Fidaa  |  She/Her

Don't You See the Water?

Ramallah, Palestine
Mediterranean Forests, Woodlands, and Scrub

Session 4: January 30, 2023

My story takes place in the Jordan Valley of Palestine. The Jordan Valley represents 30% of the West Bank, and 88% of the Jordan Valley is “Area C.” That means that this land is for Palestinians, but is under Israeli military law. And what does that mean? I’ll tell you the story…

So I used to do a lot of theater and storytelling work with communities in the Jordan Valley. We heard so many crazy stories from the people living there, under military law. And this made us crazy and sad, even angry. We started to wonder, as artists, what should we do? When we watched the community storytellers tell their stories, all the time they felt like this (she makes a cowering, sad gesture)—you know? And we wondered if we were just helping them to be more sad by telling sad stories. And in some cases, that was the reality.

But what about the Jordan Valley before Israeli military law?

We went hiking here and there, here and there, and we found a very crazy, beautiful, salty river, which has a lot of hot springs. If you come visit, you can bathe or swim in this very hot, salty water—maybe that’s something you’ve never experienced before in your life. And next to the river is a traditional old hotel in the middle of nowhere, for people who want to enjoy the river. On the side of the hotel, there grow many types of grass and wheat—there’s even a water mill, with a wheel for grinding wheat. The river is a natural resource for all types of birds, and animals, and people.

I was so happy to discover this place. I called my friends, who lived in Ramallah, Bethlehem, the Hebron area, in refugee camps in the West Bank of Palestine. “Come, come, come with me,” I said. “Come over. We want to invite you to this place we discovered in the Jordan Valley.” And they came—a group of artists.

And when they got out of the car, they looked around and said, “Fidaa, where is the water?”

And I said, “Oh, don’t you see the water?”

And they said, “No.”

I said, “Are you crazy? You can’t see the big, huge channel?”

And they said, “We see that, but it’s dry.”

I said, “You are here to see the water. We are trying to bring back the life we lost here—the plants, the animals, the stories, the people—the community.”

And my friends looked at each other, and they looked at me, and said, “Are you just asking us for impossible things?”

I answered, “No. I’m asking every one of us to imagine. Imagine the past, before the military came here. Imagine the salt water, and the bathing, and the fun.”

Then we went to the community, and we asked them about what had happened along the river. They told us amazing stories, about the plants and the wheel and the wheat and the flowers and the food and the dance and the songs and the amazing tea from a sweet, sweet spring. All these things we discovered. This life.

We also discovered how the Israeli military had planted a huge iron stick in the middle of the spring, and how they would come by every day in a white car to measure the water levels. The local people didn’t really know science—they hadn’t been to university. They were farmers. They didn’t know what the military was doing to the spring or how to stop them. And day by day, month by month, they kept coming, and then—khalas. The water started to go down, down, down, and then, eventually, there was no more water.

But we succeeded in bringing that life back, through our imagination, by listening to these stories. My friends and I created an artistic trail called “From Salty River to Sweet Spring,” where we invited Palestinians and international guests to come walk along the riverbed and learn some of its stories.

However, we never want to forget that, in reality, this salty river is empty today. There is no water there. And that means a lot of birds, animals, and plants are running away, or disappearing, you know? A lot of people. With our own eyes, we can see how colonization and occupation affect the environment and the culture and the nature. It’s all connected. Since the time of this story, even our trail signs and story markers have since been destroyed by the Israeli military.

But to this day, we are still walking, imagining, creating, and sharing our beautiful Palestine.

Fidaa is a storyteller. Her grandmother, forcibly expelled from her home and homeland in Al Bourj Palestine in 1948, would tell her stories. As she listened, Fidaa would fly with her imagination across borders, across the occupation, to freedom. Traditionally, women in Palestine told stories in private, not in public. But Fidaa tells stories in public, using them as a tool for survival, to pass on the anthropology of her people, to prove their existence and resistance. She holds a bachelor’s degree in education and psychology, diplomas in drama and education and playback theatre, and an MEd in Integrated Arts from Plymouth State University (NH). Fidaa has produced and performed shows in Palestine, Europe, America, and the Arab world and performed in numerous festivals across the globe. Fidaa has founded or co-founded a number of groups including the Art and Activism Residency, Hakaya Group to revive traditional Palestinian storytelling, Arabic School of Playback, Women’s Theatre at Burj Al-Barajna refugee camp, The Rain Singer Theatre at Tulkarm refugee camp, and the Palestinian American Children’s Theatre (PACT), and heart Al Risan Art Museum (hARAM). She is a Drama in Education Specialist and Faculty Member at the Arab School of Playback Theatre, a member of ITC4 in New York, as well as a puppeteer, filmmaker, and director. She has directed several short films which have been shown in Palestine, within the United States, and in Italy. With Seraj Libraries, she is running the National Storytelling Center in Palestine and teaching\directing the Storytelling Academy. She is also a Fellow with Georgetown’s Laboratory for Global Performance and Politics, and she teaches Arts in Education, arts in public, theatre, storytelling for anyone who would like to learn.