In connection with his review on Muftah of Ismail Khalidi and Naomi Wallace’s new edited volume, Inside/Outside: Six Plays from Palestine and the Diaspora, George Bajalia sat down and spoke with Khalidi about the importance of the collection, as well as his and Wallace’s future plans.
George Bajalia: Where did the idea for the title come from?
Ismail Khalidi (IK): The title refers to the degree to which Palestinians are divided, dispersed, compartmentalized, ghettoized, etc, in many ways, both within and outside of Palestine. On the most obvious level I suppose, the book includes writers from both inside and outside the borders of historic Palestine. But it also refers to the viewpoints of the plays, which range from confines of a prison cell, to the more epic big picture perspective of Palestinian history outside the normative temporal/ chronological boundaries of discourse on the ‘conflict.’ Additionally, we felt that there was something about the title that spoke to the fact that, to a degree, even Palestinians on the inside are in some ways outside, or left out, in that they have been sealed off from the rest of the world. Similarly, some of us in the diaspora with a certain amount of privilege (and I count myself as one of those Palestinians) are outside of Palestine but nonetheless able to infiltrate and therefore find ourselves inside certain circles of influence and access. Lastly there is, for me at least, a hint of the manner in which Palestinians have been turned inside out, ranging from the most literal, violent sense of being torn apart (by missiles and bullets), but also emotionally and psychologically laid bare by the upside down nature of logic and justice and truth as it often applies to the question of Palestine in mainstream discourse.
On being Palestinian and a playwright, does being Palestinian and being a playwright inherently mean you are writing Palestinian theater? I ask because there also seems to be a hesitancy among some artists to work under such a label, out of fear or out of a desire to make work that doesn’t just get shuffled aside as mere identity politics.
IK: Both Naomi and I feel strongly that Palestinian theater, of which this book is a mere sampling, is compelling not only in the context of representation and identity politics, but in its appeal as good dramatic literature, replete with a diversity of form and content and style. Certainly to write theater about Palestine as a Palestinian is itself an act of resistance or subversion in a political climate where speech on Palestine is limited and even taboo. But there is a long history of theater that challenges power structures and conventions, and this book is, we hope, an example of that kind of work.
This collection includes pieces that were written in English, as well as translated from Arabic. What sort of Palestinian theater exists in other languages that have yet to be translated into English? Do you know of plans or interest in translating pieces from English into Arabic?
IK: There is a growing interest in translating work between English and Arabic and vice versa, as there should be. Certainly we would like to have more and more plays written in Arabic reach an English speaking audience as high quality translations and adaptations. Similarly, I feel strongly that plays written in the diaspora in English and other languages should be translated into Arabic and become a part of the body of Palestinian (Arabic) dramatic literature. To undertake this project seriously is to resist and reverse the division and estrangement and alienation of the Palestinian people, which has long been a central component of the Zionist project. There is work by Palestinians coming out of Europe in several languages, as well as the Americas in Spanish. I am currently working to bring some of the work being written in Spanish to an English speaking audience and hopefully into Arabic too.
Is this collection part of a larger endeavor? Obviously you could only include so many writers here, so who might be included if this were to be larger, or in future iterations?
IK: This is absolutely only a first step for us. It really only represents a fraction of the work out there. For instance, we were not able to include plays in this collection from playwrights inside the 1948 borders. This is something that will absolutely be addressed in a future collection, because the Palestinians living inside the State of Israel are an integral part of the Palestinian people and are producing some really amazing and groundbreaking work. Similarly Gaza’s writers are not represented in this collection. So there are many more collections out there that we hope to compile and share with English speaking audiences.
Our vision is to present this and future collections as a diverse sampling of a growing body of dramatic literature. We want it to serve as a counter to the claim that is sometimes heard about there not being enough Palestinian plays to choose from for production. There is, and it stands on its own merits, not just in relation to, or in conversation with Israeli, Jewish, or Zionist perspectives. In addition to providing theaters with this work to take into consideration for staging, we also want classrooms and libraries to embrace this work as an educational tool, both in theater classes and in the humanities. I know for a fact that university classes in the U.S. have started using plays from the book in their syllabi. This is a great first step, but we want to be clear too that Palestinians and their art and history is not just for the classroom, the archives, or the museum, but is living, breathing, continually evolving.