AlMonitor: Palestinian Children’s Museum Goes Green

By: Dalia Hatuqa for Al-Monitor Palestine Pulse. Posted on April 3

In a land where space is limited, and public parks and gardens are few and far between, a Bethlehem-based mother of two is working on opening a museum for children — who comprise more than 40% of the Palestinian population — with a special focus on green living and sustainability.

Drawing inspiration from visits to children’s museums across the globe, Layla Kaiksow has a one-of-a-kind museum in mind for Palestinian children — one that can help them not only learn about sustainability and conservation, but also get them immersed in their culture away from the confines of theclassroom.

“In Palestine, people are conscious of the environment in many ways, but in a lot of other ways they are not,” Kaiksow said. “Traditionally, Palestinians have not been a wasteful people, but as things ‘developed,’ trash became rampant and conservation isn’t exercised as it once was. We need to plant green ideas in children’s heads from the outset.”

Plans for the new museum — expected to open in the summer of 2014 — are still at an early stage. The museum, which targets children between the ages of one to 12, as well as their families and educators, is slated to not only be environmentally friendly, but also culturally rooted.

The exhibits will be designed to teach children about local culture and traditions, shedding light on the environment and sustainability, and garnering more interest for math and sciences away from the traditional methods being used in schools.

A water exhibit is also in the making so children can learn about why this precious resource is particularly coveted in the region, along with instructions on how to use it sparingly. “We are not shying away from politics in the museum,” Kaiksow said. “But it’s also not our focus, so we may teach the kids some political facts on a basic level.”

The museum is being created using the “only local” toolkit outlined by the Madison Children’s Museum, known for its commitment to sustainability and community collaboration. This means that during its foundation, local architects, curators and exhibition designers will be hired, and local and recyclable materials will be used whenever possible.

For the math and science exhibitions, the museum is teaming up with Al-Nayzak, a local organization that focuses on encouraging scientific innovation among young Palestinians. Shams/Ard, Palestine’s first green design firm, will be building the museum’s furniture (and some of the exhibitions) out of discarded, recycled or locally produced materials. “The aim of this museum is to teach children through play about green concepts and sustainability, among other things,” said Danna Masad, one of the Shams/Ard architects.

As part of the museum’s vision to promote the use of sustainable energy and support the prevalence of green ideas in the Palestinian territories, unconventional methods will be used during the renovation and building phase. This includes setting up a geothermal heating and cooling system in the building, as well as installing a solar energy and grey wastewater treatment system. There are plans to also operate a mobile museum in the form of a bus running on bio-diesel in the months following the museum’s opening.

The exhibits will be designed with Palestinian culture in mind, using objects made in cities like Hebron, known for its glass and traditional ceramics, and Bethlehem, where hand-stitched embroidery is made. With that in mind, one of the workshops envisioned will include a station where kids can make their own embroidery using felt and glue. Another is an arithmetic exhibit where children can learn about the traditional process of making ceramics, and stack plates as they solve math problems.

An old historic villa that’s just a few streets away from Manger Square and the Church of the Nativity was chosen to house the museum. An architecture firm that restores historic buildings throughout Bethlehem will renovate the house. The structure itself was chosen for its proximity to the city’s religious sites and its vaulted ceilings, large windows, arched doors and spacious backyard where an old pine tree provides shade over what is to become a large play area.

While the renovation of the building is being funded by the Russian government, the museum itself has so far only received funds from individual donors. A Kickstarter campaign is in the works for the summer and the long-term goal is to form an endowment for the museum. In the meantime, the museum is aiming for individual donations and grant monies.

Kaiksow is hoping that the museum will attract Palestinian children from all over the territories and from inside Israel. She envisions that, with the right exhibitions, the museum will be a destination for educators interested in teaching children through interaction and creativity.

This article appeared at AlMonitor

Dalia Hatuqa is a contributing writer for Al-Monitor‘s Palestine Pulse. A print and broadcast journalist specializing in the Middle East, she is based in the West Bank city of Ramallah and writes for several publications about politics, the economy, culture, art and design. On Twitter: @DaliaHatuqa.


Travel to and explore Palestine’s cultural landscape: Summer academy in Ramallah

Posted on 25 March 2013

European Union National Institute of Culture

3 weeks in Ramallah, live, work and join our visual journey! Summeracademy Ramallah is inviting participants from all walks of life and all corners of the world to meet and mix with Palestinian participants! We will explore the cultural landscape of the region and facilitate the contact within all aspects of Palestinian life, society and close neighborhood. We want to discover unseen images and collect unheard stories that will give a fresh impression of contemporary life in Palestine. Date: 13 August – 3 September.

Our participants will be encouraged to follow their own vision as well as working in groups. By using the full range and capacity of audio-visual and time-based media we will elaborate each work piece to its full potential. The participants will have the opportunity to present their artistic results in the final exhibition.

Of course, we will have a rich social life too. Every season new cafés are popping up all over the place where you can have a shisha while taking snacks. Visit stylish restaurants and colorful  barbecues which are open until 4 in the morning. Ramallah´s nightlife offers an interesting cultural program of free concerts of Arab, Classical or Rock music in public spaces. You can listen to lectures in lush gardens under fig trees, watch Art House Films at Al Kasaba, dip into the world of the Hip and the Beautiful at Bar Beit Al Aneesa, listen to famous Khalas Rock band or Arab singer-songwriters and a lot more to explore and have fun.

We look forward to make excursions to Bir Zeit, and if possible, to Jerusalem and Nablus to visit galleries, artistic projects and theater projects, Slow Food initiatives etc.

If you have personal questions, please let us know: office@summeracademyramallah.org!

To apply for the workshop please go to Application in the menu bar or click here.

Excursions to several cultural organizations in the region, e.g.:
Al Qattan Foundation,  Al Sakakini Cultural Center,  Al Kasaba CinemaBir Zeit MuseumArt School RamallahMahatta Art GalleryAl Ma´amal Art GalleryAl Hoash, Al Riwaq Architectural CenterDanish House in PalestineThis Week In Palestine(Monthly Cultural Magazine)

Nabila Irshaid offers her expertise in art in public space, participative art, art as a process and audio – visual concepts. She can provide her knowledge about the cultural landscape of Ramallah and its surroundings and has some knowledge about local life.

Tobias Hammerle will be the second instructor during the workshop and will share his many technical skills and experience in teaching all over the world.

More information about the Instructors 2013 you’ll find here.

This article originally appeared here

About Tales of a City by the Sea

The play Tales of a City by the Sea is a unique and poetic journey into the lives of ordinary people in the besieged Gaza strip prior to, during and after its bombardment during the winter of 2008.  Jomana, a Palestinian woman who lives in the Shati (beach) refugee camp in Gaza falls in love with Rami, an American born Palestinian doctor and activist who arrives on the first Free Gaza boats in 2008. Their love is met with many challenges forcing Rami to make incredible decisions the least of which is to take a dangerous journey through the underground tunnels that connect Gaza to Egypt.  Although on the surface this love story appears to explore the relationship between diaspora Palestinians and Palestinians under occupation, there is a broader and more universal theme that emerges – one of human survival and tenacity.  Tales of a City by the Sea avoids political pitfalls, ideological agendas and clichés by focusing on the human story of the people in Gaza. Although the play’s characters are fictional, the script is based on real life events and is a product of a collection of real stories the author Samah Sabawi and her family have experienced during the events of the past several years. Sabawi has written most of the poetry in the play during the three-week bombardment of Gaza in 2008/2009.

