It is inevitable to speak of the contemporary Palestinian theatrical movement when elaborating on the history of “EL Hakawati” theatre, especially the era that followed the “Nakseh” war in 1967, which caused a massive disappointment to the Palestinian people in particular, and to the Arab nation in general. The Palestinian people, despite the war, invented multiple methods to keep them going through the different struggles of life. The arts and cultural movement was the leading method to guarantee the continuation of life’s struggles, which were then driven by the political and national comprehension to achieve the goal of “liberating the human being and the land”.
The above mentioned national spirit contributed heavily in founding and enhancing the existence of the cultural movement in most political bodies, which turned the “cultural circle” into a fundamental component of each of them, in addition to forming numerous cultural circles within workers’ and teachers’ association and other social groups, including the proletariat. This consecutively, and quickly, led to the transformation of this youthful eagerness into folk artistic, theatrical, musical, and dance troops, which steered the artistic and theatrical movement throughout history into its journey until today.
By the year 1968, most cultural evenings were formed of theatrical scenes that were accompanied by national songs, and a number of folk dance routines, and were called “an artistic theatrical act”. This artistic method was popular in presenting artistic works until 1970, when the artistic presentation started to change in terms of shape and composition. This change was followed by the creation of numerous novel theatrical and musical troops, in addition to “Dabkeh” dance groups, which all adopted a national content, aiming for the freedom of Palestine, and mostly politicized by different political groups.
In 1970, Palestine marked the birth of abundant theatrical and artistic troops, whose members were eager to be fully occupied by art. “Balaleen” troop was so founded to be one of the prime theatrical troops, and was followed by “Bala – Leen Wa Leen” troop, and “Sandouq Al A’ajab in 1974. During this era, a number of phenomenal artists, musicians, and dancers were recognized as fantastic artistic acts were presented. Those artists were the founding fathers of the modern theatrical and artistic movement that still leads arts to the present times.
The artistic movement, above mentioned, was the founding stone to the establishment of the “El Hakawati” troop, which saw the light back in 1977 when Francois Abu Salem met with a number of Palestinian students from the occupied lands of 1948, who were, at the time, students at the Hebrew university in Jerusalem, and another group of young men from Jerusalem itself. The group from the occupied lands included Adnan Tarabsheh, Mohammad Mahameed, and Edward Mua’allem, whereas the group from Jerusalem included Francois Abu Salem, Jackie Lubick, Talal Hammad, Jameel Eid, and others, who joined the troop in later times, and managed to create tens of theatrical shows along the years, and shed the light on new Palestinian talents from around the Palestinian lands.
The start of the “El Hakawati” troop was not paved with gold. Show business at the time of the troop’s establishment was not supported with well-equipped theatres or halls; the shows were then presented in schools, cinema halls, clubs, and even in charities. The main hosts for those shows, were nonetheless, the generous and welcoming villages, camps, and cities in their available outdoor areas. Despite the difficulties, the “El Hakawati” troop went on their first international tour, presenting the “In the name of the Father, Mother, and Son” play, which was produced by the “El Hakawati”, and directed by Francois Abu Salem himself, and performed by Edward Mu’allem, Mohammad Mahameed, Jackie Lubick, Talal Hammad, Adnan Tarabsheh, and Jameel Eid, and was proudly presented in the 7th International Hammamat Festival in Tunisia, in 1980.
To pay the deserved tribute to “El Hakawati”, “E; Nuzha” troop members, please enjoy below a terse biography of their lives between the years 1977 – 1990:
Fransoa Abu Salem
Jan Francois Lauren Gaspar (Abu Salem), was born in France in 1951 to Dr. Lauren Gaspar, and artist Francine Gaspar. He joined his father in his journey to Palestine in 1953, as his father was deputized by the French government to establish the French Hospital in Bethlehem in 1953 and after that in Jerusalem. Both his brother Stephan and his sister Patricia joined their father, and lived and grew up in Palestine.
Francois started his school education in the city of Jerusalem, specifically, at Ferrer School, before moving to Beirut to complete his high school studies, and then to France, where he joined Strasburg School of theatre, and then joining the “du Soleil” theatre in 1968, where he worked with Ariane Mnouchkine. Abu Salem then moved back to Palestine in 1970 at the age of 19 years to finally start his theatrical career in Jerusalem, as he took part in founding many Palestinian theatre groups, of which “Balaleen” and “Sandouq Al A’ajab” were the most prominent.
History testifies that Francois was one of the large group of the intellectual and hard-working community that commanded and guided the contemporary cultural movement to give it its current ranking, after the disappointing defeat of 1967, which infused the theatrical and cultural movement with politics, giving it an exceptional humanitarian and existential taste. Abu Salem’s influence, at that time, was one undeniable factor to create a professional, creative, and innovative Palestinian theatre, like the one we all know today, despite the undeniable contribution of other Palestinian artists in the same field.
