Palestinian-Israeli actor Gassan Abbas carries I Shall Note Hate, produced by Mosaic Theater Company of DC in residence at the Atlas Performing Arts Center, alone on his shoulders. The one-man play, told in Hebrew and Arabic with English surtitles, tells the story of Izzeldin Abuelaish, a Muslim boy living in a refugee camp in the Gaza Strip who emerges from the chaos of his childhood to become a doctor. Even more remarkable, Abuelaish is unable to abandon his commitment to searching for peaceful coexistence between Israel and Palestine, even in the midst of tragedy.
A true story based on the physician’s internationally best-selling memoir, I Shall Not Hate: A Gaza Doctor’s Journey on the Road to Peace and Human Dignity, the play recounts the doctor’s stoic heroism that garnered him three Nobel Peace Prize nominations, and shines a light on the humanity behind the stories in the headlines. The production is staged as part of the Voices From a Changing Middle East Festival: The War Comes Home, featuring Israeli, Arab, and American artists from around the world.
Mosaic Theater arranged for Abbas to answer a few questions before he arrived in the States for this production.
Daron Christopher: How did you come to be involved with I Shall Note Hate?
Gassan Abbas: The Habima National Theatre offered to feature me in the story of Abuelaish and introduced me to the director Shay Pitovski.
I feel very close to the character. We share lots in common, Abuelaish and I – same like other Palestinians who have lots of things in common with him.
What excites me about this character is that I am essentially telling about myself beginning with childhood, up until almost the end. As I told Abuelaish himself, the only real difference between us is that his room was smaller than my family’s room. We also had eleven people in one room with no electricity, no running water and no toilet – but our room was a bit bigger in Umm al-Fahm.
Our land in Megiddo was owned by my grandfather. On that land we had fruits and vegetables and he used to send trucks full of these goods to Haifa. Today this land is dry and it is a kibbutz. This is the parallel to the Hoj village that Abuelaish lived in.
What does the play have to say about the current state of the Middle East?
This play speaks in a world of deaf people. I am not an optimist. In the beginning I perceived myself as an artless child, an optimist who believes in peace and coexistence but they killed the child which lived inside me. I am not the naïve irremediable kid I was.
I don’t know if the play has the power to change the way things are right now in the Middle East, especially with the fascist current government in Israel. Every day it becomes worse as people tend more to religion, which puts the divide and makes people radical – saying one religion is better or one person is more “worthy.”
I understand that you have performed I Shall Not Hate elsewhere. Has your perspective on the play and the issues it raises changed in the meantime?
The importance of this show grows every day. Even if it influences one person only, it is a lot to gain.
What’s next for you?
Maybe a political TV show, but I’d rather not to tell more now.
Anything else you would want audiences to know?
I say – you should come and watch the show. It will open up your mind and help you understand more.