Review: “Tales Of A City By The Sea” by Samah Sabawi – Palestinian Genocide & Palestinian Holocaust In Microcosm

Tales Of A City By The Sea

“Tales Of A City By The Sea” by Gaza-born, Palestinian Australian playwright and poet, Samah Sabawi, is a simple but powerful play about the realities of life and love in the Gaza Concentration Camp that is ruled with an iron fist by Apartheid Israel. However fundamentally the play is about those who have choices and those who do not. Specifically it is about the guilty freedom of exiled Palestinians in the rich West versus the utter impoverishment and disempowerment of Occupied Palestinians highly abusively and indefinitely imprisoned in the Gaza Concentration Camp for the asserted crime of being Indigenous Palestinians.

Samah Sabawi is a passionate  poet and describes herself as  “a Palestinian-Canadian- Australian writer, commentator and playwright”.  Samah Sabawi describes her moral commitment to “Free Palestine” thus: “I travelled the world and lived in its far corners, yet always felt haunted by the violence and injustice perpetrated against the poor, the marginalized, the colonized and stateless. No matter where I was, or how vast the world appeared around me, I always felt as though I remained trapped in my place of birth Gaza. The war torn besieged and isolated strip shaped my understanding of my identity and my humanity. So what else could I do but to indulge in Palestine’s overwhelming presence and to succumb to telling its stories of humanity’s triumphs and tribulations through my art and my poetry” (page 13 [1]).

“Tales Of A City By The Sea” by Samah Sabawi [2, 3] was performed by La Mama Theatre in Melbourne in 2014 and thence in a remount season in 2016 in the cities of Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide in Australia. Translated into Arabic,  the play was performed in the West Bank by the Alrowwad Cultural and Theatre Society in the Aida refugee camp (despite huge restrictions due to the Apartheid Israeli occupation). An attempt to simultaneously stage the play in Gaza was stopped by the  horrendous Apartheid Israeli attack on Gaza in 2014, the 2014 Gaza Massacre. Samah Sabawi: “Never did we imagine that a far more brutal assault on Gaza than the one in 2008-2009, which was the backdrop to our play, would take place during our pre-production phase. Israel’s attack on Gaza in 2014 reduced almost two thirds of the Gaza Strip into piles of rubble and left thousands of people dead or injured ” (page 427 [3]).  Despite Zionist objections, the play was selected for study by Victorian schoolchildren in the Victorian Certificate of Education Drama and Theatre Studies’ 2016 Australian playlist (page 13 [1]).

“Tales Of A City By The Sea”  is set in the Apartheid Israel-blockaded Gaza Concentration Camp in 2008.  In Scene 1, Jomana (a “modern” Palestinian journalist in her late twenties born in the Shati (beach) Refugee Camp) is at the seaside and conversing with   her hijab-wearing cousin  Lama (a young Palestinian woman in her early  twenties) who is engaged to Ali (a Palestinian in his late twenties and an owner of a blockade-evading tunnel).  Ali eventually turns up and goes off with Lama to find Rami (a US-born  doctor of Palestinian origin who has managed to come to Gaza on a “Free Gaza” flotilla). Jomana is not alone for long because Rami turns up and Jomana articulates the guilty freedom-based  central theme of the play: “You know … your type. Palestinians with international passports … they come here on feel-good adventures to see the poor people of Gaza, make promises, and then they run back home to their comfortable lives where once in a while they talk about the plight of their people over polite dinner conversations with other sophisticated privileged people” (page 8 [2]).

Scene 2 involves  the device of a  split stage (also used in Scene 3) involving  Jomana and Lama gossiping in Jomana’s living room with  Jomana’s mother Um Ahmed talking to them from the kitchen. Lama is  gossiping about her brother Salim who is in love with Dalya. In the other half of the split stage Rami is Skyping his love Jomana from America and they have a conversation about whether  Dr Rami will return to Gaza. Jomana closes her  laptop on the return of her father Abu Ahmed, a fisherman who has returned empty-handed because the Israelis have shot at and damaged his boat. In America  Rami is talking with his mother,  Samira. The Gaza and America split stage conversations continue.  Critically, “SAMIRA: You need to tell her that you may not stay there. RAMI: Then she will refuse to marry me”.

The play continues. Rami does get back to Gaza via Ali’s tunnel and then the Israelis launch their murderous  2008-2009 bombing that devastates Gaza and destroys all of Lama’s family except for Lama herself. I will leave the rest of the story for you to read, imagine or to see at a theatrical production. Needless to say, Apartheid Israeli and Apartheid American racist bastardry has a big impact.

