We Will Remember…
Daniel McGowan & Paul Eisen
|L- R: Rabbi John Rayner, Sheikh Dr. Zaki Badawi and Rev. Michael Prior at DYD 2001|
Zaki Badawi has died. An outstanding Muslim, a cleric and a scholar, Dr. Badawi was a tireless voice of reason and peace and his death follows swiftly that of Fr. Michael Prior and Rabbi John Rayner.
They had a lot in common, these three. All were religious leaders and all were rebels struggling on the radical/progressive margins of their respective traditions. But they had something else in common: in April 2001 these three men appeared together on the stage of a
theatre to remember the massacre of Palestinians at Deir Yassin, “the terror it caused, the flight it precipitated, the tragedy of dispossession and exile that has resulted from it.” London
It happened during the closing moments of the largest Deir Yassin Remembered commemoration that year. It happened before a packed audience of 1,000 Palestinians, Jews, and others, including nine Arab ambassadors, seven Members of Parliament, four rabbis, and guests of honor, including Tony Benn and our good friend, Afif Safieh, who is now the Palestinian ambassador to the
. United States
Ten days before curtain-up, tickets had begun to sell fast and five days after that the event was sold out. Three hours before the theatre opened, a queue started to form of those hoping to find tickets - most telling were the Palestinian families who came to the theatre hoping for tickets. These folk were on no-one’s mailing list; they had received no appeals and no emails. In traditional attire, many speaking little or no English, having heard of the event by word of mouth, they came in the hope of joining the commemoration and remembering this piece of their history.
It was a creative evening of readings, poems, songs and drama with many famous British and international performers taking part and with Reem Kelani giving voice to Palestinian experience and memory. There were two dramatic pieces by Razanne Carmey: “Friday Morning” set in Deir Yassin on that Friday morning in April 1948 when a father is taken outside to be shot while his wife and children sing to drown out the sounds of his execution, and “Exodus” in which Palestinians told their stories of exile and dispossession.
There was weeping in the audience that night as members of the London Palestinian community saw, for the first time ever, their story so portrayed. And Jews were moved too. Firstly, as they, many also for the first time, encountered Palestinian history and experience, secondly as they witnessed the Palestinian response to what was being enacted on stage, and finally, as they saw and heard images from a history so reminiscent of their own. That father dragged from his home in Deir Yassin could so easily have been a surrendered ghetto fighter in Warsaw in 1941, and that bourgeois Madame, in her now-bedraggled fur coat trudging the road out of Jaffa and into exile, was nothing if not a Berliner boarding a train for Riga in 1942.
As Reem finished her last song, an affirmation of Palestinian longing to return, John, Michael and Zaki – a scholarly Jewish Rabbi, a rebellious Irish priest, and a gentle Muslim cleric - took the stage for the final moment of commemoration. Each in turn moved forward to remember Deir Yassin. As Rabbi Rayner affirmed, “having looked into the tragic past, we wish to look forward to a better future, and resolve to do what we can to bring it about.”
As Zaki concluded his remarks, they left the stage. A few seconds passed, and the lights went up to Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony. Sober but uplifting, it pointed to a better future as the audience made their way in silence to the exits. There were no curtain calls, no bows, no bouquets. On that night at least, all eyes were on Deir Yassin and the Palestinian people.
Five years on and there has been no better future - but much has changed. That night’s hope for reconciliation has long gone - there have been too many disappointments and too many deaths and all that seems left is resistance and defiance. Those three men are also gone - Michael in July 2004, John in September 2005 and Zaki in January 2006. But they are not forgotten. We at DYR will remember Michael Prior, John Rayner and Zaki Badawi. We will remember that night in April 2001 and the words they spoke, but most of all, we will remember Deir Yassin.
Daniel McGowan and Paul Eisen are directors of Deir Yassin Remembered