The writer Samah Sabawi is a Palestinian-Canadian-Australian published writer, commentator and playwright.  She has travelled the world and lived in its far corners, yet always felt as though she was still trapped in her place of birth Gaza.  The war torn besieged and isolated strip has  shaped her understanding of her identity and her humanity.  So what else could Sabawi do but to indulge in Gaza’s overwhelming presence and to succumb to tell the stories of her loved ones back home.  Her most recent play Tales of a City by the Sea is dedicated to them and to all of those who still manage to have faith and hope even as the sky rains death and destruction.

The script is available to interested theatre makers upon request.  Please email play3wishes@gmail.com for more information.

Ms. Sabawi speaking at the Launch of the The People's Charter To Create a Nonviolent World

Photo courtesy http://thepeoplesnonviolencecharter.wordpress.com/launch-events/

Follow Samah Sabawi on Twitter @gazaheart

Samah Sabawi’s professional bio can be found here

For more information on Samah Sabawi: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samah_Sabawi

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

Suicide Note from Palestine: New play opens at The Freedom Theatre on April 4

One day before her final exams, Amal has a concerning nightmare: she is Palestine and she has decided to die.

Amal’s nightmare drafts between confusion, torture and despair – notions set as strange characters that symbolise some of the key players in world politics that shape the land, history, politics and the occupation of her country. Interrogated and manipulated, Amal is forced into a comatose state and can barely speak.

– This play is important because it’s pointing at the place of the pain inside the Palestinian people’s minds and hearts, says the Director, Nabil Al-Raee.

Suicide Note from Palestine is a window into the younger generation of Palestine; a generation just as hopeless about their present as they are about the future. The play provides a rare glimpse on the general depression, confusion and concerns of a people regarding its land.

Suicide Note from Palestine is a physical video/visual art performance, inspired by 4:48 Psychosis by Sarah Kane. It is an exploration of identity and uses social satire to present an image of the national trauma of the Palestinian people.

Suicide Note from Palestine is performed at The Freedom Theatre, Jenin Refugee Camp:
Thursday April 4 Première @16:00
Saturday April 6 @12:00 and @16:00
Sunday April 7 @12:00 and @16:00

For more information visit The Freedom Theatre website.

Let Gaza surprise you!

By Samah Sabawi

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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!

The Real News on repression and cultural resistance in Gaza with footage of Tales of a City by the Sea’s public reading

Gaza audience feedback following the public reading of Tales of a City by the Sea

Photo Gallery: Gaza public reading of Tales of a City by the Sea

A reading of the play Tales of a City by the Sea took place in Gaza city at the Qattan Centre for the Child followed by a discussion on January 17th  2013.   The reading was part of ongoing efforts by international artists to break the cultural siege of Gaza and to work collaboratively with local talent.  What resulted from this event was a profound experience for both the writer, the cast and the audience.  The audience feedback (video will be uploaded next week) highlighted the need for creating more space for cultural and artistic events in the besieged Gaza strip.

The Gaza team from left: Khaled Harara, Eman Hilles, Sameeha Olwan, Ayman Qwaider, Mohammed Ghalayini, Manar Zimmo, Alaa Shoublaq, Samah Sabawi, Mahmoud Hammad, Najwan Anbar, Alia Abu Oriban and Ayah Abubasheer.

Sameeha Olwan

Sameeha Olwan reading the part of Jomana.

From left: Mohammed Ghalayini, Ayman Qwaider and Mahmoud Hammad

From left Mohammed Ghalayini reading the part of Rami, Ayman Qwaider reading the part of Ali and Mahmoud Hammad as Mohanad.

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Manar Zimmo reading the part of Lama.

From left:  Mahmoud Hammad, Alaa Shoublaq, Mohammed Ghalayini and Ayman Qwaider

From left:  Mahmoud Hammad as Mohanad Alaa Shoublaq as Abu Ahmed, Mohammed Ghalayini as Rami and Ayman Qwaider as Ali.

Eman Hilles

Eman Hilles was the narrator of our Tales.

Mohamad Akilah

Gaza esteemed musician Mohamad Akilah.

Najwan F. Anbar

Najwan Anbar reading the part of Um Ahmed

In Gaza Tales of a City by the Sea at Qattan Centre for the Child

FinalPoster

A comprehensive analysis of the arguments surrounding the call for a cultural boycott of Israel

By Samah Sabawi

This paper was prepared for the 7arakat Conference: Theatre, Cultural Diversity and Inclusion November  2012 and was first published in the 7arakat conference E:Proceedings. 

Introduction

International artists find themselves standing at a crossroad between their desire to support all forms of artistic expression, Israeli or otherwise, and the Palestinian civil society’s call to support a cultural boycott of all Israeli state sponsored forms of art. Some argue art and culture are apolitical and boycotting them is an infringement on freedom of expression.  They insist that art is a language of peace and building bridges. Others argue that culture and art are in fact political and can serve as tools of political propaganda and repression.  They highlight the responsibility of artists to affect change by raising awareness about political and social issues. In this paper, I will set out to explore the relationship between the culture and politics within the Palestinian Israeli conflict, while examining the arguments for and against the Palestinian Civil Society’s call for a cultural boycott of Israel.

Boycott Divestment and Sanctions – BDS

Confronting a failed peace process and a disappearing Palestinian state, and inspired by the South African movement to end apartheid, Palestinian civil society in 2005 set out to build a rights based grassroots movement that adopts a non-violent form of resistance based on international law and the universal declarations of human rights. They called on people of good conscience around the world to apply boycotts divestments and sanctions on Israel until Israel ends its occupation of Palestinian land, including East Jerusalem, and fulfills its obligations under international law toward the Palestinian refugees, granting full equality to the Palestinian citizens of the state of Israel. Endorsed by 170 Palestinian political parties, organizations, trade unions and movements representing Palestinians in the Occupied Territory, inside Israel’s 1948 boundaries, as well as in Diaspora, the 2005 BDS call represents the voice of the majority of Palestinian civil society and its three demands articulate a unified Palestinian vision that cannot be dismissed. The BDS call is now endorsed by hundreds of leading international human rights activists, including prominent figures such as Stephane Hessel (2010), co-author of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Holocaust survivor.

The Palestinian Campaign for Cultural and Academic Boycott of Israel (PCABI)

In 2006 the majority of Palestinian cultural workers, including most filmmakers and artists along with hundreds of international cultural workers and artists issued a unified statement in support of BDS. Today the list of artists who have publically joined the cultural boycott and have cancelled performances in Israel includes celebrities from around the world like Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters, Annie Lennox, Brian Eno, Devendra Banhart, Tommy Sands, Carlos Santana, Elvis Costello, Gil Scott-Heron amongst many others. The list also includes some incredible writers like Eduardo Galeano, Arundhati Roy and Alice Walker, as well as accomplished filmmakers such as Ken Loach and Jean-Luc Godard.

However, not all artists respond favorably to the boycott call. Some still choose to perform in Israel like pop icons Elton John, Madonna and Lady Gaga to name a few. These artists insist that performing in Israel is about promoting peaceful co-existence by bringing people together. They maintain that cultural events such as concerts are apolitical and should remain so. They complain that the boycotts single out Israel unfairly and that artists – according to Elton John – should not “cherry-pick” their conscious (“Elton John performs in Israel”). They also argue that boycotts are a blunt instrument that amounts to collective punishment of the Israeli people.

