From left, Nick Caruso, Rithmaka Karunadhara, Salima Terras, Saphire Ensworth and Mayim Feinberg rehearse for “The Gaza Monologues.” Karunadhara’s character delivers a monologue about receiving a 5-minute warning call from the Israeli military to evacuate his home with his family before it is bombed. Mikayla Patel / The Forecaster

“All I know is that we’re living in a cage – a prison – like an encaged bird, who wants to come out but he’s besieged. Kids are dying in front of their mothers’ eyes, hearts are crying for them and screaming in the loudest voice, but no one hears. No one’s heart softens and no one seems to care.”

Cast member Saphire Ensworth, a Casco Bay High School senior, delivers a monologue written by a 16-year-old Palestinian about confronting the death of a friend. Mikayla Patel / The Forecaster

Those words were written in 2010 by then-15-year-old Palestinian Muhammad Qasem at a theater workshop in Palestine for 12- to 18-year-olds. The Ashtar Theater workshop asked participants to write of their experiences in the aftermath of an Israeli military assault in 2009 that left about 1,400 Palestinians, including 300 children, dead.

The workshop resulted in “The Gaza Monologues,” which will be staged Saturday, Feb. 3, at Space in Portland in two sold-out shows. A free performance will be held at Bowdoin College Feb. 10, along with an abridged show at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Brunswick Feb. 18.

The young actors are all students –  four from Casco Bay High School, one from the University of Southern Maine and two from Bowdoin College. They say the decade-old monologues resonate today as the Israel-Hamas war is waged largely in Gaza and it is important to them to humanize the plight of the Palestinians there.

The monologues range from stories of families rushing to evacuate their homes, to losing friends and family members to attempting to make sense of what’s happening and why. Ashtar Theater first performed the show in Ramallah, in the occupied West Bank, and the show has since been translated into dozens of languages and performed around the world.

“The point is to give voice to the kids who wrote those monologues,” said Fateh Azzam, a co-director of the local show and a Palestinian American. It’s about hopes and dreams and frustrations, and some of the monologues question, ‘why does this have to happen to me? Why is it that we have to live in an inferno and a big prison here in Gaza?’”


About half of the student actors in the show haven’t been on stage before, but Azzam said they were morally driven to take action.

Many of them felt they needed to find a way to express their feelings and felt they could not sit at home and do nothing. It’s a way for them to express solidarity,” he said.

The seven young actors’ roots span from Iraq to Syria, Tunisia, Somalia, Sri Lanka and the United States.

“Palestine is very dear to my heart. I’m from Tunisia, and I grew up with this imagery. Every year there would be bombings and dispossession,” said Selima Terras, a Bowdoin College sophomore.

“It’s the bare minimum to ask, but we’re hoping to humanize people,” she said. “Gaza sounds like a statistic to many people, but behind every statistic, there is a story.”

“People don’t understand how terrible it really is,” said Rickey Karunadhara, a Bowdoin sophomore from Sri Lanka. “Sometimes we unconsciously make the value of life so arbitrary, because of things like land, or a sense of superiority.” 


The monologues were written “by real kids, some as young as 12,” USM senior Nick Caruso emphasized. He said that over the last months, all he has been able to think about is Palestine. “I hope people will walk away with a human idea of what is going on and has been for the past 75 years,” he said.

Since Oct. 7, when the Hamas militant group in Gaza launched an attack on southern Israel that killed 1,200 Israelis, the Israeli military has killed at least 26,000 Palestinians, including more than 10,000 children, according to the latest available data from the Gaza Health Ministry. Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor reported last month that in that time, around 25,000 Palestinian children have been orphaned. The United Nations reported last month that around 40% of Gaza’s population was facing starvation from lack of food and aid being allowed to enter the territory, and 85% have been displaced from their homes. About 1,400 Israelis have been killed in the fighting, reports say.

Nadra Hassan, a Casco Bay High School student, said that as a Muslim, it has been particularly painful for her to see the Palestinian death toll constantly rise. “We consider each other brothers and sisters,” she said. “I hope people will feel an entitlement to get involved and spread awareness.”

In the show, she said, “kids are saying things like, ‘I don’t care if I live or die.’ I hope people feel the reality of what’s really going on.”  

Ali Jalil, a Casco Bay High School junior, said participating in the show has helped him channel some of the anger he’s felt witnessing the war and bombardments. Growing up in a Muslim home, he said, “My dad always has the Arabic news on. We see it every day.” But at school, he said, it isn’t talked about.  

Mayim Feinberg, a junior at the high school who uses they/them pronouns, said Jewish and Muslim students attempted to organize a vigil at their school of 400 students, but only 15 showed up. “People just don’t know, so they don’t care,” they said.


Feinberg, who is Jewish, grew up talking about Israel and Palestine at home. “I’ve known about it since I was a little kid,” they said. “People expect Jewish people not to support Palestine, which is the opposite of what makes sense, because we stand for peace.”  

Azzam is a former Senior Fellow at the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy and an expert in international human rights law who was granted U.S. citizenship in 1979.

“I’ve been in a state of rage since the beginning of October with what’s going on in Palestine and Gaza,” he said. He has been attending rallies and writing to his congressional delegation, trying to push for change but “getting absolutely nowhere.”

Even finding a venue for “The Gaza Monologues” was a big challenge, he said.

“For weeks, we put out calls and reached out to people we knew personally,” said Co-Director Nat Warren-White, “and none of them were willing to risk doing this. They were all afraid of what the repercussions might be.”

Warren-White reached out to 10 different theaters, and all of them said no. “It was shocking,” he said.


As a Palestinian American, Azzam said he was less surprised. “I remember sending Nat an email and saying, ‘Welcome to Palestine,'” he said.

Space in Portland agreed to host the show and the Maine Humanities Council came on as a co-presenter. Portland tickets sold out in a day and a half, Azzam said. A second show was posted, which sold out in two days.

The show is not about pitying Palestinian kids, Azzam said. He hopes that people “come away saying that this cannot continue to happen … I want people to come out of the play thinking, ‘this cannot be allowed to be normal anywhere in the world.'”

Free tickets for “The Gaza Monologues” at 7 p.m. Feb. 10 at Bowdoin College will be available starting Saturday at Admission to the 2  p.m. Feb. 18 show at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Brunswick, is free. That performance will be part of “Focus on Palestine,” which will also feature music, poetry and line dancing. Call 307-725-7686 for more information.

This article was updated Feb. 1 to correct the time of the Feb. 18 performance. 

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