On Sept. 30, a group of students silently stood in front of the dining hall in solidarity with the Amman protests against the the Jordan-Israel gas deal. The students stood in a line about two feet apart, with enough distance for people to easily pass through. Each wore a medical mask covering the lower half of their faces. They stood like this for three hours, from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m., which coincided with the dining hall's lunch hours. For the entire duration, between seven and twelve students remained in utter silence, except for a chant every fifteen minutes: “Blood is thicker than gas.” The chant was repeated four times, shouted once by senior Rita Akroush, and then repeated by the rest of the group. For those with questions about the performance, the students provided a short handout that gave contextualizing information on the Jordan-Israel Gas Deal.
The organizers stated that the event this was a durational performance. The UAE has laws
that restrict certain forms of political assembly. Several organizers asked to be anonymous in their interviews.
The Jordan-Israel Gas deal
is valued at ten billion USD. This is "enough to fund three wars on Gaza ... [and] will contribute to building settlements and funding of the Israeli army." The outrage is directed towards the normalization of relations with Israel.
Asked about the iconography of the performance, an organizer said:
"Since it was a gas deal to me I took [the medical masks] to represent the irony in how gas is necessary to generate electricity for warmth, lighting ... while simultaneously choking us because the gas itself finances the apartheid and genocidal regime of the Israeli government, which systematically alienates, abuses and kills our own people. To me it represents a rejection of inhaling gas which is produced by an entity that systematically targets my own people."
Senior Rita Akroush, who documented and participated in the performance, reflected on the purpose of the piece.
“We’re looking for a clear and powerful image that would both make us distinct and invite others to join ... We provided extra masks in front of us because we thought that those who are interested in joining can easily indicate their support by silently putting on a mask, which some people actually did," shared Akroush. The number of minutes in silence equals the number of years the deal will last if brought to fruition.
While I did not participate, I watched for nearly an hour. During this time, I was approached by campus security twice. They asked me whether the students were protesting. I responded by saying that the students were participating in a performance and not a protest. The guard asked me to state whether this was a protest or art, and I confirmed that this was art.
Organizers shared the reactions they received on campus. While no students directly confronted the performers, one of the organizers noted:
"The closest to a negative response I heard was during the event itself from the dining hall; someone was mocking our chants," said one organizer. Senior Sheba Vohra echoed this impression.
"There were certainly people who walked past us and called us weird. And some people just didn't react at all, possibly because they were just uncomfortable about the whole thing. But there was nothing negative," Vohra added. Rita Akroush described the variety of reactions of people passing through the line of performers saying:
"Some people did walk in without caring trying to ignore the fact that we're standing there avoiding eye contact. Others approached the dining hall, stood there for few seconds, smiling, not knowing how to react, then deciding to either walk through us or around us. Meanwhile there were people who seemed absolutely uncomfortable and vocalized that while walking,” said Akroush.
Stephanie Ryan Johnstone, a member of the Yellow Brick Road Student Theater Production creative team, argued that that the student performance action fosters dialogue. An organizer echoed these statements, saying:
"I also hoped that this performance would start a conversation about the gas deal, as well as the issue of the normalization of relations with Israel in general, what does it mean? And what is our role as individuals and students?"
"[The performance feeds] the souls and hearts of Jordanian students by publicly standing in solidarity with their friends and family back home," Johnstone added. An organizer articulated why this performance action was particularly pressing on this campus:
"As “global leaders,” many of us graduate each year and some are received in high positions in government. What I hope to do is make the current situation of Israel-Palestine much more present and urgent such that more people step into the world with it in mind — in order to instigate changes and join movements which end the apartheid regime," wrote the organizer.
Laura Waltje is Arts Reporter. Email her at email@example.com.