The play is interspersed with very powerful poetical soliloquies. Thus at the beginning of the play, Jomana looks out to  sea and talks of man’s impermanence and the sea’s permanence: “JOMANA: The landscape constantly changes/ Only the sea remains/ Salty/ Fluid/ Mysterious/ Moody/ A consistent presence amid the chaos/ …[interrupted by the sound of an Israeli drone] … Its whooshing waves whisper tales/ Of occupiers that have come and gone/ Crusaders, tyrants, and warlords/ Riding on their horses/ Riding on their tanks/ Riding on their F-16 fighter jets/ Always riding  through/ Leaving their footprints/ And part of their history/ Leaving their artefacts and ruins/ Leaving fire and debris/ Always leaving …/ Only the sea remains” (pages 1-2 [2]).

Jomana expresses the guilt of survivors and those not directly impacted: “JOMANA: I have a confession to make/ I stand between shame and relief/ I breathe…/ The missiles missed this time/ Truth is they didn’t really miss/ Someone’s house is destroyed/ But not the house I know so well/ Someone’s family is grieving/ But not the one whose name I carry/ I linger… / I linger between shame and relief/ (page 28 [2]).

I am a scientist and while I deeply appreciate the power  of poetry  I am also committed to and moved by the numbers. Thus the Israel Gaza Massacre in 2008-2009 involved 1,400 Palestinians killed and 5,300 Palestinians wounded, as compared  to 13 Israelis killed and 518 Israelis wounded  [4].  The 2014 Gaza Massacre  involved 2,256 Palestinians killed, and 17,125 Palestinians wounded, as compared to  85 Israelis killed and 2,629 Israelis wounded [5]. According to Wikipedia, the 2018-2019 Great March of Return involved 183 Palestinians killed and 9,204 Palestinians wounded, as compared to  1 Israeli killed and 11 Israelis wounded [6], but  Al Jazeera estimates  266 Palestinians killed and 30,398 wounded [7].

Notwithstanding Zionist-driven Western hysteria, Palestinian rocket attacks on Apartheid Israel killed 32 Israelis in the period 2004-2014 [8].  Gaza has been devastated with massive destruction of homes and infrastructure to the point that in 2018 the UN reported that it is now “unliveable”: “With an economy in free fall, 70 per cent youth unemployment, widely contaminated drinking water and a collapsed health care system, Gaza has become “unliveable”, the Special Rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian Territories told the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) today, insisting that all parties — particularly Israel — bring an end to “this disaster”” [9]. The long and consistent history of Zionist expressions of genocidal racism suggests that Apartheid Israel has even worse atrocities in store for the 2 million prisoners of Gaza and indeed for Palestinians in general [10]

The horrible reality is that  the genocidal Israeli attacks on Gaza represent just the tip of a Palestinian Genocide and indeed a Palestinian Holocaust in which 2.2 million Palestinian have died from violence, 0.1 million, or from imposed deprivation, 2.1 million, since the British invasion of the Ottoman Empire in 1914 in WW1 in an ongoing Palestinian Genocide [11].

In 1880 there were about 500,000 Arab Palestinians and about 25,000 Jews living in Palestine of whom half were immigrants [12, 13]. The genocidally racist  British invaders and genocidally racist  Zionist colonizers  have been variously responsible  for a Palestinian Genocide involving successive mass expulsions (800,000 in 1948 and 400,00 Arabs in 1967) , ethnic cleansing of 90% of the land of Palestine and an estimated 2.2 million Palestinian deaths since 1914 from violence (0.1 million) or from violently-imposed deprivation  (2.1 million) [11, 14-17].

There are now 7 million Palestinian refugees, and  of 14 million Palestinians (half of them children, three quarters women and children) about 50% are forbidden to even step foot in their own country on pain of death, only 1.9 million  Palestinian Israelis  are permitted to vote for the government ruling all of the former  Mandated Palestine, and 5 million Palestinians  have zero human rights [18] as Occupied Palestinians in West Bank ghettoes (3 million) or in the Gaza Concentration Camp (2.0 million). However the “lucky” Israeli Palestinians are Third Class citizens subject to over 60 Nazi-style,  race-based laws [19, 20].

The land of Palestine has now been 90% ethnically cleansed [11, 14-17].   While Indigenous Palestinians represent 50% of Apartheid Israeli subjects, nearly three quarters cannot vote for the government ruling them – egregious Apartheid  that is declared by the UN to be a crime against Humanity [21].

The elements of the horrendous human death toll in the ongoing Palestinian Genocide and Palestinian Holocaust is set out below.

