Learning to laugh again in Gaza

Learning to laugh again in Gaza
3 min read
27 April, 2015
Feature: Five Palestinians have formed a stand-up comedy group to tackle important social and political issues in the strip, reports Rana Abdallah.
A group of comedians are trying to bring some laughs to Gaza [Abdallah]

The Arab proverb, "you cannot give what you do not have" has provoked five young Gazans to form "Bs Ya Zalama", a stand-up comedy band. In doing so, they have brought comedy to war-torn and impoverished Gaza.

The group's members are Thaer Mounir, the director and producer, and four actors - Mahmoud Zuaiter, Hesham Adnan, Ibrahim Khalil, and Ahmed Assi.

Performances have tackled about 70 topics including slang, sexual harassment, love, shopping, child labour, education, war, selfies, and exams.

Karam Salem, a 22-year-old student from Gaza, has been a fan for about six months. He likes the group because of the funny way it addresses negative social behaviour. "The best is the child labour and school episode. It is realistic and it proposes unique solutions," he argues.

The idea began in 2009 when Thaer met Mahmoud at college. They both had a passion for stand-up comedy, and decided to start a band - perportedly the first of its kind in the Palestinian territories.

"I used to watch stand-up comedians on YouTube, which motivated me to introduce this artform to people in Palestine, especially Gaza," said Thaer. 

Ibrahim and Hesham soon joined the group, and more recently Ahmed joined. Initially they faced many problems, especially due to money and facilities.

     Gaza has much to offer - from art to love, and success.

The band members had no income, but they were supported by their families. Mahmoud's family let them use an empty apartment in their house in Dier Al Balah in the Gaza Strip. 

The unpainted concrete rooms of the unfinished apartment on the third floor became their workplace. They would sit together there to discuss the social attitudes and practices they wanted to address in their work. 

Their families helped them buy the equipment they needed including a camera, computer, light projectors, and a sound system. Thaer's mother gave her son the money she had saved to give him as dowry for his future bride.

The group bought some equipment and rented the rest. They made their first stand-up episode about Gazan slang expressions. It was a big hit and their first step towards fame.

Maha Abu Alkass, a journalist who played an important role in publicising the group, said: "I report on the band because it tackles important social, political, religious, and economical subjects."

They were soon approached by Palestinian TV to present a series of 30 episodes during Ramadan. This allowed them to rent an apartment in the middle of Gaza city.

However, they still faced obstacles: the Israeli siege, the power cuts, and more recently the war in which both Hesham and Mahmoud lost members of their family. Mahmoud's family home was also destroyed.

"Although we only had power for three to four hours a day during the war, we still managed to prepare the episode A Message to Israel. Only two of us could go to the studio, but the others helped from home," said Hesham. 

During our interview, the group spoke optimistically about their aspirations for a better future. They are preparing episodes for broadcast in summer 2015 on Palestine TV, radio, and an Arabic satellite channel broadcasting from London.

They believe they have set a role-model for the Palestinian youth and the world.

"We have shown Gazans can still follow their dreams. Gaza has much to offer - from art to love, and success."