on their motivations for creating For a Palestinian, a play which returns to CPT for three weeks this month, following sell-out performances last year.
For a Palestinian is a one-person show about the extraordinary but little-known life of Palestinian intellectual Wa’el Zuaiter, who lived in Rome in the 1960s. The play explores, the complexities of belonging, heritage, and love.
The idea for the play came to us in April 2021. For a few months, we had been discussing a play that addressed the feelings of growing up in the Palestinian diaspora, based on the experiences of Bilal and his family. It was in April of that year, in an obscure book, that we stumbled across a mention of Wa’el Zuaiter.
Fairly quickly, we both became obsessed with his life; half of which was lived in Nablus, and the other half in Rome. We spent weeks digging through the internet, ordering archival material from halfway across the world, trying to find out if his family had any connection to Bilal’s. We began to piece together his extraordinary life; from his translation work to his political career, as well as his incredible love story with Janet Venn Brown. As we started building this picture, we quickly became aware of the concerted effort to hide his legacy, to tarnish him without evidence as a terrorist. And that led us to writing the play, to tell an untold story and make it widely accessible.
The play itself cuts back and forth between Wa’el’s life in Rome, and Bilal’s journey back to Palestine in 2018 for his cousin Ahmad’s wedding. In doing so, it tries to explore some of the similarities of experience for Palestinians living in the Western diaspora. Many Palestinians in the UK are second and third generation descendants of their homeland. Many of their parents were born in other countries, and some may have never been to Palestine. Yet there is often an inherited trauma, and a deep sense of belonging to that place. This can be a tricky and seemingly contradictory state of affairs to navigate. By cutting back and forth between these two lives, the play tries to connect those presently in the Palestinian diaspora with those who came before, to try and create a lineage, a history, a toolkit, to navigate this funny life in the diaspora, to validate our cultural uncertainty, and to galvanize us to action.
In doing so, the play argues that the distance that exists between you and your homeland is not a reason to think you are not from there. We really hope that by talking about this feeling of solidarity despite distance, and all the complications that come with it, that the play will validate feelings of uncertainty within the diaspora. So we can continue to fight together for a free Palestine in our lifetime.
Tue 13 Sept - Sat 1 Oct at 7pm