Is culture apolitical?

In order to understand the relationship between culture and politics within the Palestinian Israeli context it is important to review the history of Palestinian culture and the political challenges it has faced throughout the years of the Palestinian struggle for freedom.

In an article that appeared in Haaretz (15 May 2012) commemorating Nakba, Dr. Hanan Ashrawi described Palestinian society prior to Israel’s establishment in1948 as highly developed commercially, artistically and culturally. Its economic development was one of the highest in the Arab World and its high school enrolment was second highest with 379 private schools as early as 1914, and dozens of bookstores. In fact, Ashrawi wrote that between the years 1911 and 1948 Palestine had at least 161 newspapers, magazines and other publications and a vibrant cultural scene with cinemas, live theatres and musical concerts both by local artists as well as visiting giants like Egyptian icon Om Kalthoum and the Lebanese singer Farid Alatrash.

All of this was disrupted in 1948 when Israel was established on the ruins of Palestinian villages. Since then Palestinian culture became the target of a systematic and deliberate attempt at erasure by the Israeli authorities. For example, a story which broke out only this year on Al Jazeera titled “The Great Book Robbery” uncovered how during the process of establishing the state of Israel, librarians from Israel’s National Library accompanied the Israeli army into Palestinian homes after their residents were driven out and systematically took all the books that were left in these houses. The books included priceless volumes of Palestinian Arab and Muslim literature, including poetry, works of history, art and fiction. Thousands of these books were destroyed but some were added to the library’s collection and remain till this day in the Israeli National Library, designated, abandoned property – of course totally disregarding the fact that this property does belong to a people who were forced to leave and never permitted to return to their homes or to be reunited with any of their assets, including their books.

Another example of the politicization of culture in the Palestinian Israeli context is how British and then Israeli authorities often targeted not only Palestinian political leaders, but also artists and intellectuals, imprisoning them, banishing them into exile, and even assassinating them. Amongst the artists and intellectuals assassinated by Israel were writer Ghassan Kanafani (Abukhalil 2012) and poet and intellectual Wael Zuaiter (Jacir 2007). Also of great significance to this discussion is how during Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982, Israeli forces looted and confiscated the accumulated national archives of the Palestine Liberation Organization, which included valuable and rare collections of films and other Palestinian cultural artifacts (IMEU 2012).

Israel’s attack on Palestinian culture continues today and takes many different shapes and forms. Palestinian artists in the occupied and besieged West Bank and Gaza suffer the same fate as all other Palestinians living under occupation. They are discriminated against, their movement is restricted, and their most basic human rights are denied. Israel does not distinguish between culture and politics. In 2005, when Former deputy director general of the Israeli foreign ministry, Nissim Ben-Sheetrit, launched the ‘Brand Israel’ campaign he admitted  “We are seeing culture as a hasbara toolof the first rank,and I do not differentiate between hasbara and culture” (Ben-Ami 2005). This was abundantly clear in the aftermath of Israel’s three-week bombardment of Gaza during the winter of 2008-2009. As the world witnessed in shock the incredible devastation and human suffering of an imprisoned 1.5 million people mostly refugees and half under the age of 18, Israel brushed off all criticism, blaming the outrage over its actions on bad public relations. Its solution to improve its image as revealed in a New York Times article (Bronner 2009) was not to address its record of violations, but to grant an extra $2 million from the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s budget to improve its image through “cultural and information diplomacy”. Arye Mekel, the ministry’s deputy director general for cultural affairs, was quoted in the article saying, “We will send well-known novelists and writers overseas, theater
companies, exhibits…This way you show Israel’s prettier
face, so we are not thought of purely in the context of war” (Bronner 2009).

Mekel’s quote is a perfect illustration of how, if you dig beneath the surface, you’ll find that many Israeli state sponsored events that may seem to be simply cultural and for pure entertainment purposes are in fact driving political agendas and whitewashing crimes similar to those committed in Gaza.  In fact, Israel goes so far in its manipulation of cultural events that it has made it a condition for artists who receive state funding to sign a contract stipulating they commit to “ promote the policy interests of the State of Israel via culture and art, including contributing to creating a positive image for Israel” (Laor 2008).  In other words, Israeli artists who are sponsored by the Israeli state are required to support the policies of the state in public and to remain silent on Israel’s discrimination and atrocities against the Palestinians. This was confirmed when Israeli pop music artist Idan Raichel admitted in an interview published on Australia-il.com (2008) the nature of the relationship between the state and its sponsored artists: “We certainly see ourselves as ambassadors of Israel in the world, cultural ambassadors, hasbara ambassadors, also in regards to the political conflict”.

Can cultural events bring people together?

Having established that culture in the Israeli Palestinian context is not apolitical and cannot be seen in isolation of the political environment, I’d like to move on to address the second argument made by opponents of the cultural boycotts who favor performing in Israel as a way to ‘bring people together’ and to promote ‘co-existence’ through joint Palestinian Israeli cultural projects.

First of all, let’s look at the benefit of the joint cultural projects. Will these joint projects pursue an agenda for justice and equality or will they bring two unequal sides together – an occupied and an occupier – and promote an illusion of symmetry? Projects that don’t aim to end Israel’s occupation and oppression of the Palestinian people only promote the normalization of the status quo. That is why increasingly more and more Palestinian artists are turning away from these joint ventures, often refusing to accept badly needed funds and the promise of fame and success, because they recognize that the price for participation – normalizing oppression – is too high to accept.

Secondly, the idea that a concert in Israel can bring Palestinians and Israelis together is absurd when one considers that millions of Palestinians who live under Israel’s military control are prevented by Israel’s apartheid policies from attending. To clarify, when concerts are held in Israel, Palestinians in the West Bank do not enjoy the same access to them as Jewish settlers living on land confiscated from Palestinians in the West Bank. In fact, even when cultural events take place inside the Occupied Territories, for example in Ramallah, Palestinians in other enclaves and Bantustans within the occupied territories or those who live in Gaza, or Palestinians who hold Israeli citizenships – are often not allowed to attend due to the hundreds of Israeli checkpoints in the Occupied Territories and tricky permit systems, all designed to fragment and control Palestinian society.

Israel’s system of apartheid and segregation touches every aspect of Palestinian life and excludes Palestinians from many opportunities that are afforded the Jewish people. This issue of exclusion was at the center of the controversy at the Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, as international and local artists expressed dismay at The Globe for inviting Israel’s national theatre Habima to participate in the ‘Globe to Globe’ festival. A protest letter which appeared in The Guardian (29 March 2012) and was signed by an impressive number of celebrities, including first artistic director of Shakespeare’s Globe, Mark Rylance, Trevor Griffiths, Sonja Linden, and Emma Thompson, pointed to the fact that “…by inviting Habima, the Globe is associating itself with policies of exclusion practiced by the Israeli state and endorsed by its national theatre company”.

International artists have an ethical responsibility to address this issue of exclusion and discrimination, which is central to the reality of the conflict. The real questions artists need to ask themselves are: Do we want to promote a culture where we feel comfortable performing before an audience that is selected by way of racial privilege? Do we want to engage with Israeli artists who have committed by way of signing a legal contract to whitewash Israel’s system of discrimination and oppression? How can we accept the claim that concerts or cultural events can ‘bring people together’ when these events often work to promote and to support an existing system of discrimination designed to keep the people apart?

