Actress performs ‘I Heart Hamas’ at Pitt

By Amy Friedenberger

Jennifer Jajeh does not consider herself only a Palestinian. She also identifies as an American,… Jennifer Jajeh does not consider herself only a Palestinian. She also identifies as an American, a single woman, an actress, a Christian, a San Francisco native and a scotch drinker.

The filmmaker put that identity to the test yesterday afternoon in the Frick Fine Arts Building, where Pitt’s Students for Justice in Palestine hosted the one-woman play “I Heart Hamas: And Other Things I’m Afraid to Tell You.”

Jajeh played multiple roles in the hour-and-a-half tragicomedy. While the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict served as a backdrop for her poignant tale, Jajeh said the main point of her performance was to highlight the difficulties Palestinian-Americans can face in developing a strong personal identity.

It was a message many in the 100-member audience took to heart.

“Students for Justice in Palestine has always focused on a more academically driven perspective, so this was a chance to present the issue in a more artistic manner,” said Jonas Moffat, an active SJP member.

During the play, Jajeh, now in her late 20s, took the audience on an autobiographical journey from the United States to her parents’ hometown of Ramallah, located in the West Bank.

She asked the audience to consider the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from a Palestinian perspective. s

Jajeh’s struggle with finding her identity reaches as far back as the fifth grade.When her teacher asked students to do a group project researching the origins of their heritage, Jajeh was put into the Ireland group because she was the only Palestinian-American in the class.

Jajeh said her play was meant to give a representation of her experience and not the politically correct version that recounts both sides.

Representatives from Panthers for Israel and the Pittsburgh Israel Public Affairs Committee attended the event to represent the Israeli side of the issue, passing out literature and fliers before the show.

“I thought it was a bit one-sided, but that’s to be expected,” Panthers for Israel President Sam Mellitz said. “But it’s her story, so it’s her side.”

Mellitz found the presentation to be slightly skewed because Jajeh’s trip to Ramallah, which she recounted during the play, occurred during a time referred to as the Second Intifada, a period of intensified Palestinian-Israeli violence starting in late 2000.

In one of a number of emotional scenes, Jajeh recounted the death of a young Palestinian boy.

Pittsburgh Israel Public Affairs Committee President Samantha Vinokor, who also attended the event, said the play was controversial because Jajeh made generalizations and glossed over information, such as the purpose of Israeli checkpoints.

“Checkpoints are not a bunch of Israeli soldiers blocking off dates and fun,” Vinokor said. “The purpose of checkpoints is to cut down on suicide bombings.”

The Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs provides statistics saying suicide attacks have declined as a result of checkpoints.

A question-and-answer session followed the play. One of the issues discussed involved the play’s controversial title, “I Heart Hamas.”

The Council on Foreign Relations defines Hamas as “the largest and most influential Palestinian militant movement.” Its founding charter calls for the destruction of Israel and the establishment of an Islamic state.

Moffat said that members of Pitt’s Students for Justice in Palestine do not necessarily share one single view on the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but that they do not associate themselves with Hamas.

Jajeh said she does not stand behind the motives of Hamas, but she wanted the title to serve as a symbol.

“How does someone get so broken down that they resort to violence?” Jajeh asked.