MOHAMED ALTAWIL could have been another Palestinian youth throwing rocks at Israeli soldiers and tanks, but it was his father who encouraged him to seek a different path.
Mohamed grew up in the Nuseirat refugee camp in the Gaza Strip and during his late childhood and early teens would throw rocks at Israeli soldiers. For this he spent time in prison - at only 12 years of age. His father though did not want to see his son end up going in and out of prison.
“You have brains, you have to use them,” he said. “Throwing rocks doesn’t achieve much. You have to make your life a little bit different. You have to use more intelligence in how you approach this problem.” He began to instil in his son an idea that resistance did not have to involve bullets, but that it could be achieved through other, more peaceful means.
This led Mohamed into a life of study, earning him a place at the University of Hertfordshire on a Ford Foundation Scholarship in 2004 do a PhD on the ‘Effects of Chronic Traumatic Experience on the Children of Gaza’. He now works as a psychologist in The Palestine Trauma Centre in Gaza.
Mohamed’s life experiences, his being a first hand witness to life in Gaza, and his work as a psychologist has resulted in Journey Through Thorns, a theatre piece which will be performed in the Town Hall Theatre Studio on Saturday January 22 at 8.30pm.
Journey Through Thorns, written and presented by Mohamed, David Harrold, and Sylvia Pepper, is the story of Mohamed’s early life and the more recent, dramatic, rescue of his family. In January 2008, the people of Gaza, driven beyond endurance by the siege, blew holes in the border wall with Egypt. Following this Mohamed set out to rescue his wife and two small children whom he had been prevented from seeing for the previous 18 months.
The show takes the form of a dramatised reading by Mohamed and David with video clips, slides, and music. It runs for an hour and will be followed by a question and answer session.
As well as depicting Mohamed’s life, the play also has another important aspect. The violence, war, death, political instability, and blockades, Gaza has endured as a result of the Israeli occupation, has resulted in many lives lost and many horrific injuries.
However there is another problem, one overlooked by many commentators on the Middle East, but which will have devastating long term effects on Gaza and the surrounding regions. These problems are psychological and are the result of severe trauma. It is for this reason Mohamed has dedicated his professional life to The Palestine Trauma Centre, something he will explain in the show.
Journey Through Thorns is being brought to the Town Hall by Richard Kimble, an American Quaker based in Galway, who has worked with Mohamed in the Palestine Trauma Centre.
“Quakers run a project with the centre using Focussing, a method of therapy for people who have suffered trauma,” he tells me. “The director of the school mentioned how more and more children were exhibiting special needs problems before they even had their first day at school.
“Children aged five ands six were unable to hold a crayon and were exhibiting the effects of trauma arising from the long term occupation of Gaza. From there I met Mohamed and he sees the trauma suffered by Gaza’s people as a major problem.
“It is terrible when someone looses a limb or a life, but it is just as sad to see people suffer long term psychological trauma as this will have repercussions for society down through generations. It takes a toll on families, children, the culture, and education. Life in Gaza is hindered.”
Despite dealing with difficult and disturbing subject matter, Richard describes Mohamed as an engaging speaker who brings humour and hope to his subject.
“Mohamed is a survivor and someone who is dedicated to helping people,” he says, “He will present statistics, but he will often let them hang there as he wants to talk about people and their lives and he has a wonderful way of being able to be very funny even though he is dealing with dark issues.
“He is also aware that Israel/Palestine is a very complex issue and he’s not interested in saying ‘Oh the Israelis are all terrible...’ He knows this is not a one sided problem. There is a victim and a victor, but the victor too can be suffering and damaged by what has gone on. He wants to unravel the mindset of people on both sides. He sees it as trying to solve a Rubik Cube where the individual pieces are not problems but all can be part of the solution.
“Those who come to see the show will find themselves smiling throughout, but gradually what he is saying will hit them and make them think that this is a very serious problem, and hopefully it will raise awareness of and support for his work.”
Tickets are available from the Town Hall on 091 - 569777 and www.tht.ie