Protecting artistic freedom of expression

Israel has argued that the cultural boycott infringes on artistic freedom. While it is true that Israeli artists are free to express and share their art with the world, Palestinian artists face tremendous challenges with stifling travel restrictions, arbitrary detention, political repression and various roadblocks that get in the way of them holding rehearsals, exhibiting their work or even performing the simplest tasks, which becomes quite impossible under occupation.

Today, Palestinian artists and theatre makers are caught in an intricate and multi layered system of oppression. Take for example the Freedom Theatre in Jenin and the tremendous challenges they face. A Human Rights Watch report this year (27 July 2012) accused Israel and its perceived security arm the Palestinian Authority of  “trampling on the rights of Freedom Theater’s staff,” adding that  “[a] theater should be able to offer critical and provocative work without fearing that its staff will be arrested and abused.”

The HRW statement referred to Israel’s ongoing system of arbitrary arrests and detention and called for an investigation into allegations of mistreatment, raising the concern that since the murder of its director and co-founder, Juliano Mer-Khamis, in April 2011, the Israeli occupation forces have “repeatedly raided the theater and beaten and arbitrarily arrested employees”.

Israel’s occupation and system of discrimination infringes daily on the Palestinian artists’ freedom of expression.  So the question here is should Israeli state sponsored artists’ freedom of expression override that of the Palestinians? There is Hypocrisy to the Israeli claim that it does. In 1984Enuga S. Reddy, then director of the United Nations Centre Against Apartheid, responded to similar criticism about the cultural boycott of South Africa; the following is an excerpt of his press briefing published on the PACBI website:

“It is rather strange, to say the least, that the South African regime which denies all freedoms … to the African majority … should become a defender of the freedom of artists and sportsmen of the world. We have a list of people who have performed in South Africa because of ignorance of the situation or the lure of money or unconcern over racism. They need to be persuaded to stop entertaining apartheid, to stop profiting from apartheid money and to stop serving the propaganda purposes of the apartheid regime.”

Profiting from the occupation

But profiting from apartheid and serving its propaganda purposes is precisely what artists do when they cross what the Palestinian solidarity movement now calls the world’s largest picket line’ (Billet 2012).  Take for example Madonna’s Israel Peace Concert during which Madonna told her fans in Tel Aviv’s Ramat Gan stadium, “It’s easy to say I want peace in the world, but it’s another thing to do it”. Her recipe for peace was simple; she told her fans that “[i]f we rise above our egos and our titles and the names of our countries and names of our religions, if we can rise above all that, and treat everyone around us, every human being with dignity and respect, we will have peace” (Steinberg and Bronstein, 2012). But the reality is that Madonna’s peace speech was lost on the Palestinians, who were denied access to her ‘peace concert’ and who remain locked up behind Israel’s high walls and barbed wires.

More significant is the fact that Madonna’s so called ‘peace concert’, which gave lip service to peace, in fact was successful in promoting tourism in Israel, bringing in 4,000 tourists with some fans paying up to NIS 5,000 for VIP tickets and accommodation packages (Domke and Halutz 2012).  So in reality, the concert was great for Israel, its economy, its image and its institutions but did not do much for the cause of working toward creating a real environment for a peace with justice.

Singling out Israel

Some argue that boycotts single out Israel unfairly and that artists – as Elton John said  – should not “cherry pick” their conscious (Daily Mail 19 June 2010). Some Israeli artists feel that there is a sense of prejudice, as was expressed by Habima’s artistic Director Ilan Ronen:

We come to the Globe along with 37 countries and languages. And this is the only theatre, and the only language, that should be boycotted? Everything is OK in those other countries – no problem at all? Artists should not boycott other artists… I think, as an artist, that this is wrong. We should have a dialogue with everybody. We should discuss and disagree. (Tonkin 2012)

But Palestinians have every right to single Israel out for occupying and oppressing them, and to call for the help and the solidarity of the international community in a non-violent, peaceful form of resistance that is anchored in human rights and progressive liberal values. Ronen’s assertion that Israeli artists are unfairly singled out is also misleading. Unlike South African academic and cultural boycott, which was actually a “blanket” boycott, BDS does not target individualIsraeli academics, writers or artists. Israeli artists are welcome to cooperate with Palestinian artists as long as the projects they are working on together do not whitewash Israel’s occupation, ignore the inequality and discrimination against Palestinians or work to promote Israel’s softer side, while the state continues its gross violations of the human rights of the Palestinians. Israeli artists who receive Israeli state funding are in fact under contractual duties, as illustrated earlier, to do just that.   

Boycotts raise awareness

As this debate continues, it is important to note that even when artists choose not to abide by the boycott call, the controversy that surrounds their performances or their participation in Israeli sponsored events at times within itself serves to educate and raise awareness around the issues and creates opportunities for discussions and for constructive dialogue about what is going on in Israel/Palestine.

This was apparent here in Melbourne when the Boycott fever caught on with the Melbourne International Film Festival in 2010.  At the time, the makers of the film Son of Babylon, having realized that the Melbourne Film Festival was sponsored by Israel, tried to boycott the event. The film’s director Mohamed Al-Daradji and producers Isabelle Stead and Atia Al-Daradji demanded the film, a Palestinian co-production, not to be shown in protest against Israel’s “illegal crimes against humanity” (Quinn 2010).  The festival director Richard Moore declined the request and the film was shown as scheduled. However, this incident created waves of media coverage as most major news outlets and tens of bloggers around the world weighed in their opinion.  The controversy opened the gates to debate and discussions around Israeli actions and the ethics of the boycott movement. This was a refreshing change given that before the Boycott calls, Israel was only in the spotlight when a major event took place; often a suicide bombing, rocket attacks wars or massive bombardments.

Conclusion

Palestinian Civil Society’s call for a cultural boycott of Israel is a legitimate non-violent form of resistance that aims to put international pressure on the state of Israel in order to end its occupation and discrimination policies against the Palestinian people.  Neither Palestinians nor Israelis believe that culture is apolitical. Israel’s assault on Palestinian culture is well documented and its targeting of Palestinian cultural figures has been denounced by various human rights groups. Israel uses culture as a branding tool to promote its softer side and to whitewash its violations of the Palestinian people’s basic human rights. Palestinians also view their art and their culture through the prism of their struggle for freedom justice and equality. From erasure to resistance, Palestinian culture today is an expression of the Palestinian people’s story with all its dimensions, including the political. For Palestinians art is a form of resistance; theatre is political mutiny, dance is rebellion, and singing is liberation.

Works Cited

Abukhalil, As’ad. “Ghassan Kanafani: In Our Memory.” Alakhbar English. Web. 12 July 2012.

“An interview with Idan Raichel.” Australia.il.com. Web. Hebrew. 2008.

Ashrawi, Hanan. “Recognizing Nakba, reaching peace.” Haaretz. Web. 15 May 2012.

Ben-Ami, Yuval. “About Face.” Haaretz. Web. 20 Sept. 2005.

Billet, Alexander . “Madonna sings for apartheid; yet campaign to boycott Israel grows stronger.” Electronic Intifada ChicagoWeb. 12 June 2012.

Bronner, Ethan. “After Gaza, Israel Grapples with Crisis of Isolation.” New York Times. Web. 18 March 2009.

“Call for Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel.”  Palestinian Campaign for Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel [PCACBI].  Statements. Web. 6 July 2004.

