With no professional puppeteers in Gaza, Mahdi Karira taught himself all he knows about puppetry.
“I was able to make a puppet and move it on my own. Then I made more puppets,” Karira, 41, tells The Electronic Intifada.
He then went on to form a troupe called Khuyut, Arabic for strings, in Gaza City in 2018. It includes more than a dozen puppeteers who have created at least 35 puppets.
“We create characters based on stories, scenes and social issues,” Karira adds.
He says that puppetry allows performers to address difficult social issues that can be harder to address with live actors.
The team has faced challenges due to a shortage of supplies – a result of Israel’s 13-year siege on the Gaza Strip, Karira explains.
Israel bans so-called “dual-use” items from Gaza on the pretext that they may have military purposes.
Those include medical supplies, fishing materials and other basic commodities.
Israel bars materials including certain fabrics and chemicals that could be used in painting and making the dolls.
“We try to find alternatives. We recycle and extract materials from other things,” Karira says.
For example, the team extracts strings from fishing nets and substitutes ivory with certain cement mixtures.
Nahla Lulu is one of 10 women on the team.
“We understood that puppets were moved by strings but we didn’t know the technique,” Lulu told The Electronic Intifada.
Now, Lulu leaves her mark on every puppet she makes and hopes to perform abroad.
Video by Ruwaida Amer and Sanad Ltefa.