Last Updated: Mon Aug 13, 2012 06:15 am (KSA) 03:15 am (GMT)

‘Kiss me, I’m Palestinian:’ Arab-American combats stereotypes with comedy

Weaving together humour, storytelling, multimedia, live theatre and pop culture references, Jajeh explores how she becomes Palestinian-ized, then politicized and eventually radicalized in “I Heart Hamas: And Other Things I’m Afraid to Tell You”.  (Image courtesy of ihearthamas.com)
Weaving together humour, storytelling, multimedia, live theatre and pop culture references, Jajeh explores how she becomes Palestinian-ized, then politicized and eventually radicalized in “I Heart Hamas: And Other Things I’m Afraid to Tell You”. (Image courtesy of ihearthamas.com)

Jennifer Jajeh rummages through her wardrobe and tries on a green top that says, “Kiss me, I’m Palestinian.”

She takes it off, opting instead for a grey number that says “Arab” in big bold letters, but then there is a buzz at her apartment door. It is the delivery of a parcel that has been thoroughly inspected by customs.

She rolls her eyes, heads back to her closet, and finally decides to wear a yellow tank top that reads “I [heart] Hamas,” before strutting out the door to be received by surprised passersby.

The scene is featured in trailer promoting the Palestinian-American writer and performer’s solo show, I Heart Hamas: And Other Things I’m Afraid to Tell You, which begins this week at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland.

The comedian’s performance in which she shares stereotypes she has encountered as a Christian Palestinian-American woman, and other perceptions of Palestine and its people, has been highly praised by US critics.

“The show has very little to do with Hamas actually,” Jajeh clarifies, in an interview with Al Arabiya. “It’s a theatrical exploration of my Palestinian-American identity and my move to Ramallah in 2000-2001 (during the start of the Second Intifada).”

Hamas stands in as a symbol for the image and narrative generated by Western media about Palestinians, she explains.

“We’re allowed to be villains or victims and more often than not in the West we’re cast as the villain. I wanted to own that terminology, play with it in a cheeky way, but also honestly examine the effects of violence and Occupation in a way that wasn't happening,” she says.

Jajeh feels she does not fit into Palestinian or American culture, and that is one of the things she is afraid to tell us. She is also sheepish that she was angry and disappointed that the Intifada interfered with her chances to “hang out” and “party.”

“I admit a lot of embarrassing things in the show in order to humanize the experience for the audience of landing in this unfamiliar world of Occupied Palestine. I need them to know I’m being honest with them and they can trust what I’m relaying to them, that I’m not being didactic, which is how so many Palestinian stories are presented,” Jajeh says.

When delving into politics, Jajeh believes that by injecting a dose of comedy, it’s possible for people to let their guard down and move into a deeper conversation, all while having a laugh.

“Comedy and theater contextualize difficult political issues and make people feel okay about exploring them,” she said.

The concept of her show has still met a negative response or two, however.

“We’ve had our share of email threats about the show, but for the most part the media and audiences have enthusiastically embraced the show,” she says.

And while her family was initially concerned, they are now proud of the positive reception from attendees and the extent of its reach. In its fifth year running, Jajeh performed all over the United States, including San Francisco, where she is based.

“There’s always a possibility,” Jajeh responds, when asked if she’d take her show to the Middle East.

“Arab audiences tend to relate more to my experiences and characters and nod their heads in agreement. It’s a great honor to have Palestinian audience members of all ages come up and thank me for telling my story,” she says.

While Arab audiences are more empathetic, according to Jajeh, the Western audience is more shocked at her experiences both in Palestine and the U.S.

“So many people steer clear of discussing Palestine in the West. They feel like it’s so complicated or they don’t want to offend anyone. My story has a way of engaging people on a human level and not on a political level.”

Jennifer Jajeh will perform her solo show, “I Heart Hamas: And Other Things I’m Afraid to Tell You”, at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland, on Augst 14 - 25.

To learn more about Jajeh and her show, visit her website on www.ihearthamas.com.

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