“Cultural Boycott: Statement by Enuga S. Reddy, Director of U.N. Centre Against Apartheid at a Press Briefing (1984).” Palestinian Campaign for the Academic & Cultural Boycott of Israel [PACBI]. Web. 11 January 1984.

Domke, Ronit and Avshalom Halutz. “Madonna draws 4,000 tourists to Israel for MDNA concert premier.”  Haaretz. Web. 29 May 2012.

“Elton John performs in Israel after string of other artists cancel appearances.” Daily Mail Online. Web. 19 June 2010.

“Fact Sheet:  Palestinian Culture: 64 Years Under Israeli Assault.” The Institute for Middle East Understanding [IMEU]. Web. 2 August 2012.

Hessel, Stephane. “Gaza Flotilla: Global Citizens Must Respond Where Governments Failed”. Huffington Post. The Blog. Web. 15 June 2010.

“Israel/Palestinian Authority: Theatre Group Hit From Both Sides”. Human Rights Watch. News. Web. 27 July 2012.

Jacir, Emily. “Material for a Film: Retracing Wael Zuatier.” Electronic Intifada. Web. 16 Jul. 2007.

Laor, Yitzhak . “Putting out a contract on art.” Haaretz. Web. 25 July 2008.

“Palestinian Civil Society Call for BDS.”  BDS Movement.  Statements. Web. 9 Jul. 2005.

Quinn, Karl. “Festival threatened over Israel link.” The Age. Web. 4 August 2010.

Steinberg, Jessica and Dani Bronstein.  “Madonna kept Tel Aviv crowd waiting ‘until she got her Gummi Bears’.” The Times of Israel. Web. 4 June 2012.

“The Great Book Robbery.” AlJazeera. Web. 24 May 2012.

Tonkin, Boyd. “Artists should not boycott other artists.” The Independent. Web. 28 May 2012.

 

Biography

Samah Sabawi is a writer, political analyst, commentator, author and playwright. She is co-author of the book Journey to Peace in Palestine and writer and producer of the plays Cries from the Land and Three Wishes. Sabawi is currently in the process of working on her third play Tales of a City by the Sea – a love story set against the backdrop of Israel’s bombardment of Gaza in 2008-2009.
Sabawi is a policy advisor to the Palestinian policy network AlShabaka and former public advocate for Australians for Palestine. Her past work experience include holding the position of Executive Director and Media Spokesperson for the National Council on Canada Arab Relations (NCCAR) and working as Subject Matter Expert (SME) on various countries in the Middle East’s cultural and political landscape for the Canadian Foreign Service Institute’s Center for Intercultural Learning.

Palestine gallery to open in London

OneWorld Events

Londoners will soon be able to get off the tube at King’s Cross and walk into a Palestinian refugee camp.

They will be able to meet some of the 12,000 descendants of the 750,000 Palestinians forced to flee their homeland in the wake of the creation of the state of Israel in 1948.

The people of Shatila camp are squeezed into one square kilometre. The labyrinthine alleyways are plastered with posters and inscribed with graffiti and street art.

You enter the home of Mariam, a 90-year-old woman who is propped up in bed. She tells her family’s story, part of the story of the Nakba (The Catastrophe – the Palestinian displacement).

You can call in on Hassan, sitting in his shrine contemplating the history that has brought him here, fingering a string of blue prayer beads as he explains his eclectic collection of objects – Muslim and Christian, secular and religious, prayer beads, crucifixes, icons, clay pots and seashells, all illuminated by fairy lights.

Or you can meet three generations of the Al-Awwal family: Rasheed, 42, his mother, sitting regally in her armchair, and his son, Abdul.

All this is possible through an interactive touch-screen tour of Shatila soon to be unveiled at Europe’s first Palestinian gallery, which opens in October.
“Palestinian artists are not widely recognised,” says the gallery’s communications and events officer, Sami Metwasi. “They are isolated. This gallery will give them a chance to be presented to the world.”

He says the Palestinian image “has been polluted during the years of struggle and conflict”, and the exhibitions and activities will help highlight its people’s rich, diverse culture.

“It is always after others see the high quality of our art and culture that their respect for Palestine grows. We Palestinians are not just victims of injustice but a living culture worthy of admiration and respect.

“What is wonderful about it and about our people is that even under the most terrible circumstances of occupation, exile and war we have not only kept our cultural heritage alive but created new cultural output of such high quality to earn its place among world class modern art and culture.”

Another aim, he says, is to communicate with British culture, to build bridges and to give an opportunity to British people to explore Palestinian culture.

“We are not a traditional gallery with traditional divides and barriers between installations and users,” notes Metwasi. “Rather, we aim to use this modern space to bring people together and to bridge gaps between Palestinians and locals.”

It will also be a centre for Britain’s Palestinian community, estimated at 75,000.
The gallery’s original sponsor was the Prince of Sharjah, Sheikh Sultan al-Qassimi, who funded it through the London-based Palestine Return Centre. It is now an independent entity.

The gallery has already started work, with activities that include creative workshops for teenagers and, on 26-27 June, performances by a group of youngsters from a camp in Bethlehem who tell their stories through photographs, images and dance, “proving that talent can bloom in the most difficult conditions of life in exile and under occupation”.

* The Palestine Gallery, 21-27 Chalton Street, NW1. Tel: 0207 121 6190

Original article appeared here

I Am Yusuf and This Is My Brother: A Palestinian story about Palestinians

In the war of 1948, thousands of Palestinians were uprooted from their homes never to return, and playwright Amir Nizar Zuabi is determined to tell their stories.

 

Amir Nizar Zuabi, a Palestinian director and playwright

Amir Nizar Zuabi in Jerusalem. Photograph: Gali Tibbon

 

It was six decades ago, but the fallout from the war continues. A few months ago, one fast-rising, rightwing Israeli party tried to introduce a bill that would ban Palestinians from commemorating the Nakba of 1948, their catastrophe (but which Israelis hail as the creation of their state, the apogee of their independence struggle). In the end, the law will probably be watered down, but the principle seems to have wide support. As far as most Israelis are concerned, they won in 1948, the Palestinians lost, and history has moved on. Except, of course, it hasn’t.

Next week, a compelling new play opens at London’s Young Vic, promising to thrust the discomforting story of that war back into public scrutiny. At the age of 33, Amir Nizar Zuabi, the play’s writer and director, is from a generation of Palestinians raised on stories of the Nakba, haunted by tales of how hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were uprooted from their homes, never to return. “We have it as a covert partner in everything,” says Zuabi. “Two of us can sit having coffee and the third person will be Mr Nakba.”

Zuabi was brought up in Nazareth, in the Galilee, where there is a large population of Palestinians living within Israel, and where all around there is evidence of the 1948 war, including ruined villages. One of the razed villages was Baissamoon, a tiny Palestinian community. It is here that Zuabi set his play, I Am Yusuf and This Is My Brother, which tells of two brothers, an ill-fated love, and the dislocation and tragedy brought about by the war.

The play, says Zuabi, began as a personal investigation to scrape away layers of myth. “Why did people make the decision to leave? Or did they make the decision to leave? What would you have done?” Zuabi, living in Israel, found the story had been “hushed up”: “It’s the big taboo, because it’s the primal sin. It is the mother of all problems here. They don’t like talking about it.”

