Email from Gaza: Tales that must be told

Friends, this week our eyes were glued to our laptops watching in disbelief yet another horrible attack on the people of Gaza. We worried about our friends, partners and loved ones.  Within theTales of a City by the Sea production team we worried about our partners in Gaza, our director Ali Abu Yassin and our representative in Gaza, Aya El-Zinati. Aya is a young dynamic and talented film maker and journalist who is the epitome of the human spirit we try to convey in our play. Before the war broke out, she promised to make a new video for our project. Imagine our surprise when she sent this email yesterday with a link to the video she completed while listening to the sounds of the falling bombs outside her window. With her permission, we are proud to share her email as it offers a deep insight into life in Gaza.

Email from Aya

How are you?

I imagine this is not the right time to even talk about this but I know I have work to do. True, I’ve only slept two hours in the last three days, and I’ve been away from home most of the time but I have been thinking of you. I’ve been wondering how can I produce the video (Trailer for Tales of a City by the Sea) and what if something happens to me and I (die) before finishing it.

So, every day at dawn I try to do more edits and I don’t know but I hope this time you will like it. Please believe me I’ve tried my best to do it better than the first cut. If you don’t like it and we remain alive I will do a better one for you.

What is important is that I want to tell you a few stories we hear about the martyrs in Gaza. I want to tell you so you know what Gaza love stories are like in reality…in war… in these conditions.

On the first day when 8 people were killed, one of them was from the Qassam brigade. His name was Abdlerahman AlZamly. He was engaged to a lady, maybe you’ve seen her in some of the photos that went viral as she was saying goodbye to him. They were engaged for a long time and couldn’t get married because they were waiting for the Rafah crossing to open and for cement to come into Gaza so they can finish building their house. All they needed was one ton of cement. Of course there were no crossings open and even if they were to open and if cement came in, they may not have afforded it because it would have been five times its actual worth.

Yesterday, the Kaware family was martyred in Khan Yunis. Their house was bombed. Eight members of the family were killed and neighbours injured some have serious injuries. When I went to report it I almost had a breakdown. I told the photographer to take photos. My stomach turned. But I tried to be strong…to be normal.

Yesterday a very young man Fakhr AlAjoory was martyred on his motorcycle and the scene was horrific. Before he was martyred he wrote a status on his Facebook: ‘when I die, some will mourn me, some will feel relieved, some will remember me forever, some wont care, but that’s o.k. it is enough for me to be going to a better place’.

Last night they bombed the Hamad family. The family was sitting in their garden drinking coffee at night. The missile landed suddenly and the problem is the whole family died except for the youngest child, 5 years old, he is now orphaned and with no one left to take care of him.

My father is a maintenance engineer at the hospital and because of the emergency situation there he doesn’t come home much. I try as much as possible to check on my mom at home in between my work shifts. Anyway, as I was walking to our house, I saw lots of nervous people in the street, some were running it turned out the neighbours were told to evacuate their homes because it will be bombed in ten minutes. I ran to my mother and told her to hurry up and leave. I told her they’re bombing the house next door. The problem is if a missile lands next door our entire house will be destroyed. I kept begging her to leave but she insisted on staying. She said she would never leave her home. I kept begging there was no time…I stayed with her preferring to die with her than to live and mourn her death. Can you believe the missile landed but did not explode? The authorities came and they carried it away. So we’re still alive.

There is no safe place in Gaza at all. Every place is a target. This means Israel is bankrupt and has no list of targets so it just bombs sporadically at civilian structures. Despite it all, the poor people of Gaza still go out into the street, they buy food for Ramadan, they make kenafah and katayef for desert and they try to live the spirit of the holy month.

What upsets me the most is that the situation in this city has become so painful. There are many who don’t have enough to buy food. And on top of that, there is war and destruction. Many live on handouts or borrowed money. Some people built their homes from borrowed money only to see their homes destroyed and with their home gone, so goes everything else they have. No one seems to understand the depth of our pain. Is it not enough we’re losing ourselves, losing our lives, losing our future, and outside, the rest of the world carries slogans ‘Gaza under attack’ or ‘Gaza under fire’ but listen first about what is really happening in Gaza. Some people even post the wrong photos from Syria or from Iraq this made the international media discredit what’s really happening here and this played to Israel’s advantage. But believe me what happened here in the past three days is a massacre.