In 1984, Abu Salem took the decision to establish the first Palestinian Theatre in Jerusalem, calling it “El Nuzha”, where he maintained his theatrical career until the year 1989 when he was forced to leave it after a major disagreement with the theatre’s administrative committee, which ended the services of Abu Salem and ‘El Hakawati” troop. Shortly after, and specifically between 1990-1995, Abu Salem settled in Paris, where he presented multiple theatrical productions under the name of “El Hakawati”, before returning to his first love, Jerusalem, where he also presented modernized theatrical shows, before going back on the move again between Palestine and Europe.
In 2005, Abu Salem returned to Jerusalem, one last time, and produced prime plays such as “The Epic of Gilgamesh”, “A Memory to be Forgotten”, and “In the Shadow of the Martyr”, before he took his own life in the city of Ramallah, on October 1st, 2011.
Between the years 1977-1990, Jackie Lubick made plentiful visits to Palestine, during which she met with Fracios Abu Salem, tied the knot with him, and joined him in most of the theatrical productions he worked on during those times. She, shortly after, became a founding member of “El Hakwati” after meeting with a number of students of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
Lubick engaged with all “El Hakwati” troop’s productions and local and international tours between 1977-1990, and helped manage the troops work, in addition to playing a fundamental role in “El Hakawati’s” plays in terms of fashion design and acting, and in writing in later stages. She parted from the troop in 1990, and started a new career with Yan Williams in 1994 through “Theatre Days” organization.
Lubick is considered to be one of the leading names who helped establish the theatre of the youth, and is still active in the field of theatre.
Edward Mua’allem was from the village of Mi’ilya in Upper Galilee in occupied Palestine. He was a student of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and joined “El Hakawati” troop for its very first play, named: “In the Name of the Father, Mother, and Son”.
Mua’allem is considered to be one of the founding fathers of the “El Hakwati” troop and theatre. He not only worked as an actor, but he also took some hard missions on his shoulders, such as accounting, and building the needed decors and external platforms for plays.
He participated in the renovation of the theatre’s building in 1990, and participated in all “El Hakawati’s” productions, plays and tours between 1977-1990, before he finally parted from the troop to establish his own platform, “Ashtar” theatre, which he still runs nowadays.
Tarabsheh was one of “El Hakawati” founding members in 1977, who was born in the village of Mghar in Galilee, and a student, back then, of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
He partook in all productions and local and international tours of “El Hakawati” throughout the years 1977-1982. He not only played a substantial role in the collective composition of the theatrical productions, but also played major roles in plays, before he parted from the troop and shifted back to his hometown in the north.
He worked with plenty of theatres inside the green line as an actor, author, and director, and he also managed multiple cultural institutes such as Maraya up to present times.
Hammad is a cultural activist from the city of Jerusalem, and a leader of the cultural and intellectual movement in Jerusalem in the early 90s. He joined “El Hakawati” in 1977, as he participated in the play of “In the Name of the Father, Mother, and Son”, and joined the troop in their local and international tours.
In 1982, he parted from “El Hakawati”, and moved to France and then Tunisia. He is one of the founders of the cultural department at the Palestinian Embassy in Tunisia, where he still works, and he is the author of plenty poem collections.
Mahameed was from the city of Um El Fahem in the north of Palestine. He was a student of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, before he joined “El Hakawati” in the late 70s.
He participated in the first plays and productions of the troop before he dropped his spot in the troop and settled back to his hometown in 1982. He, afterwards, worked as a teacher alongside his work in the domain of theatre in Um El Fahem.
He published a number of collections about the theatrical movement in Palestine, and in still active in the same field.
Khalayleh is from the village of Majd El Kroum in Galilee. He was a student of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He joined “El Hakawati” in the early 80s, where he participated as an actor in most of the troop’s productions, and local and international tours between 1980-1988.
In 1989, he returned to his hometown and worked in the field of theatre at the community centers there, and published a number of theatrical collections up to present times.
Kattab is from the city of Jerusalem. He worked in Journalism in the “El Fajr” newspaper in the English department. He met with “El Hakawati” members in the early 80s, and joined forces with them to participate in two productions: “Mahjoob Mahjoob”, and “One Thousand and One Nights of a Stone Thrower”.
He participated in the troop’s local and international tours. He quit working in acting while he kept his administrative and coordination roles, and contributed in the renovation of the theatre’s building, which led him to achieving a spot in the general and administrative committee of the theatre until mid-90s.
Shihadeh is also from the Mghar village in Galilee. He met with the “El Hakawati” troop during their presentation of the play “Mahjoob Mahjoob” in Sakhneen city where he worked as an Arabic Language teacher. In 1982, he dropped his teaching career to join the troop, as he was broadly active in the field of theatre in the north. He participated in most productions of the troop, and their local and international tours between 1982-1988, as he then left back to his hometown in 1989 to establish “El Seereh” theatre where he still works.