Christmas in Bethlehem

Christmas 2013

Christmas in Bethlehem (Beit Laham, Aramaic for House of Laham, the Canaanitic God of Sustenance) is still a very special and meaningful time even under the brutal Israeli apartheid occupation.  We are not talking about the visual aspects and the unique religious services at the Church of Nativity (you can now follow these live stream for example on the link shown below).  It is special because reflection here is special.  Nowhere is there an exhibit of “Occupation Art” shown in a “Peace Center” in front of a large Christmas tree in front of one of the holiest places in Christianity. Nowhere on earth do people pray that the wall suffocating them is dismantled then watch and listen to Christmas carols from around the world after admiring such exhibits. No where can we hear the same singers mix Christmas and patriotic songs in the manger square and the Shepherds’ field…  Read more

Only in Palestine: how to make teargas canisters bloom

I try to post inspirational stories in my blog, but I have to say of all the stories I’ve posted this one takes hope to a whole new level.  The Guardian published a photo gallery of a garden in the West Bank Village of Bilin (yes where Five Broken Cameras was filmed) where ‘residents have come up with a novel use for the teargas canisters left over from clashes with Israeli soldiers during the weekly protest against the West Bank separation barrier’.   View gallery

MIFTAH: The vibrant canvas that is Palestine

Date posted: April 29, 2013
By Joharah Baker for MIFTAH

Oppression can do strange things to people. When it is oppression in the form of a decades-long military occupation, it means the occupied people run the risk of becoming one-dimensional in the sense that the occupation is what defines them and shapes their past, present and future.

For the Palestinians, this is true to a large extent. Because the Israeli occupation consumes us, preoccupies our everyday lives and effects the smallest aspects of it, we find ourselves thinking mostly about this occupation and ways to resist it, do away with it, or at least work around it.

The thing is, the Palestinians are hardly one-dimensional. The fact that the occupation has taken over so much of our lives does not mean we do not have the potential to embrace other less discouraging aspects of life itself. In the past week, Ramallah – the hub of Palestinian cultural life – has seen Palestinian Fashion Week, the Contemporary Dance Festival and a Spring Festival for children. All of the above activities have been distinctly Palestinian but they were not solely catered to the traditional theme of occupation and oppression, which the Palestinians have grown so accustomed to and believe is the only way the world views them.

Read more…

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

The Palestinian Circus: creative acts between reality and hope

Posted: December 21st, 2012 ˑ Filled under: .culture.theatre ˑ  No Comments

This post is also available in: Dutch

al.arte.magazine 

Over the last weeks, The Palestinian Circus School has been performing in Belgium in various locations, offering a show around the theme ‘Kol Saber!’ The travelling company of performers from Ramallah, Palestine differs from the traditional circus setting with the large tent and animal acts. However, classic circus acts such as acrobatics and tightrope walking do form a part of their show, albeit choreographed in a special way and embedded in a story. The young Palestinian people actually use the circus to tell their story to the world.

The Palestinian Circus School was established in 2006 by the Belgian Jessika Devlieghere and her Palestinian husband Shadi Zmorrod. The school teaches around 170 children and young people 9-27 years of age in different parts of the occupied Palestinian territories. Shadi Zmorrod is the former artistic director of the Jewish Jerusalem Circus and started the circus school when the circus refused to take in Palestinian children. The project is a form of cultural resistance against the occupation and the daily threats. The school aims to offer children a solid and safe haven where they can escape the depressing daily reality, just like a real circus family would do. A place that allows them to explore their creativity and develop social and psychological skills. An artistic world in which they can discover fun, embrace hope, create a positive self-image and learn to work in a team.

Kol Saber - © Veronique Vercheval

Kol Saber – © Veronique Vercheval

More than a school

Some of the early students became local trainers themselves in the basic techniques of acrobatics, juggling, trapeze, flower sticks, pois and clowning. They went on to tour refugee camps in the occupied territories with surprising performances. They also performed abroad, in France and Belgium. One of these trainers is Fadi Zmorrod. “I’ve never done anything like circus acts before I started. After three weeks of intensive training I was amazed at the physical capabilities I turned out to have. It’s therapy. I use it to release tension. ” Young students learning more about their culture, and how to trust others, makes the circus school more than just a school. “We went to other cities. The hardest thing I encountered were the many checkpoints, because they made me nervous. But I also learned more about my culture. We had to get rid of some old ideas like ‘men are stronger’ and ‘girls have more fun.’ For example , touching eachother is prohibited. We have to be physical but without touching eachother. The trust factor is also at play. Girls have less confidence. We learn about gender roles and empowerment. “