What also really upset me and frustrates me is that no one is telling our stories. Our real human stories. They talk about us as enemies or they reduce us to numbers and statistics.

I am sorry I’ve given you a headache with my rant. But I really wanted to talk to you and tell you our stories.

I’ve been in Gaza for nine years now and in that time I’ve lived through three wars. Each war has many stories. If I don’t die in this war, I will write a book about those three wars….hahaha…I remember how innocent I was when I came here and how this place made me a human being. Seriously. I think as much as I am tired of being in this place, it has given me life.

All my friends outside Gaza call me and message me. They are worried this time I will get killed. One friend said ‘Promise me Aya you will not die. If you do I will be very upset with you’. They say if you need anything … I said yes…I’ve ran out of coal for my water pipe…I can’t smoke sheesha now. hahaha….:)

Pray for me.

Here is the video.

Classical music moves into the camps of Palestine

Published March 23rd, 2013 – 07:00 GMT on AlBawaba
How often does one see pictures of brave Palestinian children facing up to Israeli soldiers and tanks, armed only with stones in their hands and often paying with their lives for daring to do so?

Ramzi Aburedwan was one such child, who grew up in the refugee camp of Al Amari near Ramallah. At the tender age of 8, he witnessed his best friend being killed during an Israeli military operation. He then found himself throwing stones during the first Intifada and as a street combatant Aburedwan seemed destined for an Israeli prison or a Palestinian martyr’s poster. But fate decided to intervene.

At 17, he was invited to a music workshop in Al Bireh, adjacent to Ramallah, where he fell in love with the art and started to learn to play the viola. Replacing stones with a musical instrument led to a journey of channelling his anger into creativity and of personal transformation.

After studying for a year at the Edward Said National Conservatory of Music (ESNCM) in Ramallah and thereafter attending a summer workshop in the United States — at the Apple Hill Centre for Chamber Music of New Hampshire — he enrolled at the Conservatoire National de Region d’Angers.

In 2000 Ramzi created the ensemble “Dal’Ouna”, music that symbolised the link between East and West. It flowed from an encounter between Palestine and France, from the melting of pure traditional Middle Eastern songs with mixed jazzy compositions, played on Western classical musical instruments (viola, violin, clarinet, flute, guitar, piano), and traditional Eastern instruments (bouzouk, oud, darbouka, bendir, etc).

In 2005, he was awarded the “DEM” gold medal for viola, chamber music and music theory. While in France, he also learnt to play the piano.

Yearning to share his knowledge and experience, and inspire a new generation of Palestinians, by helping their anger and frustrations find musical expression, Aburedwan established Al Kamandjâti (The Violin) in October 2002. It was to be the place where Palestinian children and youth could learn music and develop their culture.

In August 2005, Riwaq, the Palestinian architectural organisation engaged in conservation and rehabilitation, completed the renovation of the Al Kamandjâti Music Centre in the old city of Ramallah and it was here that Aburedwan launched his nonprofit musical enterprise, funded mainly by European donors.

Taking music to the people, Al Kamandjâti set up music schools for Palestinian children in various cities, villages and refugee camps. These music schools offer children the opportunity to learn to play music, to discover their cultural heritage as well as other musical cultures, but above all to explore their creative potential.

In addition, Al Kamandjâti produces numerous concerts and several music festivals throughout the year as part of its mission to bring music to all Palestinians.

Aburedwan explains the rationale: “Perhaps the least recognised effect of the violent Israeli occupation on the lives of Palestinian people is the undermining of culture, art and leisure. When a regime wants to weaken a people, it uses psychological, cultural and physical means. It attempts to erase tangible evidence of that people’s unique cultural heritage. Our struggle must be cultural and militant, artistic and political, and economic. But on no account should we forget the primary reason behind the projects and activities led by Al Kamandjâti, which is to educate children, who suffer most from the unjust politico-economic situation.

“We cannot afford to sit back and wait for favourable political decisions which would establish a Palestinian State,” he says. “We must proactively work on galvanising Palestinian cultural life. We must give our children the opportunity to think beyond soldiers and tanks. They must think creatively, not about the destruction of their country, but about rebuilding their way of life and future.”

