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.

Palestinian farmers turn to organic farming

By DIAA HADID Associated Press

NUS JUBAIL, West Bank—The Palestinian olive harvest, an ancient autumn ritual in the West Bank, is going upscale.

In an emerging back-to-the-land movement, Palestinian farmers are turning the rocky hills of the West Bank into organic olive groves, selling their oil to high-end grocers in the U.S. and Europe.

The move is a reflection of the growing global demand for natural, sustainable and fairly traded products, albeit with a distinct Palestinian twist. The hardships faced by local farmers, ranging from a lack of rainfall to Israeli trade obstacles, mean that organic growing is one of the few ways Palestinians have to compete in outside markets.

“The Palestinian future is in the land,” said farmer Khader Khader, 31, as he stood among his organic olives in the northern West Bank village of Nus Jubail.

Organic farming has grown into a thriving business, by Palestinian standards, since it first was introduced in the West Bank in 2004. Now, at least $5 million worth of organic olive oil is exported annually—about half of all Palestinian commercial oil exports, said Nasser Abu Farha of the Canaan Fair Trade Association, one of the companies that sells high-end organic olive oil to distributors abroad.

The West Bank-based company purchases the oil at above market prices and pays what’s called a “social premium”—extra money to farming cooperatives to improve their communities.

About 930 farmers have fair-trade and organic certification, while another 140 are “converting” their land—a two- to three-year process during which they stop using chemical fertilizers and pest controls while monitors from Canaan and the Palestine Fair Trade Association provide training and check soil for chemical levels.

Their work is overseen by the Swiss-based Institute for Market Ecology, which is accredited to certify organic products for the U.S., E.U., and Japan. Hundreds more farmers are simply certified as fair-trade, where they and their workers are paid decent wages for their work and produce.

The trade is tiny when compared to major olive growers like Spain, Italy and Greece. But it’s significant for Palestinians, for whom harvesting olives is a cultural tradition that gathers even the most urbanized families.

An average of 17,000 tons of olive oil is produced in the West Bank every year by thousands of farmers, according to aid group Oxfam, which works on the olive industry. Most is for local or personal use, and only about 1,000 tons is exported a year, though that number is likely higher since many farmers sell oil informally through relatives abroad, Abu Farha said.

Organic farmers hope the high-end trade will keep them on their lands, despite difficult odds and high overhead costs.

Palestinians seek the West Bank as the heartland of a future independent state. Most of the 2.5 million Palestinians in the West Bank live under a semi-autonomous government. But Israel, which captured the West Bank in the 1967 Mideast war, wields overall control. Roughly 500,000 Jewish settlers live in the West Bank and neighboring east Jerusalem, taking away resources.

More than 120 Jewish settlements dot the West Bank, often encroaching on Palestinian farmlands or preventing farmers from reaching their land. Israel’s separation barrier, built to prevent militants from entering Israel, has swallowed nearly 10 percent of Palestinian farmland, according to U.N. estimates, limiting access and lowering yields.

Israel also controls more than 80 percent of the West Bank’s water in lopsided sharing agreements, said Palestinian water official Ribhi al-Sheik. In other areas dilapidated water pipes have wasteful leaks. Most farmers depend on rain and unlicensed wells, depleting already-stressed aquifers. In some parts, Israeli military authorities also ban rain-collecting cisterns. Badly planned Palestinian towns have paved over fertile lands.

Outside markets for fresh produce aren’t profitable. Goods must cross through Israeli-controlled export crossings, causing delays and lowering quality through exposure to sunlight and constant reloading from one truck to another.

Israeli military spokesman Guy Inbar said the long export process was solely for security reasons and “not intended to harm” exports, noting that Palestinians export some 100,000 tons of fresh produce a year. He said Palestinians access more water than what is allowed for under sharing agreements and that farmers with permits are able to reach land on the other side of the separation barrier.

The challenges sparked a new way of thinking: Palestinians had to make finished goods that could survive the rough growing conditions and lengthy journey to outside markets.

Fair-trade, organic products that can be rain-fed, particularly olives, were the perfect solution.

“It’s the future of Palestinian exports. The future is in added value, through environmental and social accountability,” said Abu Farha of Canaan Fair Trade. “People want to know: “Where is this oil coming from? Whose life is it changing?”

The changes are visible in Nus Jubail, a village crowded with olives and pines, its 400 residents in houses with blue doors and rooftops sheltered by grape arbors. A decade ago, most residents pressed their oil for personal use. Little was sold commercially and prices were low, said Khader, the farmer.

Around 2004, agricultural activists formed the Palestinian Fair Trade Association, seeking out farmers across the West Bank. They persuaded Khader to establish an organic cooperative of five farmers, allowing them to collectively press their olives and sell better-priced oil.

During the three-year conversion process, Khader and his colleagues were taught to grow olives without chemicals, pruning and plowing instead of using herbicides and fermenting sheep droppings into fertilizer. Once certified, Khader and his partners sold their oil above market prices, attracting other recruits. Now 18 of the village’s 30 farmers are organic.

This year, organic oil is selling for about $5.40 a liter—a dollar higher than conventional oil, said Abu Farha of Canaan Fair Trade, which purchases much of the oil. Other independent farmers are selling directly to consumers for $9 a liter, far above market price.

Farmers are going organic on other products, such as maftoul, a chewy sun-dried staple resembling couscous, as well as dried almonds and a spicy herb mix called hyssop.

But high-end oil is key.

