Palestinian American Amer Zahr is on a mission to heal through humor.
In 2015, he began bringing in Arab-American comedians from the United States to perform in occupied Palestinian cities, including Nablus, Bethlehem and Ramallah. Seven years later, Zahr’s now annual Palestine Comedy Festival is still going strong.
“Laughter is therapy,” he told Reuters after last week’s festival concert in Jerusalem. “We have to show the world that Palestinians love to laugh, we love life, we love art.” Zahr and his line-up of seven other comedians performed at the city’s Dar al-Tifel al-Arabi school, established by a Palestinian educator in 1948 and where organizer Hani Kashou said the 350-ticket event was sold out.
Their jokes ranged from comedic riffs after being interrogated by Israeli border guards to puns resulting from mispronunciations of Arabic by people growing up straddling their twin Palestinian and American identities. Bilal Sharmoug, who closed the show, joked that the reason he was tall was because, growing up, he confused the Arabic word for “bon appetit” – sahtein – with sahnein, which means “two plates”.
Poking fun at the stereotypes of Arab traditions also struck a chord. When comedian Reema Jallaq spoke of being a “shibsheb survivor” – referencing the cliched image of Arab mothers throwing slippers at their children to discipline them – Mei al-Bakri, 14, said she laughed particularly hard.
“That was my favorite joke,” she said as she stood next to her mother. “It was a great show,” said Nihaya Ghoul Awdallah, 70, from Jerusalem. “We thank them so much for bringing a beautiful smile to our faces and allowing us to release our worries, our sadness and the difficult circumstances in which we find ourselves.”
The festival’s first-year lineup included Emmy-nominated Egyptian actor Ramy Youssef and Palestinian American comedian Mo Amer, whose semi-autobiographical Netflix series hit the streaming service last week. This year, the seven actors were Palestinian.
“We bring Palestinians and Arab Americans here to show that our people in America haven’t forgotten where we come from,” said Zahr, who splits his time between Nazareth and Dearborn, Michigan. Zahr performed all five shows this year wearing a black t-shirt emblazoned with the word “press” in tribute to Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, who was killed in an Israeli raid in the occupied West Bank in May.
“If she was here, she would be laughing too,” he said. “Comedy comes from tragedy. Pain and suffering is exactly why we are having this festival.”
(This story has not been edited by the Devdiscourse team and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)