Category Archives: Palestine/Israel

Radical kinship: Black and Palestinian prisoners

There is an amazing history of “radical kinship” between the Black and Palestinian prisoners experience (as evidenced by a new exhibit called “George Jackson in the Sun of Palestine” which includes letter of solidarity between Palestinian and American prisoners among other artifacts). Some of the same spirit that motivated this exhibit was why I reached out to Black prisoners in the U.S., and invited them to read and respond to “The Hour of Sunlight“–the book I co-authored with my brother and former colleague Sami Al Jundi, who spent 10 years in an Israeli prison for militant anti-occupation activities as a teenager. Below is the response from Kenneth Foster Jr, previously on Texas death row, now serving a life sentence without parole:

“First and foremost, I have read “Sunlight” and it’s a fabulous book. It was really touching for me in a lot of ways. Mainly from the prisoner perspective, but also just through the literary expression of the struggle and familyhood. I greatly enjoyed it.

I have already begun working on the questions (that you sent me.) However, I just don’t feel my answers are adequate. I felt this need to go into a greater dialog. This reminds of this “dissertation” of sorts that I wrote about the Irish struggle for independence from the British. The book emphasized great meaning to the Irish people learning the language. It creates identity. And bond. And as descendants of Africans, we know the language is the first thing to go when an oppressor is seeking to subdue a people. So, I spoke about how Black leaders tried to institute Swahili, but it didn’t catch. I wrote about the unfortunate nature of that and how I think it greatly affected our position here in this country. When I get on books like this it instills that kind of feeling in me.

The reality of my life is that I grew up in prison. I came to prison in 1997 at the age of 20. At the time of this writing I am 39, which means in 1 more year I will have spent the equal amount of time inside that I did outside.

Therefore, any experience that I shared with Sami Al Jundi has been that of a prisoner of book coverconscience. While Sami’s motivations were different from mine–his being politically motivated and mine being criminally motivated–we shared one similar thing entering prison: REGRET! I, too, suffered “the nightmares within nightmares” for the decisions I made. And in the same token, while the nightmares continued, “it’s done. I instructed my brain to convince the rest of me. It’s time to turn the page.”

That is often the hardest part about prison and conversion–changing. There is an enlightenment that falls upon a chosen few of us, and once that page is turned there is no turning back. It’s these ties that bind ones like Sami and I. He, as I, realized–“I had the power to determine the size of my universe.”

Then, the most emotional thing that stood out to me was the criticism and aggression that Sami faced as he sought to be a peacemaker. For one who has had the street gang experience, and then grown out of it, I can deeply relate to those that seek to change the ways of their life. I have come to see (personally and educationally) that it usually takes something tragic in one’s life to turn that page. Sami’s was a bomb and prison. Mine was death row. Like Sami, “I came to realize that war is a holocaust for all human beings.”

From our different sides of the world, Sami and I now fight for the beauty that we KNOW resides within humanity, and it is summed up well in the story of Mazdak and Mani:

“Humans have both a dark side and a light side. But they don’t coexist separately, like oil and water; they’re mixed together like water and wine. You can’t distinguish them easily. It is only through our actions that we can hope to free our light. Our responsibility is to behave in ways that will help us find our light. WE HAVE TO SRVE THE LIGHT.”

Martin Luther King Jr. said it best when he said- “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” followed by American lawyer Clarence Darrow– “As long as the world shall last there will be wrong, and if no man objected and no man rebelled, those wrongs would last forever.”

There’s two things the Palestinians and Blacks in America have in common–they are targeted and they are oppressed. Both are a people who struggle for identity and a place to call home without attack. Both are a people who roots in a land and have been repeatedly sought for uprooting.

Such targeting comes with many effects–mentally, physically, and spiritually. For a people to be under constant bombardment can not only alter the natural state of one’s personality, but will also put a people in a state of desperation. These are the pains of wanting to be heard. Therefore, we see the misdirected and tainted actions of suicide bombers in the East and gang violence in the West. However, they are actions that can be changed with the efforts of peace, love and respect.