The youngsters needed something to look forward to in order to take life into their own hands. The circus school enables them to do just that, without having to live in constant fear. According to Noor Abu Rob, one of the young artists, growing up was difficult. “We only had the streets to live in and sometimes we couldn’t go to school because of a curfew. For me, circus is an open world. I can express myself better through the circus than through words. “

Kol Saber - © Lucia Ahmad

Kol Saber – © Lucia Ahmad

Kol Saber - © Veronique Vercheval

Kol Saber – © Veronique Vercheval

When they first performed in Belgium the shows theme was ‘Circus behind the wall’. The performance was based on the Palestinians’ daily lives, in which the notion of separation is central. The title refers to the wall that separates the Palestinian territories from Israel. The Palestinian Circus wants to teach the public about communication through juggling and clowning acts. This time around they performed their new contemporary circus production ‘Kol Saber!’. The production centers on the various realities of streetlife, a story of the ongoing challenge to escape the external power holding sway over their lives.

‘Kol Saber!’ literally means ‘Eat (the sweet fruit of) the cactus!’, but figuratively speaking ‘Eat patience!’, and tells the story of young people waiting for a change in their society. They try everything and keep believing in hope but finally have to accept the fact their lives will remain the same.

The 14 december show in the De Roma concert hall in Borgerhout was overshadowed by the death of the 17-year-old Mohammad Ziad Al-Salaymeh, one of the students of the Palestinian Circus School. He was shot and killed near a checkpoint by an IDF soldier on his birthday. Mohammad went out to buy a birthday cake and came under fire because the soldiers suspected him to be carrying a gun. Later the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported he had been carrying a toy gun. That news devastated both performers and founders of the travelling company. Jessika Devlieghere held an emotional speech and the young artists dedicated the show to Mohammad al-Salaymeh and the many other innocent victims. It was not the first time that candles were lit. In 2008 they did the same, observing a minute’s silence. The young artists hope this is the last time.

Ahmad Abu Taleb - © Vince Buyssens

Ahmad Abu Taleb – © Vince Buyssens

Ahmad Abu Taleb (21) from Jenin has been performing in the Palestinian Circus for 4,5 years now. “For me, the circus is a way to tell my story and that of the Palestinian people in a creative way and to show it to the world. We recently lost our colleague Mohammad al-Salaymeh. No matter how many atrocities we experience, we will find the power to perform over and over again. Because for every Mohammad who dies by Israeli violence, we are performing even more passionately on stage.”

As has been said, the performance was far from a traditional circus show, but rather a profound story poetically told by means of dance and circus techniques like juggling, aerial acrobatics, balancing acts and jumps. With coats dancing for life, diverging and converging, fighting and living, in a tense context, until a mysterious coat falls from the sky and change the rules of the game. ‘Kol Saber!’ portrays the conflicting life between the bitter realities imposed by the occupation and the sweet and colorful dream of the bereaved sea.

Kol Saber - © Lucia Ahmad

Kol Saber – © Lucia Ahmad

The project gives the students a sense of dignity and is a way to prevent becoming a victim in a dehumanizing conflict, allowing them, on the contrary, to be proud to be Palestinian.

Artists: Ahmed Abu Taleb, Fadi Zmorrod, Mohammed Abu Taleb, Mohammed Abu Sakha and Noor Abu Rob
Directed by Shadi Zmorrod
Costume design: Fadila Aalouchi

More information: http://www.palcircus.ps/
Written by Malikka Bouaissa – Asma Ould Aissa

This article first appeared in al.arte.magazine 

THE 7ARAKAT CONFERENCE: THEATRE, CULTURAL DIVERSITY AND INCLUSION

Friday 2nd and Saturday  3rd of November 2012 – Melbourne australia

The conference will explore practice, research and advocacy in the performing arts with a particular focus on Palestinian Theatre, Arab/Australian Theatre, and Applied Theatre with refugee/migrant groups. The conference will bring together theatre-makers, scholars, creative producers and community development workers to examine various issues of exclusion within the sector of performing arts and the theatre’s role in providing networks of participation and social inclusion.

For information and to register