(1). Violent Palestinian deaths since 1920 add up to about 0.1 million [22].

(2). About 0.1 million Palestinians died in a WW1 Palestinian Famine associated with British-imposed war and as assessed from a marked demographic deficit of 0.1 million in WW1 (1914-1918) [12, 13].

(3) The Palestinian population was 689,000 in 1918 and 1,308,000 in 1946 for an average of 1,000,000. Assuming the same avoidable mortality in brutally British-occupied Palestine (famine, displacement of tenant farmers, violence, invasion and misrule by genocidal racists) as in pre-Independence,  British-occupied India (an average of 30 avoidable deaths from deprivation per thousand of population per year, 1920-1947) [23], this yields 1,000 thousand x (30 avoidable deaths per thousand  per year) x 30 years = 900,000 avoidable deaths in the period 1918-1948.

(4). The total Palestinian population (inside and outside Palestine) was 2,250,000 in 1948 and 7,574,000 in 2000 for an average of 4,912,000. Generously applying the post-Independence Indian avoidable mortality rate in 2003 of 3.5 avoidable deaths per thousand of population per year [24] to Palestinians yields 4,912 thousand x (3.5 avoidable deaths per thousand per year) x 52 years = 894,000 Palestinian avoidable deaths from deprivation in the period 1948-2000.

(5) The per capita GDP for 5 million Occupied Palestinians is US$3,000 as compared to US$40,000 for Israelis [25]. Poverty kills, and for impoverished, high birth rate countries the avoidable deaths are 1.4 times the under-5 infant deaths [14]. In circa 2010 about 3,000 under-5 year old Palestinian infants died each year, this indicating that this century an average of 4,200 Occupied Palestinians died avoidably from deprivation each year, 12,000 Palestinians  as a whole died thus each year, and 0.23 million died thus this century.

Thus one can estimate 900,000 +  894,000 + 230,000 = 2,024,000 Palestinian  avoidable deaths from deprivation in the period 1918-2019, with a further 0.1 million dying in the WW1 Palestinian Famine and 0.1 million  violent Palestinian deaths.  Thus while only 4,000 Zionists were killed by Palestinians in the period 1920-2019 [26-30], since the British invasion of the  Middle East in 1914  about 2.2 million Palestinians have died from violence, 0.1 million, or from imposed deprivation, 2.1 million [11].

The total number of violent deaths and non-violent avoidable deaths from deprivation in the Palestinian Genocide (2.2 million) is of same order of magnitude as the number of victims of the WW2 Jewish Holocaust (5-6 million killed by violence or imposed deprivation) [31-33],  and of  the “forgotten” WW2 Bengali Holocaust (the WW2 Indian Holocaust or  WW2 Bengal Famine in which the British with Australian complicity deliberately  starved  6-7 million Indians to deaths in Bengal, Bihar, Assam and  Orissa for strategic reasons) [34-41],  but is an order of magnitude lower than the number of victims of the “forgotten” WW2 Chinese Holocaust (35 million Chinese killed under the Japanese, 1937-1945) [42] or of the largely Western-ignored WW2 European Holocaust (30 million Slavs, Jews and Gypsies killed by the Nazis in WW2) [24].

“Holocaust” refers to a huge number of deaths whereas “genocide” is defined by Article 2 of the UN Genocide Convention as “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group” [43]. Thus on a comparative basis the Palestinian Genocide merits the term Palestinian Holocaust. Numerous victims and descendants of victims of the WW2 Jewish Genocide (WW2 Jewish Holocaust, Shoa) together with Western supporters of Zionism have been involved in supporting an ongoing Palestinian Genocide and Palestinian Holocaust. However for the best part of a century  anti-racist Jews have been variously rejecting genocidal Zionism, criticizing the appalling crimes of Apartheid Israel,   and  declaring “Not in our name” [11, 44-46].

Final comments.

“Tales Of A City By The Sea” by Samah Sabawi is an excellent and moving play that describes part of the  Palestinian Genocide and Palestinian Holocaust in microcosm. Russian dictator and mass murderer Joseph Stalin stated that “A single death is a tragedy. A million deaths is a statistic” [24]. Samah Sabawi’s play deals with individual  tragedies of representative characters with whom decent folk can personally relate. However the appalling crimes of Apartheid Israel – from obscene racist laws that come between young lovers to active and passive mass murder as quantitated  here  – demand resolute action from decent folk around the world.