When those things are lacking, human beings turn from the best that is within them and tap into the worst. In both cases you have a people that face off against entities that seek to subjugate them. And what is more desirable than the pursuit of happiness? For Biblical believers–Muslims, Jews, and Gentiles alike–it’s said from the beginning to “Be fruitful and multiply.” It’s in people’s genetics to want to thrive. And as long as the core of a people’s identity, integrity and dignity is under attacked we shall wallow in the annals of destruction and never prosperity.

There is most definitely a history of organized activities inside U.S. prisoners, unfortunately, it is one that was waned over the years due to token concessions that have been gained inside and outside the walls.

The 60’s and the 70’s gave birth to prison movements as the Black Power and Civil Rights movements were going at full steam. Along with that came cultural education. As concessions grew, the passion for advancing these struggles (culturally and politically) decreased. However, they do still exist across this land. From state to state it may vary, because each state in the U.S. has its own history of oppression and resistance. Therefore, the level of activism and outside support networks differ. But, I feel confident in saying that we have lost the steam that the trendsetters had.

What will always separate the level of struggle between Palestinian and American prisoners is the Palestinian people identify as ONE people; just as the Irish people who founded the IRA did when fighting for independence against the British. Identity is the soul of a people’s struggle. This will always be the greatest ailment for American prisoners, because American prisoners are so multi-cultured, therefore the Rights I seek may not be neighbor’s want/need. Only when the fingers on the hand close into a fist can a  hard blow be struck. Until then any strike will be mediocre at best.

However, there is always the calling to HUMAN Rights. When we move past religion, sexual preferences, etc, we all have a desire, and Right, to be free of abuse and afforded the opportunity to better our lives, be it inside or out. The men of influence inside American prisons are not tapping into that the way Palestinian prisoners did when they held large weekly meetings in the courtyard for all the movements of the PLO. If every prison group focused on the Universal Rights due to us all we would be a force to be reckoned with.

While I don’t know the state of organization currently in prisons for Palestinian political prisoners, I do know that they–like the Irish Republic prisoners–possess the blueprint to righteous struggle and it’s something American prisoners could learn from very much!

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Black Palestinian solidarity, Criminal Justice, Human Rights, Palestine/Israel

Bullet holes and grief

Dear friends,

Today marks 7 years since my dear friend (and Donkeysaddle Projects Project Manager) Amer Shurrab’s brothers were killed by the Israeli military in a military assault in Gaza the army termed “Operation Cast Lead.” Below, is what I wrote for WorldFocus.com after visiting his family in Gaza a few months later:

Bullet holes, grief remain for Gaza family after war (first published in Sept 2009)

 

Abu Absal Shurrab stood in front of his red jeep and waved energetically when he saw me. I walked towards him. “Salaam aleikum!” we greeted each other warmly, and Abu Absal indicated that I should get into the jeep.

My heart stopped momentarily as he stepped out of the way and the vehicle became fully

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Abu Absal stands next to the car that he and his sons were shot in.

visible. The windshield was splattered with bullet holes. This was the car Abu Absal was driving the day he was shot and his sons, Kassab and Ibrahim, were killed.

 

I climbed inside the passenger seat, trying to discreetly count the bullet holes as Abu Absal guided the car onto the road. Twenty that I could see, including the semi-shattered rear-view mirror. Abu Absal noticed my preoccupation.

Kassab was sitting exactly where you are now,” he told me. “Ibrahim was in the back seat, directly behind him. When the shooting started, I shouted for them to crouch down low. But the bullets went through the front of the car. I tried to replace the windshield, but because of the siege, there is no glass available anywhere in Gaza Strip.”

The final days of 2008 and the first weeks of 2009 saw a large-scale Israeli military bombardment and invasion of Gaza Strip. Israel termed the incursion “Operation Cast Lead,” saying it was intended to protect the citizens of the southern community of Sderot, 24 of whom had been killed by Palestinian rocket fire from Gaza over the past eight years.

According to a report released by the Israeli human rights organization B’tselem, 1,387 Palestinians were killed during the 22- day attack, over half of them civilians, including more than 300 children. Several thousand more innocent people were injured, more than 3,000 homes were destroyed and 20,000 were damaged. United Nations schools, clinics and other humanitarian facilities were bombed.

On January 16, 2009, towards the end of the onslaught, I received an email with the horrifying subject line: “Help me save my dad’s life.”

