Camp Shatila - A Writer's Chronicle

Shatila is a Palestinian refugee camp in outer Beirut. It does not appear on maps, and many Beirut residents do not even know it exists, let alone go there. Yet it is home to 17,000 people – some of them Palestinians whose families have lived there for several generations, some of them Lebanese drawn by the low coast of living – crammed into an area the size of a cricket field.

In 1982 Shatila, and the neighbouring Sabra camp, were the scene of a massacre, when up to 3,000 people were killed.

Peter Mortimer lived two months in Shatila, towards the end of 2008. During his time on camp he created a children’s drama group at the Shatila school, and adapted one of his own fables, Croak The King & a Change in the Weather into a 30-minute theatre piece, incorporating dance, music, and mime.

Despite having only the basic grasp of the language, the children performed the play in English. It was performed twice to camp residents on the writer’s final day – and in September 2009 the same production came to the North-East.

Peter’s book about his time in Beirut, Camp Shatila: A Writer’s Chronicle is published by Five Leaves Publications (October 2009), and can be ordered from Inpress.

Read an extract from Camp Shatlia: A Writer’s Chronicle

In February 12th 2011, Peter Mortimer returned to Beirut with a six strong production team, for a visit which he describes as “tiring, maddening, but exhilarating. It culminated in the production at East Beirut’s Théâtre Monot of Croak the King & a Change in the Weather, Peter Mortimer’s play with the children Camp Shatila. The Lebanese morning paper The Daily Star found the play “as surprising as it is inventive”; and this is what the British Ambassador to the Republic of Lebanon said about itThe Shatila Theatre Project now has its own website.

The video shows Peter Mortimer on stage at the Théâtre Monot, performing his poem Tsunami, recorded just before the Japanese earthquake made it more timely than ever.

In November 2013, Peter Mortimer visited Lebanon again, and on his return wrote about his visit for Newcastle’s Journal. “I grew excited on this visit,” he says, “by an idea slowly forming of inviting members of the Tyneside Jewish community to some future performance here by the Palestinians.”

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In an editorial, the Journal commented that “Mr Mortimer is a man of optimism and idealism – and there aren’t too many of those in the Middle East. … he is making an effort – and a few more people doing that in the Middle East would be most welcome.”