I recently attended an event sponsored by PEN Melbourne (part of PEN International that promotes literature and defends freedom of expression [47])   that was devoted to a brilliant speech and the  reading of her poems by Melbourne-based Samah Sabawi. The event ended with questions from the audience, and I took the opportunity to ask the following question: “Indigenous Palestinians represent 50% of the subjects of Apartheid Israel,  but three quarters of these subjects are excluded from voting for the government ruling them. How can we convince our fellow Australians that the 100% of Coalition Government MPs and 60% of Labor Opposition MPs who support Apartheid Israel and hence Apartheid are utterly unacceptable as Members of Parliament in a 1-person-1-vote democracy?”  The answer lies under the umbrella of the obligation of all decent people to (a) inform everyone they can, and (b)  urge and apply Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Apartheid Israel and all its racist supporters [44] just as such boycotts and  sanctions were successfully applied by the world to end the racist obscenity of  Apartheid in South Africa.

Despite the continuing awfulness of the ongoing Palestinian Genocide there is hope in decency and reason.  The “two-state solution” has been a convenient fig-leaf for pro-Apartheid Western dishonesty and inaction over Palestine.  The ethnic cleansing of 90% of the land of Palestine has rendered the “two-state solution” dead. A clear, humane solution  to the continuing human rights catastrophe in Palestine is a unitary state (a “one state solution”) as in post-Apartheid South Africa that would involve return of all refugees, zero tolerance for racism, equal rights for all, all human rights for all, one-person-one-vote, justice, goodwill, reconciliation, airport-level security, nuclear weapons removal, internationally-guaranteed national security initially based on the present armed forces, and untrammelled access for all citizens to all of Palestine. It can and should happen tomorrow [48, 49].


[1]. Vacy Vlazna, editor, “I Remember My Name. Poetry by Samah Sabawi, Ramzy Baroud , Jehan Bseiso”, Novum, UK, 2016.


[2]. Samah Sabawi, “Tales Of A City By The Sea”, Currency Press, Sydney, 2016.


[3]. Stephen Orlov and Samah Sabawi ,editors, “Double Exposure. Plays of the Jewish and Palestinian Diasporas”, Playwrights Canada Press, Toronto, 2016.


[4]. “Gaza War (2008-09)”, Wikipedia: .


[5]. “Timeline of the 2014 Israel-Gaza conflict”, Wikipedia: .


[6]. “2018-2019 Gaza border protests”,   Wikipedia: .


[7]. Huthifa Fayyad, “Gaza’s Great March of Return protests explained”, Al Jazeera, 30 March 2019: .


[8]. “Palestinian rocket attacks on Israel”, Wikipedia: .


[9]. United Nations, “The Question of Palestine”, 24 October 2018: .


[10]. Gideon Polya, “Zionist quotes reveal genocidal racism”, Palestinian Genocide: .


[11]. “Palestinian Genocide”: .

[12]. Justin McCarty, “Palestine population: during the Ottoman and British mandate period”, Palestine Remembered: 8 September  2001: .

[13]. “Historic population of  Israel/Palestine”: .

[14]. Gideon Polya, “70th anniversary of Apartheid Israel & commencement of large-scale Palestinian Genocide”, Countercurrents, 11 May 2018: .

[15]. Gideon Polya, “Apartheid Israel’s Palestinian Genocide & Australia’s Aboriginal  Genocide compared”, Countercurrents, 20 February 2018:  .

[16]. Gideon Polya, “Israeli-Palestinian & Middle East conflict – from oil to climate genocide”, Countercurrents, 21 August 2017: .

[17]. Gideon Polya, “End 50 Years Of Genocidal Occupation & Human Rights Abuse By US-Backed Apartheid Israel”, Countercurrents,  9 June  2017: .

[18]. Gideon Polya, “Universal Declaration of Human Rights & Palestinians. Apartheid Israel violates ALL Palestinian Human Rights”, Palestine Genocide Essays, 24 January 2009: .

[19]. Susan Abulhawa, “Israel’s “nation-state law” parallels the Nazi Nuremburg Laws”, Al Jazeera, 27 July 2018: .

[20]. “Discriminatory laws in Israel:, Adalah, .

[21]. John Dugard, “International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the crime of Apartheid”, Audiovisual Library of International Law: .


[22]. “Palestinian casualties of war”, Wikipedia: .


[23]. Gideon Polya, “Economist Mahima Khanna,   Cambridge Stevenson Prize And Dire Indian Poverty”, Countercurrents, 20 November, 2011: .

[24]. Gideon Polya, “Body Count. Global avoidable mortality since 1950”, that includes a succinct history of every country and is now available for free perusal on the web:  .

