GAZA CITY (AFP) - Crowds throng the hall to hear the court's decision. In the dock are Gaza's Hamas rulers and their secular rivals Fatah. The verdict, with no right of appeal, comes late and after passionate and stormy debate: "All are guilty of killing the people and the nation."
But the dramatic verdict is just that -- drama. The judges and the accused are all actors in a satirical play, "The Nation," which has enjoyed great success in a land where culture is often noticeable by its absence.
More than 1,500 people flocked to the Shawa cultural centre in Gaza to see the play, forcing the organisers to add extra seats to the auditorium to meet demand.
"The Nation" is the work of Palestinian dramatist Said Suirki and the "trial" is tagged with the number 48.67.2007 -- referring to what the author sees as three seminal dates in the Palestinian tragedy.
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Palestinians are left with two territories, two powers, two administrations and two conflicting visions of society -- an absurd situation that makes for rich theatrical pickings.
"We fast differently (for Ramadan) if we're in Gaza or Ramallah... If I get married in Gaza, is my marriage certificate valid in the West Bank?" asks one of the actors on stage.
A dozen men, women and children strike up a mournful refrain to lament "Where is the nation?" -- before being interrupted by the rattle of automatic gunfire.
"I wanted to put on a play after seeing the bloody events in Gaza and the huge suffering of its people," says Suirki.
"I called it 'The Nation' because it's this that has been the biggest loser in the Hamas-Fatah conflict."