Bat­tle-scarred Le­banese teens rec­on­cile through theater fol­low­ing vi­o­lent clashes

The China Post - - FEATURE - BY MAYA GE­BEILY

The young man cow­ered be­hind a bar­rel on the barely lit stage, as his com­pan­ion pointed a fake weapon to­wards a roar­ing au­di­ence in a Beirut theater.

The am­a­teur ac­tors were reen­act­ing a fa­mil­iar scene from their na­tive Tripoli, one of Le­banon’s most volatile cities.

For decades, but with in­creas­ing fre­quency since the Syr­ian con­flict erupted next door, fight­ers from the city’s mostly Alaw­ite Ja­bal Mohsen neigh­bor­hood and the Sunni-ma­jor­ity Bab al-Teb­baneh have clashed in re­cur­ring bouts of vi­o­lence.

Men, young and old, fire at each other from the rooftops of pock­marked build­ings. Sheets are hung across streets to stop snipers tar­get­ing passers-by.

Even dur­ing peace­ful pe­ri­ods, res­i­dents of­ten avoid pass­ing through ri­val dis­tricts.

Ten­sions be­tween the two neigh­bor­hoods wors­ened as Syria’s war dragged on, with Sun­nis iden­ti­fy­ing with the Sunni- led upris­ing in Syria, and Alaw­ites sid­ing with their re­li­gious kin of Bashar al-As­sad’s regime.

It is against that back­drop that a lo­cal NGO and di­rec­tor brought to­gether bat­tle- scarred teens from the two dis­tricts to per­form in “Love and War on the Rooftop: a Tripoli­tan Tale.”

For four months, the young res­i­dents — some of them for­mer fight­ers — worked with con­flic­tres­o­lu­tion group March and Le­banese di­rec­tor Lu­cien Bour­jeily to pro­duce a mod­ern-day tale of ro­mance and rec­on­cil­i­a­tion.

“I was re­ally hes­i­tant in the be­gin­ning be­cause there was some­thing I didn’t like — that there were guys from Ja­bal (Mohsen),” said Tarek Heb­bawi, a 24-yearold from Bab al-Teb­baneh.

He saw all young men from Ja­bal Mohsen as “thugs,” he said.

“But then I saw that just like there are good peo­ple in Bab alTeb­baneh, there are good peo­ple

in Ja­bal Mohsen.”

‘We’ve be­come fam­ily’

The play tells the story of a frus­trated di­rec­tor at­tempt­ing to put to­gether his own per­for­mance in which Ali, from Ja­bal Mohsen, falls in love with Aisha, from Bab al-Teb­baneh.

The play’s de­but in Beirut was re­ceived with a stand­ing ova­tion for the ac­tors, who hugged each other tear­fully on stage.

“It’s the world of theater that cre­ates this com­mon space for them to gather, talk, dis­cuss,” said Bour­jeily, the di­rec­tor.

Putting the play to­gether was fraught with chal­lenges.

On the day of the first re­hearsal, vi­o­lence broke out in Bab alTeb­baneh — where the re­hearsals were to be held — so none of the youth from Ja­bal Mohsen left their neigh­bor­hood.

For the sec­ond re­hearsal, the par­tic­i­pants at­tended but im­me­di­ately di­vided them­selves into two groups based on their neigh­bor­hood, Bour­jeily said.

Yet when they be­gan shar­ing their sto­ries as part of the play­writ­ing process, “they saw that they’re like each other,” said March head Lea Baroudi.

“They saw that they have the same prob­lems. They suf­fer from the same things,” Baroudi told AFP.

Some of the shared prob­lems — un­em­ploy­ment, un­fair stereo­types — fea­ture promi­nently in “Love and War.”

“I got a job, but as soon as they found out I was from Bab al-Teb­baneh they fired me,” one young man said to his nod­ding com­pan­ions as they gath­ered to play cards in one scene.

“We’ve all be­come fam­ily, and thank­fully we can all sit to­gether — we go down (to Bab alTeb­baneh) and they come to us,” said Ah­mad Suleiman, a slen­der 20-year old from Ja­bal Mohsen.

‘We want to work’

Re­la­tions be­tween Le­banon’s 18 re­li­gious com­mu­ni­ties, mainly Chris­tian and Mus­lim, are tense and have driven the coun­try to po­lit­i­cal paral­y­sis.

The multi- con­fes­sional fab­ric has been fur­ther strained by the spillover from the four-year war in neigh­bor­ing Syria, spark­ing vi­o­lence else­where in the coun­try, though not as re­cur­rent and in­fa­mous as in Tripoli.

Heb­bawi said he hoped other young res­i­dents of the city might see the value in spend­ing time with each other and lay­ing down their guns.

“These weapons aren’t for us. They’re for thugs,” Heb­bawi said.

The play’s or­ga­niz­ers say po­lit­i­cal wran­gling and high youth un­em­ploy­ment — not sec­tar­i­an­ism — drive Tripoli’s ten­sions.

“The prob­lem in Tripoli isn’t the re­sult of an ide­o­log­i­cal strug- gle. The prob­lem is a lack of em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties,” Baroudi said.

She called on of­fi­cials to re­duce youth un­em­ploy­ment to “get them out of this vi­cious cy­cle they’re liv­ing in.”

March is con­sid­er­ing open­ing a cafe, run by the cast, be­tween Bab al- Teb­baneh and Ja­bal Mohsen where teens could build bonds and plan events in­stead of join­ing lo­cal mili­tias.

Baroudi and the ac­tors also blamed Le­banon’s po­lit­i­cal class for ag­gra­vat­ing ten­sions in the city by sup­port­ing armed groups.

“The first thing I want to say is to all the politi­cians: ‘Don’t stir things up like you did be­fore,’” said Suleiman.

“My mes­sage for Le­banon is ... why all these wars?” said Heb­bawi.

AFP

Am­a­teur ac­tors from the clash­ing Alaw­ite Ja­bal Mohsen neigh­bor­hood and the Sunni-ma­jor­ity Bab al-Teb­baneh of Le­banon’s north­ern city of Tripoli per­form in the play “Love and War on the Rooftop: a Tripoli­tan Tale” by Le­banese di­rec­tor Lu­cien Bour­jeily at the Metro Theatre in the cap­i­tal, Beirut, on June 15.

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