Zuabi’s writing is, however, far from polemical. The Jews who fought to create their state are almost absent; never named, they appear only in the background. “We saw them first in January, then all the time,” says one brother. “They invaded our dreams, our conversation.” Zuabi simply wanted to tell a Palestinian story about Palestinians. “Our narrative is the less known one – history is written by the victors,” he says, but adds: “There is no spite. I find the blame game futile. It’s not like I do theatre to crush Israeli propaganda. I don’t hear Israeli propaganda. I don’t care about it.”

The villagers are divided: should they run or fight? Some see the battle in stark terms. “The war was over before it began,” says one character. “We lost. They won. It was that simple.” But with Britain’s Mandate ending, the same character tells a British officer: “We are not a rubbish heap for your guilt, my friend. We’re in your Middle East and what you sow here you’ll reap in 50 years or 100 years in your lovely London.”

Dropped into the middle of this is the original, sombre recording of the results of the UN vote on the 1947 Partition Plan. Rejected by Palestinians, it was passed by the UN and, but for the war, would have carved Palestine into two states around an internationally protected Jerusalem. “Soviet Union: Yes. United Kingdom: Abstained. United States: Yes . . .”

The play explores the what ifs, says Zuabi. “My grandmother, this Palestinian matriarch, used to say, ‘If you plant what ifs, you’ll sow I wish.’ When I walk around Haifa, in some of the neighbourhoods that are empty, I really have to ask myself, ‘What if that hadn’t happened? What are they doing, these people that once lived here?'”

Zuabi studied acting in Jerusalem, then worked with the al-Kasaba theatre in Ramallah as the second intifada, the Palestinian uprising, took hold. He and his actors produced short sketches that drew unexpectedly large audiences, hungry for relief. The sketches turned into Alive from Palestine, which toured abroad, with runs at the Royal Court and the Young Vic. Zuabi then spent a year working at the Young Vic, studied in Moscow, and returned home to work with the Palestinian National theatre.

I Am Yusuf is the first play from ShiberHur, a new touring theatre company based in Haifa, whose name means Within a Few Inches of Freedom. It has already toured Palestinian villages and refugee camps – communities with little access to the theatre. “We have everything going against us as a theatre movement,” says Zuabi. “Lack of funds, infrastructure, the fact that theatre is not really part of our cultural tradition – we come from a poetic tradition.”

When Zuabi was at drama school, he was the sole Palestinian among Israeli students (one of whom, now a successful actor, later became his wife). Only recently has a drama school opened in Ramallah. Until then, Palestinians went to Israel, if they could obtain the permit, or abroad, if they could afford it. “It’s a new art form for us. We have an audience that’s completely uncatered for and is very thirsty. Once they know theatre exists, they keep coming back.”

He has been surprised by the reaction to the play across the generations. In Jerusalem, an elderly man came up to him after one performance and said: “Thank you very much for telling my story.” In Haifa, a woman in her 20s told him: “I understand my parents better now.” Still, he doubts how much difference one play can make towards unravelling this bitter conflict. “I have to believe it does affect people,” he says. “On the other level, I’m not daft. I know I can’t change the reality. I can’t make a show and tomorrow everyone will walk hand-in-hand.”

I am Yusuf and This Is My Brother Young Vic,  London SE1 Starts 19 Jan Until 6 Feb Box office:  020-7922 2922 Venue website

Original article was posted here.

euronews le mag : Art festival in Ramallah

Published on Nov 15, 2012 by 

http://www.euronews.com/ Qalandiya, the first ever Palestinian Contemporary Art Biennale has been held in Ramallah. One of the most popular displays was a pop art-inspired needlework portrait is of Mohamed Bouazizi, the market stall holder who sparked the beginning of the Arab Spring when he burned himself to death in protest at being rough-handled by the police.

The biennial took its name from one of the most famous symbols of Palestinian separation, the Israeli checkpoint at Qalandiya, which is one of the main crossing points between the West Bank and Israel.

Displaying art installations in hard-to-access Palestinian villages scattered across the West Bank was a gamble, but it worked. People flocked to the Abwein village for a day packed with art and fun.

Using villages as art galleries, and borrowing its name from a crowded refugee camp and Israeli military checkpoint, Qalandiya International was a chance for Palestinian artists of the West Bank, Jerusalem, Israel and Gaza to get together and overcome their politically fragmented world.

Jerusalem artist, Jumana Manna’s short movie was inspired by a 1942 picture of a high society masquerade hosted by Palestinian politician Alfred Roch, a reenactment that has won Manna the festival’s “Young Artist of the Year” award.

For more information see
http://centrefortheaestheticrevolution.blogspot.fr/2012/11/gestures-in-time-a…

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Maysoon Zayid: Funny Arabs – Review

 LSMedia The Independent Liverpool Student Newspaper

In a brilliantly candid account of topics such as terrorism and the Israel-Palestine conflict, Zayid’s autobiographical stand up deals with the post 9/11 relationship between America and its Arabs.

Having heard nothing about Maysoon Zayid other than she is a Palestinian-American comic with cerebral palsy, it was with large amounts of curiosity rather than anticipation that I headed down to the Epstein Theatre on Sunday afternoon.  Even before Zayid stepped on stage, I suspected that I was going to enjoy her take on things. With a fantastic and glowing introduction by Liverpool’s very own Alexei Sale, it was great to see a Jewish comic warming up for his Palestinian counterpart and roundly condemning Israel’s treatment of the Palestinian people.

Maysoon gets her gig underway with her take on the traditional call and response, berating the audience for even daring to feel sorry for her and making light of the jerking limbs caused by her cerebral palsy. The comedy comes thick and fast, with topical stories punctuated with quick, jokes leading up to weighty and often bawdy punch lines.

Using an ever growing number of call backs to previous anecdotes, Maysoon weaves her own narrative along with that of the Israel-Palestine conflict and life in post 9/11 America.

Maysoon’s parents moved to the New Jersey from a small village in rural Palestine and by her own admission her upbringing was exceptionally strict. Her father forbade Maysoon and her sisters from riding a bike or sitting on a seesaw, in what can only be described as a misguided attempt to retain her virginity until her wedding day. The comedy respectfully yet openly pokes fun at some of the more extreme examples of parenting.

Treating her family in much the same way Jewish comics have often conjured up caricatures of the dreaded ‘Jewish mother-in-law’, Zayid refers to her husband as ‘the refugee’ because she first met him in one of the West Bank’s crowded refugee camps.  Using tales of visits over to Palestine to see ‘her refugee’ she explains the backward attitudes that a society under such oppression resorts to, at one point telling of how her mother-in-law gathered all the women of the village together to assess whether a disabled person was worthy of her son.

Zayid lampoons the post 9/11 attitudes to Muslims in the US, by conveying the difficulties of being a shaking Arab at the airport who was dropped off by a father with a striking resemblance to Saddam Hussein.

Regardless of the history her people, Maysoon’s comic digs are sharply leveled at both Israeli and Palestinian politicians. Packing out theatres as a listened to voice for the Palestinian people, whether it’s the US or the West Bank, gives her comedy the kind of importance that few achieve, and puts her up there with the very best. She uses her voice and position to raise awareness and address issues that not many politicians, never mind comics, often go near.

The barriers to success that Maysoon Zayid has overcome are larger than most and that alone makes her worth listening to. However, her comic skill in turning the trials of being a disabled Palestinian woman born in America into something very funny, without losing its point, shows her to be a remarkably gifted performer.