It was from Amer Shurrab. I’d known Amer for 10 years, since he was 14 years old. Amer is from Khan Yunis, Gaza, but had recently graduated from Middlebury College and had just moved to Washington, D.C.

With dread, I opened the email. Amer wrote:

“My father’s car was bombed today, he was in it with two of my brothers. My older brother 27 was killed while my dad 64 and my little brother 17 have been bleeding for over 14 hours and Israeli troops blocking ambulances access. Please contact any media outlets, your congressmen, senators, any international organizations and try to get them help.”

Several hours later, I got another email from Amer with more details about the incident and an update. The morning of the attack, his father and brothers had gone to check on their farm during the daily three-hour humanitarian “ceasefire.” On their way home, his father’s red jeep was bombarded by a hail of bullets from IDF troops who had commandeered a house approximately fifty meters away. Amer’s older brother, Kassab, was shot in the chest and stomach 18 times and died on the spot. His father was shot in the arm and his younger brother, Ibrahim, was shot below the knee.

 

Abu Absal shouted to the soldiers that he and his sons needed medical attention. They shouted back for him to call an ambulance. He did, via cell phone, but was told by the Red Crescent that the Israeli army would not permit them access. Abu Absal managed to contact media and human rights groups, who launched an immediate campaign to pressure the army to allow medical care to reach the wounded civilians. Nearly 24 hours later, the IDF permitted an ambulance to reach Abu Absal and his sons. By then it was too late for Amer’s younger brother. Ibrahim had already bled to death.

 

Abu Absal parked the jeep outside an apartment building in Khan Yunis. “Here’s where we live,” he told me. “Any time you are in Gaza, you should make this your home!” We climbed the steps and entered. Abu Absal introduced me cheerfully to his wife and his two daughters. Heaviness and grief was palpable in the home, especially in the eyes of Amer’s mother and sisters. Nevertheless, Abu Absal was determined that my visit be an occasion for happiness. He instructed me to sit in an easy chair, next to his.

“We must speak of many things!” Abu Absal said brightly. “Your visit is like a breeze of fresh air to the family. Only…” He leaned towards me and adopted the tone of a fatherly scolding. “You are not staying long enough! So early tomorrow morning we will visit the farm, before you have to return to Gaza City!”

“Do you go to the farm often?” I asked his university-aged daughter, hoping to engage her in the conversation. “Not really,” she replied, barely making eye contact.

“The girls no longer like the farm,” Abu Absal explained. “They blame the farm for the death of their brothers. After all, if we hadn’t gone that morning…” He didn’t complete the sentence.

The sun was just beginning to rise the next morning when Abu Absal and I climbed back into his battered jeep. The sandy roads of Khan Yunis were bathed in golden light and early morning silence. We turned off the main road after passing the European Hospital. Less than a minute later, we approached an intersection. Abu Absal slowed down. “This was where they were killed,” he said. “You see that brown house?” he pointed. “That’s where the soldiers shot from. I didn’t know they were there. If I had known, I could have taken another route…”

Amer had told me how close the hospital was to the scene of the killings, but seeing it for myself felt like a punch in my gut. Kassab could not have been helped, but Abu Absal and Ibrahim, even with their injuries, could have made it there, walking or crawling or both. But the soldiers had threatened to shoot them if they moved.

Ten minutes later, Abu Absal was giving me a tour of the farm, pointing out with love and devotion each fig and citrus tree, every pepper, the collection of bee hives. From the window of the elevated farm house, he asked me if I could see the fence and the military tower in the distance. I could. “That’s the border with Israel,” he told me. “I watched dozens of tanks roll into Gaza from there. I must guard the farm every day to make sure no one uses it to launch rockets. I don’t want the Israelis to have any excuse to destroy my farm.”

The destruction was not always related to rocket fire. The day before, I had filmed the remains of a school bombed by fighter jets, a clinic that had been shelled and a residential neighborhood reduced to rubble. I had also seen a mosque sprayed with bullets from a recent shootout between Hamas and an Islamic militant group. But in the midst of this destruction, I also witnessed resilience and ingenuity. I saw tent-dwellers whose homes were destroyed tap into a main power line, providing their families with electricity. I watched a youth soccer tournament and broke the Ramadan fast with families at sundown. Though people were going about their daily lives, loss and pain in Gaza still run very deep.

