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“There is a Field”: Bloody Sunday and Black October

30 November 2010 10 Comments

Linda Nash (l) and Jen Marlowe (r)

Jen Marlowe
USA/North of Ireland

“Aseel was sitting under an olive tree…The police ran at full speed in his direction.  Aseel fled towards the olive grove. I saw three policemen reach him…they hit his back with their rifle butts.  He stumbled, took a few steps and collapsed. I couldn’t see his body, because the olive trees were in the way. I heard shots. Your mother called out,  ‘Aseel! Aseel!’ The policemen came out from the olive trees and shouted at the demonstrators,  ‘You can come and get him now.’”

Liam Wray spoke those words on October 30th at the Pilots Row Community Center in Derry, North of Ireland. Liam was participating in a reading of my new play, There is a Field, about the events of October 2000, called Black October by Palestinian citizens of Israel, when 13 Palestinians inside Israel were shot and killed by Israeli security forces. The play tells the story of Aseel Asleh, a 17-year-old peace activist and the youngest of those slain. Liam was playing the role of Hassan, Aseel’s father.

Liam’s description of Aseel’s brutal murder sent a chill through my spine, and not only because I knew and loved Aseel. If he had changed just a few words, Liam could have been describing the murder of his own brother, Jim Wray, who was killed by British Paratroopers on January 30, 1972, the day that became known as “Bloody Sunday.”

The parallels between Bloody Sunday and Black October are striking. 13 unarmed civil rights demonstrators were shot and killed by British Paratroopers in Derry on Bloody Sunday; 13 Palestinian unarmed demonstrators inside Israel were shot and killed by Israeli security forces during Black October. In both cases, the state and the media initially tried to place the blame on the victims, insinuating or flat-out stating that those killed had been the violent ones, that the army and police forces had acted in self-defense. In both Israel and the UK, inadequate state inquiries followed the killings, clearly indicating a lack of political will to hold accountable those responsible.

Pilot’s Row Community Center, Derry

But the connection runs far deeper. It expressed itself in the Bloody Sunday family members who had the courage to read There is a Field to an audience of 50 people in Pilot’s Row Community Center (which was built on the very site where Bloody Sunday took place) during the Global Theatrical Action I had launched to mark the ten-year anniversary of Black October.

Linda Nash, sister of slain Willie Nash, was terrified at the thought of performing in front of an audience.  But, she said, she was honored to take part in the play.  “It breaks my heart, to know another family is going through the same pain we’ve gone through,” she told me. “I felt that Jamila (Aseel’s mother), Baraa (Aseel’s younger brother), Hassan, they were all in the room with us.”

There is a Field is drawn entirely from primary source materials; emails and interviews. Perhaps this gave it the authenticity that the Bloody Sunday family members related to. During the performance, I watched Linda intently. Throughout the performance (aside from when she had to read her lines), Linda was sitting on her chair with her eyes closed. Had she fallen asleep? But then I looked at her hands, gripping her script. Her hands were shaking.

After the performance, Linda told me what had happened. When the play began, it was as if every word spoken caused her to relive her own family’s anguish at losing Willie and the pain of their 38-year struggle to find some measure of justice—a pain that does not subside over time. The wave of emotion that hit her during the performance was so strong, Linda said, that had she not closed her eyes to block some of it off, she would have fallen off her chair.

Liam Wray and Kate Nash, both lost their brothers on Bloody Sunday. Kate played Aseel's mother and Liam played Aseel's father in the reading of "There is a Field."

And what gave her the courage to even get out on the stage at all?

“Usually, when I need strength, I would say, ‘Jesus–walk with me,’” Linda said. “But in this case, I said, ‘Willie and Aseel–walk with me.’”

Liam Wray also spoke to me about a resurgence of strength that his involvement in the play had given him. The British government announced a new inquiry into Bloody Sunday in 1998. The results were finally published this past June. Though the families got some of what they had been fighting for—the names of their loved ones were cleared and an apology for their wrongful killings was offered—there was no prosecution of those responsible for the killings. After 38 grinding years, however, Liam was not sure if he had the strength to go on with the grueling demand for justice. But living the process of the struggle of Aseel’s family renewed his vigor.

“I’ve had a few months to rest,” Liam told me as we prepared to drive to Pilot’s Row for the performance. “I’m ready to continue to fight.”

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10 Comments to ““There is a Field”: Bloody Sunday and Black October”
  1. patricia smith says:

    Extraordinary! Thank you, Jen, for your work telling the story, revealing the murders, and showing the best of the human spirit. Can we get a copy of the play?

  2. jen marlowe says:

    sure, patricia, i’d be happy to share a copy of the play with you. what’s your email address?
    all the best,
    jen marlowe

  3. Linda Nash says:

    Jen thank you so much for allowing this play to be shared with the Bloody Sunday families in Derry, words can NOT explain the spiritual feeling that I felt on the night but as I said ” I was fully aware that Willie, Asel, both families and siblings were in the room with me at the time ” I have felt great courage and peace since then. Jen you need to take this play to the Ballymurphy familes and others who totally understand the injustice of October Cry ( same tragedy, circumstances but different Country ) This is a great play and should be heard throughout the WORLD. These were real people with a future and families that loved them dearly and should NEVER be forgotten. Jen hope to see you in January and take care. I will NEVER forget Asel and the other families that endure the great loss of their loved ones.. Remembered Always.. Linda Nash

  4. Naomi Williams says:

    I’m so moved both by the story & by Ms. Nash’s comments above. Jen, kudos to you for your work on this, and to everyone in Derry who participated in this reading.

  5. Susie says:

    It was incredibly moving to see the play in Seattle even without experiencing this astounding parallel with Bloody Sunday. I can’t imagine how powerful and inspiring this must have been. Thanks, Jen!

  6. Noa says:

    Thank you Jen for writing the play and enabling friends of Asel and supporters to participate in many ways.

  7. Felice says:

    Thanks Jen for posting this article (and of course, writing the play). The effort to hold any government accountable is incredibly frustrating. But we can’t let these deeds be forgotten.

  8. Janet says:

    Thank you Jen for enabling so many people not only hear this story, but participate in it. I am struck again by the universality of the story (of loss and suffering, and injustice) and also by the specific, and how the specific is often more universal than one might initially think.

  9. Florence says:

    How will they know unless they are continually told? Thanks Jen for the work you are doing. They say time heals everything. Sometimes there are too many reminders all around us of the painful past- the pain of losing innocent human beings- it never seems to go away.

  10. Shimi Rahim says:

    The testimony from the family of those who were killed on Bloody Sunday about Black October and Aseel’s family is poignant and yet somehow inspiring. The families of these survivors share the human experience of tragedy and loss and demonstrate that it can still bring us together and, with conduits such as Jen Marlowe’s play, move us towards greater understanding and peace. Thank you, Jen, for your work.

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