Hannah Khalil's Scenes from 69* Years:
Snapshots from a Seemingly Never-ending Occupation
by Michael Malek Najjar
"You cannot like the word, but what is happening is an occupation—to hold 3.5 million Palestinians under occupation. I believe that is a terrible thing for Israel and for the Palestinians…It can't continue endlessly."—Former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, 2003[i]
How does one encapsulate sixty-nine years of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict in one play? That is the momentous task Hannah Khalil has undertaken in her far-reaching, theatrical collage of scenes spanning the decades since the state of Israel was created, and the post-1967 occupation of Palestinian territories. Like her first major play titled Plan D, Khalil utilizes historical situations to create the dramatic backdrop for her dramas. "Plan D" was named after the Israeli "Plan Dalet" which, in the words of historian Walid Khalidi, "entailed the destruction of the Palestinian Arab community and the expulsion and pauperization of the bulk of the Palestine Arabs…calculated to achieve the military fait accompli upon which the state of Israel was to be based."[ii] In Scenes from 69* Years (the asterisk denotes that the number can/will change with each passing year of the conflict) Khalil provides snapshots of various scenes based on Palestinian survivor stories. Her patchwork assembly took years of development, workshops, and readings. Ironically, if not unfortunately, the play began as Scenes from 62* Years. The intervening seven years have most likely provided even more stories from which to create scenes.
Khalil includes shopkeepers, children, translators, charity workers, taxi drivers, Palestinians in the West Bank, Palestinians living in the Diaspora, and Israeli soldiers. This diorama of the occupation gives audiences glimpses into the lives of Palestinians of all walks of life, desperately attempting to live through an occupation that is breaking their society. It also demonstrates that Israelis are also affected by this stagnating state of limbo where nothing changes except a constant hardening of positions, confiscation of lands, proliferation of checkpoints, and crushing of spirits.
Despite the serious topic, Khalil infuses her play with colorful characters, exciting and mundane situations, thoughtful dialogues, and even static scenes of everyday people waiting in line at checkpoints. She knows that decades of this ongoing situation leads to a wide variety of situations from shockingly violent to monotonously boring, some with dialogue and others only silent action. She provides us with portrayals of human interaction that refuse to sensationalize or exaggerate the daily lives of Palestinians. Like Caryl Churchill's play Love and Information, Khalil takes us into the smaller, intimate moments that define a society.
Like the old keys Palestinians keep from their lost homes, or the maps that remain proving Palestinian claims to the land, Khalil's desire to transform Palestinian stories into these dramatic vignettes is an act of testimony—a desire to not let the small and seemingly insignificant events of this ongoing occupation be forgotten or lost to history. Her method of storytelling is by way of postmodern pastiche—fleeting moments compiled in a way to allow audiences to both see the details of the smaller pictures while simultaneously zooming outward to gain a perspective on the entire work. What is the importance of this play? Perhaps a line uttered during the final scene says it all: "…so we know that you remember—so you don't forget—so you can tell everyone."[iii] Given all of the death, suffering, and destruction of the past sixty-nine years, the least we can do is memorialize this ongoing tragedy.
[i] Wallace, Kelly. "Sharon: 'Occupation' Terrible for Israel, Palestinians." CNN, 27 May 2003. www.cnn.com/2003/WORLD/meast/05/26/mideast/
[ii] Khalidi, Walid. "Plan Dalit: Master Plan for the Conquest of Palestine." Journal of Palestine Studies 18.1 (Autumn, 1988): 8. Web. 26 January 2017.
[iii] Hannah Khalil. Scenes from 69* Years. Unpublished playscript. 113.