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Abu Absal shows off his farm

Abu Absal tenderly showed me his baby eggplants nestled in rich soil. He offered me a ripe pomegranate dangling temptingly off a tree. A warm light glowed in his eyes.

“Your farm is beautiful,” I said, hoping my appreciation would further boost his spirits.

A cloud passed over Abu Absal’s face. He fingered the rubbery leaves of his olive tree silently. Finally he spoke, echoing, it seemed to me, the sentiment of thousands of Gazan civilians. Those who lost loved ones, their homes, their schools. Those who saw crushed in front of their eyes whatever hope they still nurtured, whatever shards of a normal life they had managed to preserve throughout decades of occupation and years of escalating violence.

 

“It is very beautiful here indeed. But the beauty means nothing since my sons are gone.”

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Filed under Gaza, Human Rights, Palestine/Israel, Uncategorized

Waging life in a war zone: art as resistance in Gaza

“[My art] is community resistance and political resistance—resistance by insisting on life.”  Thus says Gazan theatre artist Ali Abu Yassin in my new piece for Yes! Magazine, looking at art as a powerful form of resistance in Gaza. An excerpt of the article is below and the full article can be read here.

Mohammed al-Saedi leads me through the densely populated Gaza City neighborhood of al-Zaitoun. Walls are painted in blues and pinks, with wooden shutters of purple and yellow. Plants are potted in colorful buckets at each corner.

“Color and flowers give the human positive energy, relax him, and provide much-needed comfort to the soul, heart, and mind,” says al-Saedi, a slender man of 57, wearing a paint-splattered shirt.

The initial idea had been small in scope: to beautify his home with flowers and paint. But neighbors took notice and encouraged al-Saedi to spread the beauty. Some donated funds, others labor or ideas. Abu Adnan Nayef was experienced with wood and iron and offered to partner with al-Saedi. “Our idea became bigger: to make all Gaza Strip as beautiful as possible.”

Nayef points to an overhead lattice with colorful bucket planters and lanterns dangling from hooks. “These are broomsticks. Don’t be surprised! We make beautiful things with simple materials.” Tires, wood, iron—all are salvaged and recycled to adorn al-Zaitoun.

“Paintings and flowers are psychological treatments to reduce the severity and pain of poverty. It brings self-reliance,” al-Saedi says. They believe the beautification project helps lessen the pain in Gaza from wars, siege, and destruction, especially for children.

Throughout Gaza Strip, painters, photographers, theater artists, musicians, and filmmakers are using their art not just as a form of therapy, but also as a tool of resistance.  (Read the rest of the article here!)

Colorful7

Al-Saedi and Nayef beautify their Gaza City neighborhood of Al-Zaitoun

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Call to Action: Witness Bahrain and There Is A Field

Dear friends and supporters,

The coming months bring two important anniversaries.

February 14 is the 5-year anniversary of Bahrain’s uprising, when hundreds of thousands of Bahrainis took to the streets calling for democracy and human rights in Bahrain–and were met by violent repression from the Bahraini regime, repression which continues until today.

March 30 is the 40-year anniversary of Land Day, an annual commemoration of land dispossession and the killings of Palestinian citizens of Israel in 1976.

Donkeysaddle Projects is inviting you to participate in global actions to mark both events!

FEBRUARY: Host a screening of our new award-winning film, WITNESS BAHRAIN!Witness Bahrain Poster LoRes

MARCH: Participate in the Land Day Tour of our new play, THERE IS A FIELD, by organizing a performance, rehearsed reading, or “living room reading” of the play!

More information on WITNESS BAHRAIN can be found here, and information about organizing a screening can be found here.

TIAF one-pageMore information on THERE IS A FIELD can be found here, and information on organizing a performance or reading can be found here.
Or–email Jen Marlowe for more information on both initiatives!

Looking forward to your participation in marking these two significant anniversaries, and in organizing events that support human rights and equality!

And–ways to help support both initiatives, along with all our work at Donkeysaddle Projects, can be found here!