In the West Bank, Al Kamandjâti today provides music training to around 500 students in places such as the Al Amari, Jalazon, Qalandiah and Qaddura refugee camps, the village of Deir Ghassana, the old cities of Ramallah and Jenin, and in Tulkarem.

Since 2005, Al Kamandjâti, with ten French musicians, has also organised annual music workshops in the Palestinian refugee camps of Lebanon, where, today, they have 60 students at Bourj el Barajneh and Shatilla.

In Palestine, Al Kamandjâti employs 22 musicians who teach violin, viola, cello, guitar, flute, clarinet, oboe, bassoon, trombone, trumpet, saxophone, piano, accordion, oud, nay, Arabic percussion, orchestra, singing, harmony, choir, improvisation and music theory.

“Music is a universal language,” Aburedwan says. “We encourage Palestinians to use this artistic tool to harmonise and enrich their cultural life, promoting international awareness and recognition of the Palestinian nation.

“Through music, Al Kamandjâti seeks to show that education and culture can transcend and overcome the Israeli violence from which Palestinians suffer,” he adds. “Learning music provides children with a form of expression to channel their energy creatively and constructively. Are not today’s children tomorrow’s adults? Classical music is, for the children, a discovery. We introduce each one to an instrument. Moreover, these workshops enable children to gather in a disciplined setting, whether as neighbours or friends or new acquaintances”.

Many young international musicians have been working at Al Kamandjâti, discovering music and a practical approach to mastering various instruments with Palestinian children. Jason Crompton came from New Jersey four years ago to visit his sister in occupied Jerusalem and after learning about Al Kamandjâti, he stayed on to teach piano and conduct the orchestra. He learnt Arabic to communicate with the children and eventually married a fellow teacher from Italy, Madeleine, who teaches the flute and also works with UNRWA schools in the refugee camps around Ramallah. They have a child and now live in Ramallah.

“The feeling of sharing in the musical experience with anyone who wishes to indulge is special and we believe that we belong here,” Crompton says.

Their story lends credence to the oft-held belief that music transcends both borders and barriers. At Al Kamandjâti, it has been an enriching experience for both the Palestinian children and the teachers of many nationalities.

Not only does Al Kamandjâti teach Palestinian children how to play music, it also teaches some of them how to repair, maintain and tune instruments.

Shehadeh, a young man who has been involved in setting up a local lute-making workshop, spent three months in Italy with stringed-instrument makers who had previously been to Palestine, learning to repair and make instruments. Today his workshop adjoins the Al Kamandjâti building in Ramallah.

Al Kamandjâti organises The Music Days Festival in June, in partnership with the French Cultural Centres Network. The festival lasts 12 days and takes place in more than ten Palestinian cities. A Baroque Music Festival follows in December and various churches in the cities of the West Bank and occupied Jerusalem host it.

Al Kamandjâti also engages in exchange programmes abroad with partner organisations. Some students have been given the opportunity to take part in music workshops abroad to improve their technical skills. Khalil, the coordinator, explains, “We had nine students who completed their scholarships in France last year — in violin, percussion, bass, clarinet and guitar, and two of them learnt how to fix string-section instruments.

“We have two blind brothers, Mohammad and Jihad, who today teach percussion and oud at the Helen Keller Centre in [occupied] Jerusalem,” he adds.

Today, Al Kamandjâti stands for Aburedwan’s transformation from a stone-pelter to a viola player and his dream of sharing his knowledge and experience with his people, bringing joy to the children growing up in refugee camps and under occupation.

This article appeared on http://www.albawaba.com/entertainment/palestine-camps-music-479027

Let Gaza surprise you!

By Samah Sabawi

20130122_115944

Gaza is one of the most reported on and yet least understood places on earth.  Its mere mention conjures up images of war victims, war criminals, piles of rubble, militants with guns, dead children and weeping mothers.  A simple google search will bring up disturbing images of heart break, terror and destruction.  But all of this is an infliction on a place that has neither surrendered its identity nor lost its beauty to decades of violent Israeli occupation.

