'I Heart Hamas': A Palestinian immigrant's story
'I Heart Hamas': Solo show goes beyond the headlines to present one Palestinian woman's personal perspective
By Andrea Abney
Published 4:00 am PDT, Thursday, September 17, 2009
Jennifer Jajeh makes one thing clear from the start: She's not speaking for all Palestinians. She's speaking for herself.
Her solo show, "I Heart Hamas: And Other Things I'm Afraid to Tell You" isn't a political statement. She isn't offering her take on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. She isn't choosing sides or preaching.
She's offering her perspective as a single woman, an actress, a first-generation immigrant born in San Francisco.
And she happens to be Palestinian.
Being Palestinian, Jajeh says, means that she's been associated, consciously or not, with the conflict in the Middle East. Her identity, she says, has been associated with war and violence.
"I think that's a lot to take on and I think people don't understand it's a really heavy identity to carry," she says. "I wanted to write something and present something that was a really intimate and personal perspective ... because we don't see personal perspectives. In the media we're only seeing the headlines, which are always focusing on militants and terrorism and violence and conflict. So, I felt like it was an amazing opportunity to be able to present a really honest, vulnerable, personal perspective."
Jajeh started writing "I Heart Hamas," which she calls a tragicomic immigrant story, in 2008. The issues and experiences she writes about come not only from her life in the United States, but the time she spent in Ramallah, north of Jerusalem. Jajeh first went to Ramallah, her parents' hometown, in the summer of 2000. She loved it so much, felt so comfortable in the area, that she uprooted her life and returned in the fall - at the time of the Second Intifada.
"I got a very clear idea of what it meant to be living there and be Palestinian," Jajeh says.
"After having spent a year and a half there, I knew that it was an experience that completely changed my life and my perspective. And it really grounded me in a sense of who I was and my identity and what the reality on the ground was. It was a really formative, intense experience, and so I knew on some level I wanted to communicate that with people."
Jajeh premiered her show last year in New York (it was previewed in San Francisco last summer, but she considers this its San Francisco premiere). She's received invitations to perform at colleges and venues across the country, something she'll do in the spring.
And as the show gains steam, Jajeh says, she can present her voice as a Palestinian American woman - "not just a CNN headline."
"I just wanted to present a different perspective, a personal perspective as one Palestinian. I felt like if I can have an audience listen to one Palestinian for an hour and a half, that was an amazing success."