In solidarity,
Jen Marlowe
Director, Witness Bahrain
Playwright/Producer, There Is A Field
Founder, Donkeysaddle Projects

 

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Safeguarding our children

This summer, the day after baby Ali Dawabsheh was burned to death in the West Bank village of Duma, I met Eman Dawabsheh, her husband and their 5 precious boys. Their home, which neighbored Ali’s home, had also whose been firebombed by Israeli settlers and was burned. Fortunately, Eman and her family were not at home. I returned to Duma several times while in Palestine to visit Eman and her boys, spending the night on one occasion and enjoying the warmth and humor of her children. Warmth and humor and children who might have suffered the same fate as Ali, his parents (who later died from their injuries) and his 3-year old brother Ahmed.

I hope you will take a moment an op-ed that Eman wrote about what she and the other residents of Duma need first and foremost: protection for their children–protection they still do not have, despite the recent indictments of the perpetartors.

After extremist settlers killed my neighbors in a West Bank arson attack, we still can’t get the one thing we want from the Israeli military: Protection

By Eman Dawabsheh

In the early hours of July 31, my husband, Mamoun, received a phone call from his brother: Our home in the West Bank village of Duma was on fire. Mamoun and I jumped in our car and drove from Nablus (where we had been spending the night with our five children) to Duma, where we found the first floor of our two-story house entirely decimated by fire.  Our neighbor’s house (Sa’ad and Reham Dawabsheh, distant relatives and close friends) had also been burned. Hebrew graffiti on our walls reading “The Messiah King lives” and “Revenge” indicated that the fire had been set by extremist Israeli settlers.

My immediate family was lucky: We were not at home when the settlers doused the two houses in flammable liquid and threw Molotov cocktails inside. Tragically, Sa’ad, Reham and their two children (18-month-old Ali and 4-year-old Ahmed) were home. By the time Mamoun and I reached Duma, Sa’ad, Reham and Ahmed had been pulled from the blaze, but neighbors were still searching for toddler Ali. His tiny, charred corpse was located in the house soon thereafter.

Read the rest HERE.

Bedroom where firebomb was thrown

A man from Duma peeks into the bedroom in which toddler Ali Dawabsheh was burned to death

 

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Set the Stage for Justice!

Dear friends and supporters,

You make possible all that we do at Donkeysaddle Projects—and we cannot thank you enough.

In 2015, you supported the premiere of our documentary film Witness Bahrain at the Seattle Transmedia & Independent Film Festival (where it won the Audience Award, with later screenings on Capitol Hill in DC and at Seattle’s Arab Festival); you helped us report from the ground in Palestine/Israel, producing several short videos and feature pieces in The Nation, AlJazeera America, TomDispatch, +972Mag, Mondoweiss, and Yes! Magazine; and you supported our ongoing efforts to expose the violence of the death penalty and its connection to all forms of state violence, including police killings.

Amer Jen Nada

Witness Bahrain won the Audience Award at the Seattle Transmedia & Independent Film Festival

The past year has brought into stark relief the interconnection between universal struggles for liberation and equality–in Palestine, in the U.S. and beyond. 

For that reason, we are asking your support to set the stage for justice in 2016, as we produce a college/university tour of our new documentary-style play, There Is A Field

Based on interviews and primary sources collected over fourteen years, There Is A Field is a story of how a Palestinian family journeys through grief after the Israeli police killed their teenage son, Aseel. While offering an intimate view into the racism and violence faced by Palestinian citizens of Israel, the play transcends any particular time or place to reflect on oppressions in Israel/Palestine, the United States, and around the world.

We are working with a growing coalition of organizations to steer the tour of the play; including Adalah, 50 Shades of Black, Students for Justice in Palestine, Dream Defenders, Jewish Voice for Peace, the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, and Code Pink.

The play emerges at a critical juncture of not only escalating state violence, but also unprecedented mobilization for the rights of Palestinians, for Black-Palestinian solidarity, and for transnational movement-building.

from ferguson to palestine

The story of Aseel’s life and murder accentuates the stark similarities between entrenched inequality and impunity, both in the State of Israel and in the U.S., and contributes to the vital and growing national conversation around the systematic devaluation of Black life in the United States. Through the performance and post-play discussions, audience members will grapple with unequal systems of justice, and together consider ways to strengthen intersectional movements for social transformation.

