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The Shroud Maker: A heart-wrenching tale of loss and survival amid decades of Israeli injustice Open in fullscreen

Noor El-Terk

The Shroud Maker: A heart-wrenching tale of loss and survival amid decades of Israeli injustice

Masoud's play follows the story of 83-year-old Palestinian woman Hajja Souad [TNA]

Date of publication: 29 May, 2018

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Ahmed Masoud's play follows the story of an 83-year-old woman in Gaza, as she remembers her life mapped alongside Palestine's.
The scene is set. Sounds of a sewing machine, mixed with the loud explosions of bombs and gunfire reverberate in London's RADA studio. A light flickers over an old woman bent over the machine. The telephone rings.  

The lady, clad in traditionally embroidered Palestinian thoub, slowly gets up and makes her way across to the phone to answer, her clear voice rings out: "No, I'm not going to leave Gaza."

The Shroud Maker, a dark script set in the Shujaiah neighbourhood of the besieged Gaza Strip, follows the story of 83-year-old Palestinian woman Hajja Souad as she deals with everything life throws at her.

Making and selling shrouds for a living, Hajja finds herself profiting from the continuous Israeli attacks – the 51-day assault in 2014 proving to be highly lucrative.

"Back then I was selling close to a hundred shrouds a day. I was making a fortune!" she says darkly, crying matter of factly, that yes, "I make money when people die."

Written by Gazan-born Ahmed Masoud, The Shroud Maker is loosely based on a real life character still living in Gaza, telling the story of survival. With the powerful acting of Masoud's poignant words, we're taken along a journey sharing Hajja's struggle with decades of war, displacement and oppression.

Back then I was selling close to a hundred shrouds a day. I was making a fortune! she says darkly, crying matter of factly, that yes, I make money when people die

Faced with almost certain death in the dimly-lit room, as Israeli soldiers prepare to flatten out tunnels "which they apparently forgot to bomb three years ago", Hajja blasts some music as thoughts turn to her childhood home in Aqqur, near Jerusalem.

"If tonight's the grand finale, at least let's have some decent music for the big send-off," she says. 

The historical events of Palestine unfold alongside the life story of Hajja. Starting with Palestine under the British mandate, she recalls how at the age of 11, her father took her with him as he found work as a gardener with Sir Alan Cunningham, the British High Commissioner in Jerusalem.

His wife, Lady Cunningham, quickly takes a shine on little Hajja and teaches her to sew and embroider. She leaves however with the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 without a second glance back – mirroring the British's withdrawal from the land, washing their hands off Palestine without a thought for the repercussions.  

From the Nakba, to the intifada, Hajja recounts how her life is shaped by the events. Israel continues its brutal bombardment and she continues to find a way to survive, making resistance scarves and balaclavas or selling shrouds – whatever event happens, there is always need a seamstress.

Pangs of pain and heartache accompany the dark satire of Masoud's script, and the audience are left with tears in their eyes even as they try to laugh grimly to Hajja's no-nonsense attitude. The final scene is met with a standing ovation, claps filling the studio which moments before trembled with anguish and heartbreak.

Lady Cunningham quickly takes a shine on little Hajja and teaches her to sew and embroider. She leaves however with the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 without a second glance back – mirroring the British's withdrawal from the land, washing their hands off Palestine without a thought for the repercussions

Remembering the Nakba

Central to the play are the themes of displacement, and in it, we hear firsthand the anguish of Hajja, how despite having a home in Gaza, the affection for her hometown Aqqur, and the yearning to see it again, never leaves her.

"The old will die and the young will forget," with these famed words Israel appears to cling to a wish of detachment from Palestinians that is unlikely to appear. Just as Hajja in The Shroud Maker yearns for her homeland, thousands in Gaza today who were displaced in 1948, continue to do so.

The performance marked the 70th anniversary of the Palestinian exodus, known as the Nakba, the catastrophe, and with it came a reminder that while the old and young continue to die, no one has forgotten.

Israeli sirens continue to ring and airstrikes continue to fall till the very last moment of the performance, an apt reminder to the audience, that forgetting the injustice was quite simply impossible as its surrounds them, a constant reminder.

Other daily reminders encompass Hajja, her trade suffers as she struggles against the blockade imposed by the occupation.

"There's no muslin left. All stocks exhausted, demand being so high, you know," she retorts. "Well, yes, if I'd known in advance I could have ordered extra supplies from the tunnel traders, but on this occasion I'm afraid the Israelis neglected to inform me of their plans… yes, I know, most unprofessional of them."

Modern politics and the real-life implications it has on the besieged enclave are not shied away from, and Egypt's role in contributing to the blockade and the continued hardship highlighted. "How are we supposed to get cotton in Gaza? Since the fucking Egyptians destroyed the tunnels, there's barely a scrap to be had!"

Today's Palestinians

Touted as a "creative response to decades of injustice," the scheduled performance came days after US President Donald Trump broke with decades of American policy and international consensus by recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, while Israeli forces massacred protesters.

At least 61 Palestinians, including an eight-month old baby, were killed as Israel fired live ammunition near the Gazan border where tens of thousands had gathered to commemorate the Nakba and call for the right of return.

Event organisers were quick to draw similarities between the story about to be told, a painful reminder that the performance was not referring to a history in the distant past, but a bloody present, witnessed every day.

A minute's silence was held, to honour and remember the lives of those killed in Israel's deadliest massacre in the Gaza strip since 2014.

The Shroud Maker was part of @70's festival of cultural resistance, with Ahmed Masoud, working alongside other artists from Gaza and Amnesty International UK, the Hoping Foundation, Amos Trust, the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, SOAS Palestine Society and Al Zaytouna Dance Theatre.

You can catch Masoud in Plymouth for Refugee Week (June 21), Liverpool Arab Arts Festival (July 14) or the Greenbelt Festival at the end of August.

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