Jennifer Jajeh does not heart Hamas. She is barely Palestinian. Her show “I Heart Hamas” is currently established at the Point Hotel. She turns out to be merely another American who is alienated from Middle America. Just as gloomy teenagers become Goths and incandescent young men seek solace in Eminem, the disenchanted American Jennifer is now rocking to Palestine. She has spiced up her marriage to dreary old America by flirting with this glamorous Arab toyboy. She protests on Facebook about Israeli war crimes and she will eventually travel to Palestine in person, more as a statement about her identity than as an act of political solidarity.
Her destination is Ramallah, and Jajeh will introduce this city by explaining how it owes its existence to a teenaged girl. The Haddadins, the Christian founders of Ramallah, were fleeing from the tribal spat which had resulted from their refusal to marry off the family’s teenaged daughter to a Muslim. Still standing in the shadow of this ancestor, Jajeh often sounds distinctly like a teenager. Just as a teenaged Goth will typically bewail how nobody ever understands them, Jajeh finds that her colleagues and acquaintances will assume that she is an oppressed wife or a deranged Jihadist merely on the grounds that she is Palestinian. “Who are you?” America demands, only to look aghast when she tries to explain.
Like any sarcastic teenager, Jajeh is unsparing in mocking the stupidity of America. She notes that for some inexplicable reason, all of the famous Arabs in Hollywood are Lebanese. Since Americans generally categorise the olive-skinned Jajeh as being indiscriminately foreign, she fantasises about passing herself off as Brazilian. Yet the awaiting Palestine proves to be just as unable to accept or understand her. She cannot speak the lingo or submit to how the Palestinians do marriage. When her freedom of movement is compromised in Ramallah and she is so exasperated that she spits on a soldier, the crowd gathering behind her assume that she is Spanish.
Jajeh works or volunteers for an unspecified NGO, monitoring checkpoints as a passive spectator. She ends up in limbo: a detached, cosmopolitan figure who hovers between nations, not wholly belonging anywhere. Why cannot she blithely free herself from nationalism? Why does she remain haunted by her continuing detachment from the nation?
Jajeh’s innocent-abroad comedy is always sweet and pleasant. “I Heart Hamas” is not really theatre; it is rather like exploring somebody’s Facebook profile, browsing their holiday snaps and skimming over the passing comments and slogans. We never get beyond the exhilaration of the surface. “I Heart Hamas” suffers from the inevitable disadvantages of a one-woman show. Jajeh has an irritating habit of clicking inaudibly in the middle of a monologue to convey to the audience that she has changed character. Perhaps Jajeh is too stingy to invest in the four extra actors who would turn “I Heart Hamas” into a play.
Jajeh says virtually nothing about Hamas, but since she is a Catholic, she would probably not find them very approachable. Reconciliation was similarly beyond that founding teenager, who had fled from a Muslim bed. Speaking with both honesty and great care, Jajeh admits that she takes satisfaction when hearing that Israeli soldiers have been murdered by Hamas. In Ramallah, revenge is the nearest that they have to justice. Those on the other side would be equally content if she or her friends were killed. Jajeh can only identify with the Palestinians through this bleak pseudo-tribal commonality. This feeling may be real and true, but it is self-evidently calamitous by itself.
“I Heart Hamas” was written several years ago, the show has not been updated in light of the Arab Spring, and it accordingly seems dated or incomplete. I doubt that many people honestly heart Hamas. The party only swept to power in the Gaza strip as an expression of popular contempt for the profoundly useless Fatah government. Hamas was soon embroiled in a mob war with Fatah, in which suspected collaborators were tortured and killed in true gangster style. If the Palestinians needed somebody like Nelson Mandela, they ended up with a gang of tinpot Al Capones. As an American, Jajeh should understand this.