Your donation today will allow There Is A Field to travel to 20 universities in the United States this spring (including several Historically Black Colleges and Universities) and will enable us to end the tour with three days of performances and workshops in the St Louis area, culminating in a performance in Ferguson, MO.

Please support donkeysaddle projects with a contribution that feels meaningful to you this year. Just click here to make a tax-deductible one-time (or monthly) donation, or click here for information on sending a check!  

In doing so, you will be supporting a vision of the world in which every person’s humanity and rights is equally respected and equally protected.

Towards justice, freedom and equality,
Jen Marlowe & Amer Shurrab
Donkeysaddle Projects

www.donkeysaddle.org

derry, north of ireland1

Witness Bahrain won the Audience Award at the Seattle Transmedia & Independent Film Festival

[Donkeysaddle Projects is a sponsored project of Fractured Atlas, a non-profit arts service organization. Contributions for the charitable purposes of Donkeysaddle Projects must be made payable to Fractured Atlas and are tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law.}

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Filed under Asel Asleh, Human Rights, Palestine/Israel, Uncategorized

There Is A Field

October 2, 2015

Fifteen years ago today, I got an early morning phone call.  It was Adam Shapiro, my boss at the Seeds of Peace Center in Jerusalem.

“Aseel was killed this morning.”

Aseel.  Aseel Asleh, 17-years old, Palestinian citizen of Israel, star participant of Seeds of Peace.  What happened?  I almost didn’t ask, it felt like a stupid question.  The Second Intifada had just erupted, the whole region was engulfed in violence, what did I think happened?  But was he at a demonstration?  Was he shot accidentally?  What were the specifics?  Aseel was dead?  Impossible.  How?  Aseel?

Adam didn’t know the details yet. He didn’t yet know that Aseel had been standing on the outskirts of a demonstration outside his village of Arrabeh in the Galilee, when two police officers chased him for no discernible reason. Adam hadn’t yet learned that one of the officers hit our young friend in the back with a rifle butt, and that Aseel stumbled and fell face first in the olive grove. He couldn’t yet tell me that Aseel’s parents (who had gone to the demonstration to bring him home) saw all this, but then could see no more because the olive trees were blocking their view. They could, however, hear the shot. The doctor who later examined his body said the bullet wound suggested that Aseel had been shot point blank in the back of his neck.

But Adam didn’t know any of that yet. All he knew–all he could tell me–was that Aseel had been shot and killed.

I hung up the phone and sat on my couch.  I didn’t know what to do.  What do you do when you find out that a kid you love was killed?  What’s the proper thing to do?  I had just made coffee and it was sitting on the table in front of me.  All I remember thinking: Do I still drink the coffee? What do I do?

I realize now that I was in deep shock that morning.  Yet, the question of “What do I do?” has stayed with me the past 15 years. It took root as I watched Aseel’s family and friends deal with their grief and traumatic loss. It grew as I realized that the events of October 2000, in which 12 Palestinian citizens of Israel were killed, were a collective trauma that sent deep and reverberating shock waves through the entire community.  It pushed me when it became evident that there would be no justice for Aseel, or for the other martyrs of October 2000.

Making sure that Aseel’s story is told, impacting and educating others: This is what I can do.

And I invite you to do it with me.

For the past six months, I have been further developing There Is A Field, a documentary-style play I wrote, based on years of interviews with Aseel’s family, emails that Aseel left behind, court transcripts, and other sources.

In March 2016, There Is A Field will tour to up to 15 U.S. colleges and universities, culminating in a short run in New York City.  In each campus we visit, the play will be a tool of advocacy and activism. If we’re able to raise enough funds, we will expand the tour even further.

As we confront brutality, state violence, systemic injustice and oppression here in the U.S. and in many parts of the world, I know many of us continue to struggle with the question of “what do I do?”

I hope you will choose, as part of your response, to support There Is A Field, so that Aseel’s story can continue to impact, to educate, and to challenge. So that Aseel’s story can support efforts to build a world where inequality, racism, state murder and injustice have no place.

Please click here to learn more about There Is A Field, and how to support the play.

With love for my friend, and for every young person we have collectively lost,

Jen Marlowe
Playwright/Producer, There is a Field

Aseel Asleh, age 16

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