Read original article here 

 

Art on the edge: Palestinian artist Larissa Sansour

Denise Marray

23 November 2012

Khaleej Times

Palestinian artist Larissa Sansour draws inspiration from the political occupation and dehumanising treatment witnessed during her childhood days, and transforms them into profoundly symbolic 
works of art.

A Palestinian astronaut plants the national flag on the moon and then floats away into space. These sequences, bas-ed on iconic images from the US moon landing and Stanley Kubri-ck’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, are at once startling and moving beca-use they express both profound hope and sadness.

The images, from the short film A Space Exodus, are the work of the Palestinian artist Larissa Sansour, whose name made headlines last year when the clothing and accessories company Lacoste forced the withdrawal of her shortlisted photography artwork from a competition being held at L’Élysée Museum in Lausanne, Switzerland. Her work was apparently considered ‘too pro-Palestinian’.

In response to the censorship, the museum broke off relations with Lacoste, the corporate sponsor, and cancelled the competition which carried a first prize of £21,000. The story of the censorship made headlines across the world, and Sansour and her Danish husband found themselves at the centre of a media storm, which proved both uplifting and exhausting. The censored work, Nation Estate, which has since been developed into a futuristic short film, places the Palestinian people in a skyscraper, supported by the international community, with each floor representing a city — Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Ramallah. The citizens in this luxury development can move about freely, via elevators (no checkpoints), but it is a sterile environment affording ‘freedom’ within the confines of an 
artificial construct. The skyscraper has views over the Dome of the Rock of Jerusalem — so the inhabitants overlook the real Jerusalem, forcing them to face a painful reality of exclusion and separation.

Speaking from her London apartment, Sansour said she and her husband are taking a much-needed rest after completing the film version of Nation Estate, which took nine months of intense work. Ironically, Sansour had wanted to win the Lacoste Nation Estate photography prize. In the event, the publicity that ensued from the ban raised her profile, and she was able to pour the res-ulting profits from sales of her work into financing the high-end production film made in Copenhagen.

Sansour was born in Bethlehem; her parents met in Moscow where her Palestinian father was studying mathematics. Her mother is Russian and worked in radio in Moscow. Upon returning to Palestine, her father was invited by the Vatican to found Bethlehem University. The family home, recalled Sans-our, was like an unofficial embassy, full of leading thinkers and political discussions. As a child, she drew instinctively and her father encouraged her precocious talent by finding her art classes to attend.

She remembers her childhood as ‘sunny’ but punctured by disturbing moments of images of violence on the street. “I think what it does psychologically, and you can’t shake that off, is that you feel that not all humans are equal. As a kid that sends a strong message: ‘You’re Palestinian so you will be treated like dirt.’ It becomes cemented — this dehumanisation — from an early age.”

When she was 15, her family life with parents, brother and sister, was harshly disrupted with the ons-et of the First Intifida, an uprising against the occupation of the Palestinian Territories, which lasted from December 1987 to 1993. Her parents, in an effort to protect her, sent her to boarding school in England, where she studied for her O and A levels. Her memories of this time, she said, are full of gloomy grey skies and a feeling of alienation. Those years sowed the seeds of an aversion to London, which she has only recently overcome. She now loves the international buzz of the city, with its 
vibrant cultural scene.

After returning to Palestine for high school, she then set off for the United States, studying art first in Baltimore and then in New York, where she completed her Masters. She continued her Fine Art studies in Copenhagen, Denmark, where she met her husband, a writer, who works with her on the film scripts. The couple, who moved to London three years ago, have a five-month-old daughter, whose joyful arrival has meant a shift in priorities.

A Space Exodus was showing at the Edge of Arabia’s ‘Come Together exhibition in the heart of London’s East End last month. Artists from across the Middle East showed contemporary work using a wide range of mediums and expressing powerful ideas.

Edge of Arabia is unique in engaging directly through educational programmes with the local East End community. This approach is appreciated in an area of London where, after years of social deprivation, a burgeoning arts scene has given a new lease of life to the once run-down streets, but left many residents feeling excluded. “We’re proud to be the education partner with Edge of Arabia,” said Narull Islam, co-founder of the Mile End Community Project.

“This is probably the first exhibition that has really engaged with the local community. They have got the young people involved; that’s really refreshing. It gives our young people confidence to meet renowned artists.”

Article appeared here khaleejtimes.com

Shakespeare in Palestine

By Abdullah H. Erakat, Ramallah

Yasmin Qadmany’s parents did not want her to study acting. In fact, they tried to prevent the 26-year-old engineer from doing so, to the extent that when she told them she was going to follow her heart, they stopped talking to her. That was three years ago, and next year she will graduate. But before she does, she and fellow thespians at the Drama Academy in Ramallah will put on a production of “Romeo & Juliet.”

“I faced difficulties. But I overcame it because I saw it as a challenge,” says Qadmany noting that her relation with her family is now better than ever. Qadmany is gearing up for another challenge in late November: a two-week workshop taught by the all-female company, the Manhattan Shakespeare Project.

Sarah Eismann, the founding artistic director of the Manhattan Shakespeare project says the project came about last year after she performed in an international production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at the Folkwang University of the arts in Germany. Students from Palestine’s Drama academy also made up the cast.

“They were just incredible artists, as well as passionate, courageous and really wonderful people. So when their director asked if I wanted to work with them again, I was like yeah, of course, I would love to,” she adds.

The Drama Academy managing director Petra Bargouthi says the workshop, (English with Arabic translation), is an excellent way to prepare her students for next year’s Shakespeare festival in Germany.

“Language is the most important character when it comes to Shakespeare. It’s a game of language, so this will be very helpful for our students to understand and discover the poetry in Shakespeare,” explained Bargouthi – also a movement therapy instructor – in an interview with Variety Arabia,

The academy, the first of its kind acting school in Palestine, is located in downtown Ramallah and is hosted by Al-Kasaba Theatre and Cinematheque.

Teaching artist Jensen Olaya says she hopes that she and her colleague Eismann will contribute to the “already rich curriculum” of the Academy.

Olaya explained that the sessions will be recorded by film documenter Lena Rudnick: “I feel that Shakespeare is a widely used tool to teach theatre and performance. I feel like his themes are universal on the smallest, most intimate level and I hope that the universal themes can help us connect past cultural and political divides,” she wrote in an email to Variety Arabia.

It’s not only her first trip to the Palestine, but to the Middle East. While she says there are people in Ramallah who have already welcomed her, Olaya says she still cannot quite comprehend that she is actually going and does not know what to expect.

“We have received support – both financial support and moral support – from people in the US and I feel like I have a lot of people who are hoping that I go out there and return with wonderful stories to share about Ramallah and its’ people,” Olaya adds.

“It’s a little scary,” says second-year acting student Rabee Hanani, who has mostly been educated in Germany, but his feelings are more of curiosity than fear.

“By being exposed to different cultures from different countries in the world, we gain more,” he said.

Third-year Drama Academy student Jihad Al Khateeb says he hopes this workshop will make him a better actor, not only in performing Shakespeare, but in general.

“I think the most important thing is how to do Shakespeare the way he intended for us to do it,” says the 24-year old.

Leaving Ramallah, Olaya and Eismann will head north to Jenin’s Freedom Theatre, where they will carry out the same thing.

The venue made the news headlines in April 2011, when its co-founder Juliano Mer Khamis was murdered in broad daylight by unknown men on the steps of the theatre.

