Damascus, March 2010
For the last three years Shukran Murtaja has cast a spell on Syrian audiences through her portrayal of Fawziyeh, one of the central characters in the country’s primetime Ramadan TV series, Bab Al-Hara.
Shukran, whose Palestinian parents came to Syria after leaving Gaza, credits her successful career to her education. After a childhood in rural Syria, she won a place at Damascus’ High Institute of Drama and went on to become one of its most high-profile alumni.
Education, she thinks, is a cornerstone in the life of any Palestine refugee, including her sister’s children, who attend UNRWA’s Ein Ghazal School in Damascus’ Dummar neighbourhood.
She says: “‘Education, education and education’. That is what I tell all the girls, Palestinian or Syrian, who want to achieve something in life. Education is a weapon that enhances people’s chances of having a better future.”
In January, Shukran travelled with a group of Syrian artists to the Gaza Strip, where she met her father’s family, most of whom she had never seen before.
Shukran says: “There are no words to describe the feeling I experienced arriving in Gaza City. I could not believe that I was between the beauty of its sea and the constant hardship and suffering of its people.
“It was a moment I had been waiting for all my life,” she says, with a broken voice, of the visit she paid to her grandmother’s tomb.
Since the visit to Gaza, Shukran has written a series of articles for magazines and newspapers describing her experiences there. “I feel much more optimistic, just like a newborn. I am proud of being Palestinian and I feel capable of anything.”
“Palestine refugees are strong because they have been through a lot. They are known for their intelligence and cleverness, for their endurance and also their joy of life,” the 38-year-old entertainer says.
“As an actress, every day you perform a different role, but it is the role you enact in private that is the most important of them all - when the lights are off and you live your own life.
“Being a woman, a Palestinian and an actress, people sometimes believe that I have met many obstacles in my life. I always prove them wrong, because for me, the only conceivable obstacle to achieving something is oneself,” she continues, before the lights go off.
Text and photograph by Diego Gomez-Pickering
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