[25]. “List of countries by GDP (nominal) per capita”, Wikipedia: .

[26]. Gideon Polya, “Israelis kill ten times more Israelis in Apartheid than do terrorists”, Countercurrents, 1 March 2017: .

[27]. Gideon Polya, “Sharpeville Massacre & Gaza Massacres compared – Boycott Apartheid Israel & all its supporters”, Countercurrents, 6 May 2018: .

[28]. Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “Terrorism deaths in Israel – 1920-1999”, 1 January 2000: .

[29]. Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “Victims of Palestinian violence and terrorism since September 2000” : .

[30]. “Crime in Israel”, Wikipedia: .

[31]. Gideon Polya , “UK Zionist Historian Sir Martin Gilbert (1936-2015) Variously Ignored Or Minimized WW2 Bengali Holocaust”, Countercurrents, 19 February, 2015: .

[32]. Martin Gilbert, “Jewish History Atlas” (Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London, 1969).


[33]. Martin Gilbert “Atlas of the Holocaust”(Michael Joseph, London, 1982).


[34]. N.G. Jog (1944), “Churchill’s Blind Spot: India” (New Book Company, Bombay, 1944) [that describes the WW2 Bengal Famine as a “holocaust”, this being the first book to have described a WW2 atrocity as a “holocaust”].

[35]. Paul Greenough (1982),“Prosperity and Misery in Modern Bengal: the Famine of 1943-1944” (Oxford University Press, 1982).

[36]. J. Dreze  and Amartya Sen (1989),“Hunger and Public Action” (Clarendon, Oxford, 1989).

[37]. Gideon Polya,“Jane Austen and the Black Hole of British History. Colonial rapacity, holocaust denial and the crisis in biological sustainability” (G.M. Polya, Melbourne, 2008 edition that is now available for free perusal on the web:  .

[38]. Madhusree Muckerjee (2010), “Churchill’s Secret War. The British Empire and the ravaging of India during World War II” (Basic Books, New York, 2010).

[39]. Thomas Keneally (2011), “Three Famines” (Vintage House, Australia, 2011).

[40]. Gideon Polya (2011), “Australia And Britain Killed 6-7 Million Indians In WW2 Bengal Famine”,  Countercurrents, 29 September, 2011:  .


[41]. Gideon Polya, “Bengali Holocaust (WW2 Bengal Famine) writings of Gideon Polya”, Gideon Polya: .

[42]. “Backgrounder: China ’s WWII contributions in figures”, New China, 3 September 2015: .

[43]. Article 2 of the UN Genocide Convention: .


[44]. “Boycott Apartheid  Israel”:

[45]. “Gaza Concentration Camp”:  .

[46].  “Apartheid Israeli state terrorism: (A) Individuals  exposing Apartheid Israeli state terrorism & (B) Countries subject to Apartheid Israeli state terrorism”, Palestinian Genocide: .

[47]. “PEN Melbourne”: .


[48]. Gideon Polya, “Democratic one-state solution (unitary state, binational state) for post-Apartheid Palestine”, Countercurrents, 22 December 2018: .


[49]. “One-state solution, unitary state, bi-national state for a democratic, equal rights, post-apartheid Palestine”, Boycott Apartheid Israel: .


Dr Gideon Polya taught science students at a major Australian university for 4 decades. He published some 130 works in a 5 decade scientific career, most recently a huge pharmacological reference text “Biochemical Targets of Plant Bioactive Compounds” (CRC Press/Taylor & Francis, New York & London , 2003). He has published “Body Count. Global avoidable mortality since 1950” (G.M. Polya, Melbourne, 2007: ); see also his contributions “Australian complicity in Iraq mass mortality” in “Lies, Deep Fries & Statistics” (edited by Robyn Williams, ABC Books, Sydney, 2007:

) and “Ongoing Palestinian Genocide” in “The Plight of the Palestinians (edited by William Cook, Palgrave Macmillan, London, 2010: ). He has published a revised and updated 2008 version of his 1998 book “Jane Austen and the Black Hole of British History” (see:  ) as biofuel-, globalization- and climate-driven global food price increases threaten a greater famine catastrophe than the man-made famine in British-ruled India that killed 6-7 million Indians in the “forgotten” World War 2 Bengal Famine (see recent BBC broadcast involving Dr Polya, Economics Nobel Laureate Professor Amartya Sen and others:  ;  Gideon Polya:  ; Gideon Polya Writing: ; Gideon Polya, Wikipedia: ) . When words fail one can say it in pictures – for images of Gideon Polya’s huge paintings for the Planet, Peace, Mother and Child see: and  .


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