Gaza is a city of many tales.  While some are about loss, grief and misery, many others are about enduring love, triumphant moments, tenacity, passion, music and hope that lives beyond the confines of the siege and the occupation.  If you dig deeper than the negative headlines and the devastating news reports you will find many pleasant surprises.  You can take a walk along Gaza’s gorgeous fields, enjoy its magical sunsets, get to know its warm people, visit its ancient sites and eat its delicious dishes.  You will find in Gaza everything that would make you love life with a passion!  So join me here to explore some of Gaza’s unknown side.

The Arts:

There is a common belief that Gaza’s art scene is all but dead.  While it may be true that art in general is not a great priority for the people in Gaza who are too concerned with bigger financial and political issues, Gazan artists continue to create and to excel in their fields.  There is also an appreciation of the need to encourage art in children starting from a young age.

One establishment worthy of salutation for supporting the arts is the Qattan Centre for the Child in Gaza.  This cultural centre is an oasis for the hearts and the minds of children.  Equipped with a large library painted in vibrant colors and comfortable eye soothing furniture the QCC in Gaza focuses on developing the children emotionally and intellectually through visual art, music, education, cultural events and much more.

Below are some images of the QCC in Gaza.  Keep in mind all of the paintings you’ll see in some of these photos were in fact painted by children under 15 years of age at the centre.

The Qattan center was built on land donated by the Gaza municipality and has succeeded in meeting its goal of creating an educational and stimulating space for children and their caregivers.  Parents are encouraged to join their children in the library, engage with them over art and craft activities, or just watch them proudly as they perform their song and dance routines.

Membership at the QCC is free of charge to all children in Gaza from all walks of life and some of the classes offered charge a small symbolic fee.  Many of the events are also free of charge such as the concerts captured in the video below that took place as part of the winter camp activities in January 2013.  In this video below you’ll see a variety of instruments, you’ll hear music of both Arab and western origins ranging from Gershwin to Darweesh.

Also worthy of special salutation is the Gaza Music School and its incredible teachers and talented children.  The children featured in the next video are nine years of age.  They are very dedicated to the art they practice in spite of all the challenges they face including Israel’s bombardment of the Gaza Music School  in 2009.

 

The landscape

The Gaza Strip is densely populated mostly by refugees who fled Israel’s war of ethnic cleansing in 1948 and have not been allowed to return to their homes since.  As the population continues to grow in the besieged strip the natural landscape changes to make way for more cement structures and buildings to accommodate this growth.

However, population growth is not the only challenge facing Gaza’s green spaces.  Agricultural land  is shrinking as Israel usurps more of Gaza’s water supplies and if that’s not enough, Israel’s siege, blockade, frequent bombardment and occasional land incursions have left their mark on many of Gaza’s farming land.  A recommended report that sheds great light on this is the UNISPAL report Farming without Land, Fishing without Water.

Below are two pics of bombed trees in our farm in Gaza. The first depicts a tree totally uprooted from the power of a one ton bomb blast.   The second photo  depicts a tree that was uprooted from the blast, flew in the air and actually landed straight on top of another tree.

Despite all of the challenges and the uncertainties of Israel’s incursions and bombings, some farmers have insisted on maintaining their land.  When visiting their farms you get a sense of what Gaza’s landscape looked like before Israel’s war of ethnic cleansing began.   You can imagine how before the refugees were chased into the far corners of their homeland to settle into camps under occupation, how most of Gaza’s natural landscape would have looked like.

The Sea

Perhaps the most important feature of Gaza is its sea.  It is the only landscape that remains unchanged, unaffected by the occupation and the aggression.  The sea is an open recreational space that is free of charge.  For Gazan families the sea is a cure for all of life’s problems.

The food

Finally, no matter where you go to in Palestine, you will always be overwhelmed with warm hospitality and great food.  Gaza is no different.  Here are some pics of some of my favourite dishes, but if you’re looking for a more comprehensive list along with recepies I highly recommend you visit The Gaza Kitchen.  Bon appétit or as they say in Gaza Saha we afya!

