The Brooklyn Rail

FEB 2011

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FEB 2011 Issue

An Excerpt From An Attempt to Understand My Socio-Political Disposition Through Artistic Research on Personal Identity in Relationship to the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict, Part One

…I am very happy to be here. Thank you for coming tonight. It’s really nice to see all of you here. Thank you.

Tarek Halaby. Photo by Kimba Kuzas.
Tarek Halaby. Photo by Kimba Kuzas.

I like you New Yorkers. You know why? Because you’re all really intense. I love that about you! I’ve never been in a city where people do so much in one day. It’s like you’re all in a race! You’re in a race to wake up the earliest, to drink as much coffee as you can, to see who can work the most jobs and have the longest hours, take the most trains possible, then you’re running to yoga class, running to meet people for dinner, then you go see a performance, watch a movie, text message, and send about 20 million emails, you do all of that while listening to your iPod and you then still manage to get some sleep at night. It’s incredible!

This is what life is like for me in Brussels: I wake up whenever I want and I’m like, “Oh my God, what am I going to do? I have soooo muuch tiiime. I guess I’ll meet someone for a coffee at 4 p.m. in the center. But ugh, it takes like 15 minutes to get there by tram, so maybe I won’t….” And that’s it. That’s pretty much my day.

But the energy here is so amazing. And people get really addicted to it. I always love it when someone from Brussels comes to New York for the first time because they always come back to Brussels totally cracked out. Running around wanting to do a million things, constantly laughing and screaming, “Oh my God, I love it! Shut up! No, shut up! Do you like what I’m wearing? I bought it in New York! Aerobics! AAAh! Don’t you just love it! I took a Zumba class! Oh my God, I loved it! New YOOORk!” While the rest of Belgium is like (droopy Belgian face). It’s so great to see!

I have been living in Belgium for six-and-a-half years now. By now you’d think I speak French real well. But I don’t. And I work through the Flemish community, so you would think that I also speak Flemish or Dutch…I don’t speak that either…And I admit I don’t feel so bad about it because I didn’t come to Belgium to learn languages. I came to dance and try making work. So, that’s what I’ve been doing. But unfortunately it’s been a complete disaster since I arrived. And it kind of started with this piece. This was a solo project that I wanted to do. A dance solo. And it didn’t, it just never happened. I couldn’t make it, I didn’t know how to make it.

I realized I had no idea what I was doing. I didn’t know where to start from. So then I ended up spending most of the time just sitting in the studio by myself, kind of frozen and confused or lost. Pause. Kind of like that. Just not knowing what to do.

And, well, I don’t know, but I guess that confusion had a lot to do with my own confusion about my identity, my Palestinian identity. Because I don’t feel very grounded in it. I wasn’t born in Palestine, I haven’t grown up experiencing the things that Palestinians have lived through. I mean I don’t even really, I don’t speak that much Arabic. Just a few words like sharmouta, which means bitch or whore.

But I don’t want to sit up here and cry about it. Because then it makes me feel like I’m another pathetic Palestinian crying about his situation. And I don’t want that. I don’t like that image. So, instead, I’m just going to share with you some of the ideas that I had behind what I wanted to be a dance piece. And I guess along the way explain why it didn’t happen.

One of the first ideas I had was to use pictures, photographs. And to project them. You know, against the back wall, on a screen whatever, like a slide show through a projector. Pictures of Palestine. Right. Pictures of the people, pictures of the land. Pre-1948, before it became Israel. Pictures of cities, and towns, villages. Pictures of the wars in 1948 and 1967. Pictures of the intifada resistance movements. Pictures of refugee camps. Pictures of the walls that have been built. Pictures of all the checkpoints. Pictures of today and how everything has changed for the Palestinians.

Because I get the feeling that most people don’t know, they just don’t know. They don’t know what Palestine was pre-1948, they don’t know what’s happened to the Palestinians over the years and they don’t know the conditions they are living in today. And that’s something you can’t fully comprehend unless you see it with your own eyes. And I didn’t even know. It’s not something that was spoken about in my family. I didn’t really know anything until I actively looked into it. I went and visited refugee camps. And I saw how intense it is. I interviewed people, I spoke with them, I read a lot, I listened to their stories. I saw the disgusting conditions the Palestinian refugees live in. And that’s not something you can just walk away from and forget about. The opposite effect happens actually. You walk away wanting to tell everybody in the world what you’ve witnessed because you can’t believe it. You can’t believe that this is going on, that it’s being allowed to happen.

I went to a Catholic grade school in Chicago and there I was known as Mr. Nice Guy. I even won an award for being the nicest kid in school one time. No, really, I did. And I hated it. I hated it because it made me feel like I could never do anything wrong. And there were times where I would get upset and I’d want to do something like shove a bomb up somebody’s ass and blow them up, because that’s what Palestinians are good at, right? Blowing things up. Hm?

But I never did, I mean I never did anything because I was scared. Scared of the nuns. I mean if you think Palestinians are scary, try going to a school run by nuns. It’s horrifying.

But over the years I realized that school was the perfect place for me. People don’t think about it, but it’s the perfect place to cover up terrorist activities. Take me, for example, going to the P.A.R.T.S. program in Brussels. It actually had nothing to do with my interest in dance. No. I was sent as an undercover agent for Hamas. Well, I don’t work directly for Hamas, I work for a subdivision of Hamas that calls itself Hummous and I know it’s silly. I laughed the first time I heard their name, too. They actually serve hummous and falafel at their meetings, which is great.

Anyway, the whole idea behind Hummous is to promote Palestine through food and cultural events. Which is cool, I’m totally into that. But I didn’t know that at first. So they got in touch with me and they said, “Hey, we’d like you to be a part of a new experimental group that we’re starting up called the Suicide Performers.” And I got a little scared because the first thing that ran through my mind was that I was going to have to come up on stage and blow myself up in the name of Palestine. But they reassured me that that wasn’t the case.

So I went to a meeting and immediately they put on some music. Just standard Arabic music with a basic beat. So I thought, “Okay, cool, maybe we’re going to learn some Dabke,” which is a traditional Palestinian folk dance. Or maybe some belly dancers were going to come out and entertain us.

But then, all of a sudden, this guy starts rapping in Arabic, which I had never heard before in my life. And of course I didn’t understand anything that was being said, but everyone else in the room was grooving to the music. And then the refrain comes on and it was something like “living it up in Palestine, living it up in Palestine…” and I thought, “Living what up in Palestine? Are you guys joking?” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.

Then it comes to the end and it was something like “West Bank in the house, Gaza in the house” and that’s when I just started laughing, it was too much for me. But then they stopped the music and they said, “So, did you like it?” And I was like, “Ya, it was cool.” Then they said, “Okay, great, maybe you could do something like that?” And I asked, “Like what?” “You know, rap.”

And I was like, “Um I don’t really rap.”

“Ya, come on, you can do it, just try, let it flow.”

And I was like, “I really don’t, I don’t know how to rap.”

And they said, “Just stand up, gather yourself together.”

And so I did. I stood up and I just let it come out

And it was something like…

Yo, listen up all you motherfuckers

Cause I got something to preach

Shit’s about to hit the streets

When you see my big fat ass up in action

You’re gonna say, ‘what?’

You can’t help your attraction

But I ain’t givin’ you satisfaction

That’s my dick you’re sucking

Those my balls you’re crushing

And they were like, “Woah woah woah woah. Um, Tarek, I don’t think that’s going to work.” And I was like, “Ya, I don’t think so either.”
So I just quietly left. Relieved, but also really embarrassed. I really thought that was the end of Hummous for me.

But then they called me a few days later and they said, “Okay listen, we have another proposition for you. We’ve heard about this program in Brussels and it’s a dance school.” I said, “Okay dance, that’s a little bit more up my alley, I think I can handle that.” They said, “Okay, it’s called P.A.R.T.S., the Performing Arts Research and Training Studios.” Hummous loved it. They loved the fact that P.A.R.T.S. actually stood for something else. They decided to take it as inspiration for my name actually.

Well, Tarek isn’t really my name; it’s my alias. I’ll just spell it out for you: Tarek, T.A.R.E.K.

It really stands for Terrorist At Rehearsal Every ‘K’—just the letter ‘K.’ We couldn’t think of a good word that started with ‘K.’ But it rhymes with day—like terrorist at rehearsal every day.

But Tared with a ‘D’ is not a name, so we couldn’t go with that.

Anyway, I can tell you guys don’t take me very seriously.

Now, the movement I was working on at one point was really about the strength and the determination of the Palestinian people—for me.

Because despite everything they’ve been through for the past 62 years, they still keep holding on, they still keep fighting for their rights, which are just basic human rights. At this point they just want to be able to live their lives.

So, this is really power to the Palestinian people, for me.

I’ll show you just a little bit of it.


Tarek Halaby

TAREK HALABY is a Palestinian-American dance artist based in Brussels, Belgium. He holds a BFA in dance performance from the University of Iowa as well as a diploma for completing the two-year research cycle at the P.A.R.T.S. conservatory for dance in Brussels. Tarek creates his own work and performs in the works of others, most recently Miguel Gutierrez (NYC), Salva Sanchis (Brussels), and Zimmermann & de Perrot (Zurich).


The Brooklyn Rail

FEB 2011

All Issues