Yasmine’s Home: Putting Foreign Funding in Palestine on Trial
By: Taghrid Atallah
Published Friday, September 16, 2011
Inspired by the Theater of the Oppressed movement, artistic director of Ramallah’s Ashtar Theater Iman Aoun places the question of foreign funding in Palestine center stage in her new play Yasmine’s Home.
Gaza - Iman Aoun’s new play Yasmine’s Home weighs the advantages and disadvantages of funds provided by donor countries to the Palestinian Authority and local NGOs. Staged at Ashtar Theater in Ramallah, the play relies on interaction with the audience, a method developed by Brazilian director Augusto Boal, who founded the Theater of the Oppressed movement in the mid-20th century. Aoun poses some tough yet daring questions in the play: Does foreign funding result in real development in the Occupied Palestinian Territories? Are we able to live without them? If so, how can we do that?
After her own experience with donors, Aoun, who is the artistic director of Ashtar Theater, found herself asking many questions. Her last battle was with a partner organization that funded the play Gaza Monologues. The organization requested the omission of the word ‘martyr’ from the script as a condition to continue funding the project. Aoun refused. Consequently, she began to question the intentions of donor organizations: Do they not have their own private agendas? And should we accept promoting their political message? Is this moral?
These questions led her to think about the complications of accepting foreign funding in return for the promotion of political agendas that classify Palestinians as terrorists. After examining the relation of donors to governmental organizations and civil society, she concluded that they are all indifferent to such ethical questions.
In her play Yasmine’s Home, Aoun relays her conclusion in a symbolic and interactive way. Yasmine is a human rights activist who hosts a television show at home. On her birthday, she survives an assassination attempt, which renders her paralyzed. Her family receives foreign aid to assist her. But instead of helping her, family members take advantage of Yasmine’s situation in order to serve their personal interests.
During the show in Ramallah, the audience was encouraged to participate in an improvised discussion with the the play’s nine actors. According to Aoun, the audience was divided between two groups with very different reactions. The first is a group of young enthusiastic members who identified with the underlying message. During the show, they shouted out: “No to the green drug” (i.e., the US dollar). The second group includes a number of officials and heads of foundations who clearly had reservations about the play.
But who funded this controversial project? It was the German Rosa Luxemburg Foundation, named after the famous socialist. Aoun says that the foundation encourages critical thinking and alternative political approaches. It has a genuine interest in learning about events in Palestine.
Aoun hopes the questions she poses in her play make people think seriously about the issue of funding. Ideally, she would like to see people and organization that rely on foreign donors find alternative ways of funding their projects and reject the idea of indifference altogether.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.