R3TURN Artistic Statement
R3TURN: A Palestinian Punk Musical is the magical, comedic, and rocking dream of a free Palestine.
The piece depicts not only Palestinian suffering on behalf of Israeli state violence but also Palestinian liberation efforts, Palestinian joy, and the opportunity for magic in Palestine. R3TURN was developed and produced by the Theater Department, Music Department, and Honors Program at Swarthmore College, premiering to back-to-back-to-back sold out audiences at the Frear Ensemble Theater in April, 2022.
Although I didn't know it at the time, I can vividly remember drawing up the blueprints for R3TURN. Sitting in an airport terminal years before a worldwide pandemic would restrict travel, I reflected on Gabriel Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude.
Marquez had seamlessly depicted very real sociopolitical injustices in Latin America through a magical world completely unlike our own. I could only dream of devising similar narratives to communicate Palestinians’ 70 year long resistance to colonial violence.
Repurposing the novel's vision in a Palestinian context felt natural given the prominence of symbols like Handala, a political cartoon by Naji Al-Ali of a ten year old Palestinian refugee who will not age until returning to his homeland.
What similar mysticism, I wondered, could further represent the ongoing theft of Palestinian land, the mass expulsion of over 700,000 Palestinians from their homes during the Nakba in 1948, and the Israeli state's continuing brutalization of Palestinians? (Funded in large part by American tax dollars, I might add...)
And so, in an overpriced notebook I bought in the airport just moments earlier, I jotted down a character named Im Ikhtifa' ("The Mother of Disappearance") whose body was connected to Palestine and whose limbs would consequently disappear in tandem with zionists' theft and mistreatment of Palestinian land.
Years later, as I brainstormed my Honors Thesis in Music and Theater Composition at Swarthmore College, Palestine and Im Ikhtifa' continued to disappear. Now, however, I imagined a new supernatural interpretation of the Palestinian liberation struggle; I imagined a solution.
What if there were a supernatural cave allowing Palestinians unrestricted travel throughout their ancestral homeland? This would be a way to cross the Israeli checkpoints and apartheid wall that restrict Palestinians' daily freedom of movement in the West Bank. Such naturally endowed liberation would allow for a self-instituted right of return and the inevitability of a single, secular state with equal rights for all in the region. Now this was something I could keep writing about... And I did.
Naturally, a poetic punk score came to accompany this revolutionary plot. Given the growing solidarity between Black power movements in the U.S. and Palestinian liberation activists, what better musical genre for the piece than Black-pioneered rock music with a storied history of usage in protest?
Less than a month after formally starting to write R3TURN, six Palestinian prisoners escaped from a maximum security holding center through a cave. Perhaps my Marquez-inspired, punk musical wasn't so far removed from reality after all...
Despite the eventual recapture of these escapees, their brave act of self-liberation motivated me to keep writing and motivated so many others to keep dreaming of a free Palestine, from the river to the sea. I hope that this piece will inspire the same.
R3TURN is the magical, comedic, and rocking product of those same dreams.