Three Wishes in the Media

Three Wishes:  Ottawa Gladstone Theatre December 2008 

War from the eyes of a child – Education – New play focuses on Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Orléans Star 12-07-31 11:56 PM Published on December 5th, 2008

Divided by conflict and witnesses to violence, Israeli and Palestinian children speak out about their fears, hopes and dreams in a new Ottawa play that features two east-end teens in leading roles.

The stage adaptation of Deborah Ellis’ controversial book, Three Wishes: Palestinian and Israeli Children Speak, captures the honesty and straightforwardness only a child can share when the world around them is in turmoil. The production, written and produced by Ottawa’s Samah Sabawi and sponsored by the Arab-Jewish dialogue group Potlucks for Peace, puts the spotlight on three Palestinian stories and three Israeli stories. The play is performed on a split stage at the Gladstone Theatre, divided by a concrete wall topped with barbed-wire. It is on either side of this wall the lives of these children and their families unfold.

While every word in the play is lifted from the book, Sabawi has broken the dialogue up so a number of characters speak. For example, 18- year-old Hassan’s narrative has been cut so his family also shares in the storytelling. “It’s more like a conversation,” Sabawi explains.

Colonel By’s Kiera Polak, 15, plays the role of Yanal, a 14-year-old Palestinian girl. “I’ve learned a lot through the play,” she says, noting children in the Middle East have gone through hard times and want things to be fixed.

Meanwhile Orléans resident Dergham Shahrouii plays Hassan, who lives in a refugee camp in the West Bank. Injured by Israeli shelling, Hassan is confined to a wheelchair. On the other side of the wall is Artov, a Jewish teen whose family immigrated to Israel from Russia and is struggling to understand the meaning of being Jewish and being connected to the state of Israel. “These kids talk about the simple, human need to live a normal life,” Sabawi says of the interviews from the book. “(They talk about) how conflict affects their life at a personal level.”

The book, she continues, is “very compelling. These are real stories and real experiences.”

Sabawi read the book about three years ago after her then-nine-year-old son read it and put together a speech for class. The kids in the book, she explains, are so honest – there’s no politics. “I just loved reading their words.”

The children’s book gained infamy in 2006 when the Canadian Jewish Congress questioned the inclusion of the book in the Silver Birch reading program. At least four school boards in Ontario, including the Toronto District School Board, pulled the book from their shelves. While some said the request to remove the book was about age-appropriateness, others indicated it was a political move.

Sabawi, who says parents are the best judge of what their children can take, doesn’t recommend the play for those under the age of eight. “The play is about kids in a conflict zone,” she explains. “This is serious stuff.”

Hoping to raise awareness with her production, Sabawi notes that people tend to discuss the conflict in “grown-up” terms with maps, statistics and borders. The conversation is distant and sometimes the human cost is forgotten, she continues. “The Middle East is not about angry men or Paris or fights between extremists,” Sabawi says. “People live there and their stories need to be told.” “Three Wishes” runs until Dec. 13 at the Gladstone Theatre, 910 Gladstone Ave. Tickets are $25 and can be purchased by phone at 613-233-4523 or online at http://www.thegladstone.ca

 

What hope sounds like: a performance by Gaza’s children at the Gaza Music School

The children of the Gaza Music School performing to a French and Egyptian delegation early January 2013. The boys in this clip are around 9 years of age. According to Qattan Foundation’s website, the Gaza Music School (GMS) was established “in response to growing demand for music education voiced by children and parents who attend the Qattan Center for the Child (QCC) in Gaza City, one of the A. M. Qattan Foundation’s main projects.” The Gaza Music School was completely destroyed by Israel during its attack on Gaza in 2008 and was rebuilt since then. A testimony to the resilience of the Palestinian people. To find out more information about the school and Qattan Foundation visit the following linkhttp://www.qattanfoundation.org/subpage/en/gms.asp?sectionID=654

 

Join Gaza Marathon: a 42-kilometre run along the coastline of the Gaza Strip.

Join us in April 2013 for the Gaza Marathon: a 42-kilometre run along the coastline of the Gaza Strip.

Organised by the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), the marathon will host runners from the US, Europe and elsewhere, as well as the young people of Gaza.

Funds will go towards a special programme of fun summer activities for the children of Gaza, many of whom have been traumatised by the recent conflict.

Sign up today at unrwa.org/gazamarathon.