Managing director Jonatan Stanczak said the incident caused some students to drop out of the student theatre acting school, but things are now back on track.

Currently, British director Diane Trevis, the first woman to work with the Royal Shakespeare theatre, is conducting a workshop there.

“I am aware that Shakespeare is a very important component of any actor’s development. It’s a great opportunity for us to have one of the best Shakespeare troupes in the world working with our students,” adds Stanczak, who is a nurse by profession.

“We believe culture is the glue that keeps everything together and it is also the process that allows Palestinian society to form itself around ideas,” he said.

“Most of the people who come to Palestine and do the workshop become more aware of the Palestinian life and Palestinian humanity,” says Bargouthi. “I hope this will be a way of knowing us and understanding us and also for our students to see how people perceive them.”

“I merely want to connect as an artist on a human level: person-to-person, overcoming political barriers,” said Olaya.

Eismann says the Manhattan Shakespeare project is simply excited because it is their first venture into creating international relationships.

“We’re not there to make a political statement. We’re just there to create theatre, and to create art,” she concluded.

The story was originally published in Variety Arabia November issue.

On Babel an interview with Samah Sabawi

Marika Sosnowski  talks with Samah Sabawi  about Gaza, poetry, politics, music, culture, the upcoming play Tales of a City by the Sea plus much more.   http://marikasosnowski.com/2012/11/babel-4-samah-sabawi/

 

The Freedom Bus’s New Initiative “The Ride for Water Justice”

Details Published on Monday, 05 November 2012 08:46

PNN

Thirsting for Justice Campaign said in a press release that during November 2012, the Ride for Water Justice! is taking place in communities impacted by Israel’s illegal appropriations of Palestinian water resources.

The Ride includes guided walks, Playback Theatre performances, and community discussions about water apartheid and the broader struggle for freedom and justice in occupied Palestine. Audience members share autobiographical accounts and watch as a team of actors and musicians instantly transform these accounts into improvised theatre pieces. Playback Theatre provides opportunity for education, advocacy and community building.

The Ride started on Friday, November 2, in the village of Faquaa (in the Jenin district), one of many Palestinian communities impacted by Israel’s illegal appropriations of Palestinian water resources.

In the next Fridays, Palestinian and international activists, students, journalists, artists and the wider public are invited to join any or all of the Ride for Water Justice events:

November 9th: Attuwani, South Hebron Hills

November 16th: Al Hadidiya, Jordan Valley

November 23rd: Gaza via Video Conference

This four time event is organized by the Freedom Bus and EWASH’s West Bank local partner Juzoor.

The Freedom Bus is an initiative of The Freedom Theatre that uses interactive theatre and cultural activism to bear witness, raise awareness and build alliances throughout occupied Palestine and beyond.

Juzoor for Health and Social Development is a Palestinian non-governmental organization based in Jerusalem working at the national level, dedicated to improving the health and well-being of Palestinian families and promoting health as a basic human right.

The Emergency Water, Sanitation and Hygiene group (EWASH) is a coalition of almost 30 organisations working in the water and sanitation sector in the occupied Palestinian territory.

The Freedom Theatre: http://www.thefreedomtheatre.org/

Thirsting for Justice Campaign: http://www.thirstingforjustice.org/new

Juzoor: http://www.juzoor.org/portal

For further information about the event, visit

https://www.facebook.com/events/429492253776932/?ref=ts&fref=ts

Amazing! Daredevil Gaza Youths Run Free With Parkour

November 08, 2012

Agence France-Presse

Mohammed Jakhbir leans back, braces himself, and then leaps off the roof of a Khan Yunis hospital building, flipping backwards before landing on the next roof over.  He whoops with delight at performing the dangerous feat, his favorite of the moves he practices with his team — the first parkour group in the Gaza Strip.
Parkour, also known as free running, is an extreme sport that involves getting around or over urban obstacles as quickly as possible, using a combination of running, jumping, and gymnastic moves including rolls and vaults.


Practitioners leap from roof to roof, run up the side of buildings until they flip backwards, vault over park benches, or cartwheel along walls.

In Gaza, it’s still a novelty, and as Jakhbir and four members of his 12-man crew demonstrate their skills in the grounds of the southern city’s Nasser hospital, a crowd of patients and doctors look on, some filming with their cell phones.
“He’s like Spiderman!” says one onlooker as 23-year-old Jakhbir runs up a wall, seemingly defying gravity as he scales the facade.

As the crowd grows, the team decides to move to a quieter spot. Their practice sessions are occasionally interrupted when onlookers call the police to complain, and they prefer to avoid having to make a run for it.

“When we first started practicing, we could do it anywhere. But gradually we found people would complain and the police would come. It became a game, we’d practice until they arrived and then run awa

y,” Jakhbir said with a laugh.

He’s been practicing parkour for seven years, ever since his friend Abdullah showed him a documentary called “Jump London.” It instantly appealed to them.

“We would watch clips and try to imitate the moves that we saw. Gradually we started to make our own clips,” he says.

“Now sometimes people even request that we make clips to show them certain moves. It’s been a long journey for us, seven years, but now we have a real team.”
Jihad Abu Sultan, 24, joined the team four years ago after seeing some of Jakhbir’s clips on YouTube.

He had a background in both kickboxing and kung-fu, but saw something different in parkour.

“It uses physical strength more than any other sport … I was so impressed by it, especially the jumping involved,” he says.

One of Abu Sultan’s specialities is a move in which he flips his body in a full circle with one hand resting on a wall for him to pivot around.
He’s also an accomplished tumbler, throwing himself along the ground in a series of handsprings, rolls and twists.

“Parkour teaches us to overcome obstacles,” he says. “It makes me feel free, it makes me feel my body is strong, that I can overcome anything.”

But practicing parkour in Gaza hasn’t been easy.

At times they’ve had to shift practice locations because the areas have been targeted by Israeli air strikes. And both Abu Sultan and Jakhbir have battled disapproval from their families.

“At first, my parents forbade it,” admits Abu Sultan.
“They tried to stop me, especially after I was injured, but they couldn’t. It’s in my blood.”

Jakhbir’s parents told him to stop practicing parkour and find a job. He graduated with a degree in multimedia from Gaza’s Islamic University, but has been largely unemployed ever since.

“They told me there was no future to it,” he says with frustration.

“They need to understand that sport is something very important. Athletes can raise Palestine’s name throughout the world.”

Jakhbir and other Gaza Parkour members did just that earlier this year, when an Italian group called Unione Italiana Sport Per Tutti invited them to Italy.

“They were able to make our biggest dream come true, which was to get past the biggest obstacle of all — the Israeli checkpoint — and travel abroad,” Jakhbir says.
The trip took them to Rome and four other Italian cities, where they met with other enthusiasts, showing off their skills and learning a few new ones.
“We talked to people about our lives in Gaza, that we’re living under a siege, and in a continually tense situation. We face financial, social and political obstacles,” Jakhbir recalls.

They’ve spray painted “Gaza Parkour forever” on some of the walls, but they acknowledge an uncertain future.

Jakhbir and Abu Sultan say they’d like to continue parkour professionally, and are hoping to eventually win either local or international support that would allow them to commit to the sport full-time.

“Parkour teaches us we can overcome our problems even if we fail once or twice,” says Jakhbir. “We have to try and we can achieve our goals in life.”

This article appeared in Jakarta Globe