An ensemble of Palestinians sing to pass the time in line at an Israeli checkpoint. Photo Credit: Najob Joe Hakim.
Volume 10

Time Interrupted in Hannah Khalil’s Scenes from 71* Years

Israeli soldiers burst into a Palestinian home in the middle of the night, hurling orders for the residents to “stop filming.” A young Palestinian woman skypes her cousin in London and nervously asks if the cousin can send her a used iPhone. A Palestinian militiaman in 1948 trains civilians how to wrap bandages, realizing that his young boy has already seen enough injuries to be an expert. An older Palestinian musician visits his former, confiscated home and meets the current resident, a French immigrant who reports feeling belonging for the first time in his life ever since he moved into the house.

Lawrence Radecker (left) and Kal’el E. Lopez (right) learn first aid in 1948. Photo Credit: Najob Joe Hakim.

These are some of the scenes from Hannah Khalil’s Scenes from 71* Years, which had its U.S. premiere in April 2019 with San Francisco’s Golden Thread Productions. Each scene, rarely longer than 5 minutes, depicts a circumstance between 1948 and the present, introduced by images, videos, and year numbers projected onto a surface resembling a border-wall center stage. The production, directed by University of Oregon professor Michael Malek Najjar, stages Palestinian experiences as spliced, interrupted, and juxtaposed vignettes that make clear how the Occupation attempts to render Palestinians’ time not their own.

Khalil’s structure of multiple short scenes has enjoyed success in contemporary British works like Nick Payne’s Constellations and Caryl Churchill’s Love and Information, which director Michael Najjar cites as a reference point. As with the creators of these other works, Khalil, who is Palestinian-Irish, shares an interest in how digital media and technology affect contemporary experiences of time. As the “stop filming” command in the first scene suggests, video informs the way Palestinians, particularly those in diaspora, experience the Occupation, and documentation provides an opportunity to preserve testimony in the face of erasure. Khalil assembled her first play, Plan D, based on video conversations with Palestinians who survived the creation of Israel in 1948. Scenes from 71* Years similarly draws on Skype interviews, personal conversations, and digital archives, the last of which find their way into Erin Gilley’s ambitious projection design.

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