Photo of people on stage. The lighting is low and red. One person stands in the middle holding a drum. A number of
Scene from "From Turtle Island to Palestine: A Theatre Action" at Theatre Passe Muraille. Photo: Ryan Singh Productions.

On Stage, From Turtle Island to Palestine

“If there is any disruption: don’t respond, don’t engage. Look for the marshals in yellow vests.” 

This directive from Monique Mojica reverberated through the packed house as she and Roula Said introduced From Turtle Island to Palestine: A Theatre Action on Monday, March 18, at Theatre Passe Muraille in Toronto. The production was organized by Theatre Artists for Palestinian Voices, a collective of Palestinian, Jewish, and Indigenous theatre artists, as a fundraiser for The Freedom Theatre based in the Jenin refugee camp in Palestine’s West Bank.

When theatre is said to be “dangerous” here in Toronto, it’s in reference to the transgressive nature of sharing stories that challenge conventional belief systems. It does not speak to the potential of literal physical disruption. But we are in fraught times, and supporting Palestinians does not come without risk. 

For The Freedom Theatre in Jenin, their organization regularly faces considerably more threats than the potential disruption Mojica referenced in the introduction. In December, Israeli forces abducted three members of TFT from their homes. Artistic director Ahmed Tomasi was released the next day, and Jamal Abu Joas, a graduate of their performing arts program, was released the following week. Producer Mustafa Sheta was sentenced to six months of administrative detention. It’s a form of arrest that allows Israel to indefinitely detain anyone it perceives as a threat indefinitely, without due process.

When I spoke with theatre artists and organizer Mojica earlier that day before the show, she explained that these events inspired her to create From Turtle Island to Palestine. Mojica explained that it is not only the water, air, and land that connect Indigenous and Palestinian people but also the systems of oppression used against us. From the reservation system here, to the pogroms and camps in Second World War Germany, apartheid in South Africa, and the occupation of Gaza, they share a blueprint, Mojica explains. Mojica, who is Guna and Rappahannock and of Jewish lineage, continued with fierce intensity, “There’s a lot being done in the name of my parents and grandparents, and I won’t stand for it. … This [production] is a way to use my voice and say ‘no more.’” With optimism, Mojica directs me to the words of civil rights activist and author Michelle Alexander “the fix is revolutionary love, it’s what can end this.”

On the morning of the show, I spoke with Palestinian poet, artist, and organizer Said about her hopes for the evening. “I hope everyone receives what they are able to. … I hope the audience feels. That it is received into the heart and the body, if people have fears about opening themselves up to Palestinian voices, they can do so in a positive way.” Said pointed out that the lines between people and affiliations are far blurrier than Israelis versus Palestinians. She explained that she is Palestinian, her husband in Jewish, and their daughter is being raised in a way that honours everyone’s cultures and traditions. 

Following Said’s and Mojica’s introduction, Yolanda Bonnell sang the Ojibwe Water Prayer Song, and Said joined in with the Marhaba Welcome Song. The audience was buzzing. It was a heartfelt welcome to the audience, as well as the excerpts to come.

Cultural Intifada Monologue by TFT’s artistic director Ahmad Tobassi and performed by Nassim Abu Sarari, detailed his abduction in December. Witnessing the inciting incident on stage transformed news reports and conversations within the theatre community to life and to a painfully corporeal understanding. We were in this with him, together. 

Scene from From Turtle Island to Palestine: A Theatre Action. Photo: Ryan Singh Productions.

There were short scenes from Palestinian plays taken from This is NOT What I Want to Tell You (Rimah Jabr, performed by Amani Ibrahim), Rubble (Suvendrini Lena, inspired by the poetry of Lena Khalaf Tuffaha, performed by Roula Said, Nabil Traboulsi, Lara Arabian, Parya Heravi, and Yousef Kadoura), and Tales of a City by the Sea (Samah Sabawi, performed by Anas Hasan, Rahaf Fasheh, Liana Bdéwi, and Maher Sinno). All explored how the extraordinary circumstances of living under an occupation impact the day-to-day lives of Palestinians, from teenagers falling in love to coping with routine bombings.

A scene from Bonnell’s upcoming The Eighth Fire (performed by Jesse Wabegijig, Cherish Violet Blood, T’áncháy Redvers, Heath Salazar, Brefny Caribou-Curtin, and Ty Sloane) and one from Ipperwash (by Falen Johnson, performed by Theresa Cutknife and James Dallas Smith) were parallel Canadian experiences of living under occupation and the emotional toll it takes for generations to come. 

The audience heard some traditional Palestinian singing, and together, we sang Sawfa Nabqa Huna, led by Natalie Fasheh. 

Before Bonnell sang us out, there was a moment of silence for Palestinians, the lives lost, and those fighting to deliver humanitarian aid. Sniffles and sobs echoed through the theatre, expressing the heartache, helplessness, and injustice of it all. 

The evening went off without a hitch; there were no disruptions. It was an event filled with love and solidarity. The actors, space, and silent auction items were all generously donated. All of the raised funds will be donated to TFT in Jenin.

An earlier version of this article mixed up TFT members and contained other errors. These were corrected in the print edition and the online version was corrected on Apr. 24, 2024.

This article appeared in the 2024 May/June issue.