In Whole Foods supermarkets in New York and New Jersey, it’s sold under the “Alter Eco” brand, Abu Farha said. It’s in Sainsbury’s in Britain, and in boutique shops globally through Canaan and other distributers. Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap, a popular organic, fair traded vegan soap, sources 95 percent of its oil—some 165 tons—from Palestinian growers, the soap company said.

Even so, challenges abound. Palestinian oil production is irregular because they can’t irrigate their crops and export costs are still high. Abu Farha of Canaan said some farmers have cheated by mixing conventional oil into their products.

Still, the move toward organic, sustainable farming is an important, elegant fight.

“I don’t throw rocks,” said farmer Khader, referring to young men who frequently hurl stones during demonstrations. He pointed to his rock-built terraces. “I use them to build our future.”

This article appeared in http://www.mercurynews.com/breaking-news/ci_21962774/palestinian-farmers-turn-organic-farming

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

Palestinian artists launch art festival to protest Israel’s barrier

By REUTERS
WEST BANK

Sunday, 04 November 2012

Palestinian artists showcased their art work at West Bank’s Qalandia International Festival on Thursday framed as part of a creative reaction to the Israeli barrier that separates Palestinian villages from each other.

Israel has said the barrier, a mix of electronic fences and walls that encroaches on West Bank territory, is meant to keep suicide bombers out of its cities.

Palestinians call the barrier — whose course encompasses Israeli settlements in the West Bank — a disguised move to annex or fragment territory Palestinians seek for a viable state.

The International court of Justice declared the planned 600-km (370-mile) barrier, more than half of which is completed, illegal but Israel has ignored the non-binding ruling.

Qalandia International Festival Art Director, Jack Persekian, said it was an important way for Palestinians to channel their emotional reactions to the barrier.

“The wall and the road that was constructed recently connect the Israeli settlements together and separate the Palestinian villages from each other. The reaction to this separation was a cultural festival. It is an important and a good reaction — it shows a positive, artistic and cultural spirit in a painful situation that should be stopped,” he said.

The festival, which showcases Palestinian contemporary art projects, performances, films, and other cultural activities, kicked off on Thursday at Qalandia village northern of Jerusalem and ends on November 15.

According to the festival’s organizers, over 50 local and International artists came together for the launch of Qalandia International, ‘a milestone contemporary art event’.

Palestinian artist Khaled Jarar screened his 2 minutes film at the festival. His film, too, addresses barrier issues and Palestinians’ reactions to it.

“I went to the wall and I cut out some pieces of it. I smashed them then I mixed them with cement and water and I made a ball which children play with. My message is that the wall is an ugly thing, so we should seek out ways in which to use it and the occupation for our benefit,” he told Reuters television.

The festival was organized by seven Palestinian institutions- Riwaq, Al Ma’mal Foundation for Contemporary Art, A. M. Qattan Foundation, Palestinian Art Court – Al Hoash, International Art Academy – Palestine, Sakakini Cultural Centre and the House of Culture Arts – Nazareth.

Palestinian band ‘Dar Qandeel’ performed traditional and modern music at the festival’s opening ceremony and people from various Palestinian villages and cities as well as Internationals came to attend.

Yara Bayoumi, a visitor at the festival, said the cooperation involved in hosting such a festival was wonderful.

“The festival is very nice. It is the first of its kind in Palestine. It is the first time seven organizations have worked together to organize such a festival. I hope it will have a good effect, and put Palestine in the world’s contemporary art,” she said.
The festival is expected to tour Jerusalem and other West Bank cities.

This article appeared in http://english.alarabiya.net/articles/2012/11/04/247588.html

Life behind barbed wire in Gaza

  • Date 19.10.2012
  • Author Tania Krämer / sms
  • Editor Ben Knight

Though local elections are slated for the West Bank, Palestinians in Gaza won’t be casting ballots. Hamas, which controls Gaza, has boycotted the elections, leaving the 1.6 million people there in a difficult position.

Between piles of used spare parts and a container of motor oil, Munzer Al Dayya is working on a generator. The mechanic is a popular man in Gaza City, where power can go out for as long as eight hours a day, and he said he’s earning a decent living thanks to the blackouts.

“Every day that we get through is good, but no one knows what’s coming,” he said. “The only thing that’s clear is that the next day will be worse than the previous day. Why, how, and for what? Who knows? No one can explain what’s going on here.”

Al Dayya said getting an explanation for what’s happening in Gaza City depends on who you ask. But one thing is clear – Hamas controls the Gaza Strip and has expanded its control since taking power five years ago. Neither an Israeli blockade nor the US and European isolation policy has been able to change this.

Hamas, labeled a terrorist group by the West, has developed its own bureaucratic structures, ranging from an administration to an all-round security service. Various observers have noted that the political separation between Gaza and the West Bank has been widened by the separate governing structures in the two regions.

No local elections in Gaza

Local elections scheduled to take place in the West Bank on Saturday are expected to widen the gap. Hamas is not taking part in the poll, leaving voters there to choose between the Fatah party and some independent candidates.

“The elections cannot be transparent and fair,” said Hamas spokesperson Fawzi Barhoum. “Many of our Hamas leaders and members are in prisons run by the Palestinian Authority. These are Fatah elections – not Palestinian elections.”

Read more http://www.dw.de/life-behind-barbed-wire-in-gaza/a-16318900

The National: West Bank theatre founder languishes in prison

West Bank theatre founder languishes in prison

JENIN, WEST BANK // Six years ago, a fierce Palestinian fighter laid down his weapons and helped found a liberal performing-arts theatre in Jenin’s conservative refugee camp. It was a remarkable turnaround for Zacharia Zubeidi, who fought for Fatah’s Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades during the second intifada, to exchange violence for what he called cultural resistance against Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories.