A festival of resistance
Though living under Israeli military occupation, the Palestinians are keeping their memories and culture alive, writes Sam Bahour in Al-Bireh
Those damn Palestinians. They refuse to sit still. They just don't get it. They are unable to fathom their reality. The more outrageous their situation becomes, the more human they become. When all the powers-that-be thought that they had sufficiently battered (or bought) the Palestinians into full political submission, the Palestinians embarked on yet another act of "terrorism" -- the terrorism of dance, music, song, and cultural celebration.
This is not just any act. It is one of global dimensions, and the world had better take note.
To begin with, Israel dispossessed the Palestinians of 78 per cent of their homeland and created the world's largest refugee population. Any Palestinian who remained in Israel was involuntarily made an Israeli citizen, and the Israeli state created a system of structural discrimination much worse than that against black South Africans before the end of apartheid.
As if that were not enough, Israel militarily occupied the remaining 22 per cent of Palestine and subjugated the rest of the Palestinians, those in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip, into a state of prolonged disenfranchisement. And as if that were not enough, Israel then embarked on an aggressive illegal settlement enterprise, one that now numbers over 500,000 Jewish-only settlers scattered throughout the militarily Occupied Territories.
To add insult to injury, 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza have been besieged and made to live as if they were in the Dark Ages. Palestinian homes in Gaza, Jerusalem and the West Bank are regularly demolished; Palestinians are imprisoned administratively without charge; Palestinian economic resources are micro-managed by Israel; an illegal apartheid wall, higher and longer than the infamous Berlin Wall, has been built on occupied land; and the list goes on.
What do Israel and the international community get in return for their systematic plundering of Palestinian livelihoods? A stubborn, collective Palestinian memory that refuses to cower under the weight of historical injustice. If this were merely memory, it would not be such a big deal, but those damn Palestinians insist on keeping that memory alive via the performing arts, music, song, dance, theatre, circuses, festivals, and the like.
Even Palestinians engaged in the performing arts would not be so intolerable if that were the full extent of their activity. But it is not: those damn Palestinians insist on sharing their cultural resistance with artists around the globe, repeatedly inviting other communities to join in solidarity with them.
A case in point is that every year since 1993, the Popular Arts Centre, a Palestinian organisation that promotes professional performing arts, has been organising an event called the Palestine International Festival for Dance and Music. This year, performances are scheduled over five days from 4 July to 9 July. The festival is loaded with meaning.
For starters, the celebration is distributed among four Palestinian cities: Ramallah, Qalqilya, Nablus and Nazareth. The inclusion of Nazareth, a Palestinian city inside Israel, is a conscious decision on the part of the organisers. It is a form of resistance to the cultural siege and systematic isolation imposed by the Israeli apartheid system on those Palestinians living under direct military occupation (in the West Bank and Gaza), and those inside Israel, whom most Palestinians under occupation are unable physically to reach. The message is clear. We are one people, and we refuse to allow a forced military separation to keep us apart.
Then, there is the festival's theme this year of learning in the non-conventional sense. This theme is meant to showcase the importance of popular education as developed by the late Brazilian educator and theorist of critical pedagogy, Paulo Freire. All the Festival activities this time around have been consciously designed as forms of Freirean popular education in the service of Palestinian liberation.
The US theologian Richard Shaull, drawing on the works of Paulo Freire, has written that "there is no such thing as a neutral education process. Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate the integration of generations into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity to it, or it becomes the 'practice of freedom', the means by which men and women deal critically with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world."
Those damn Palestinians. They keep seeking out and learning from examples from around the world instead of accepting their predicament of dispossession. A glance at the Festival agenda for 2012 leaves one in awe at the breadth of global solidarity. In addition to the cream of Palestinian dance troupes, Irish, Chinese, and Egyptian performers are all also participating. The Festival opens with the Irish musical stage show "Rhythm of the Dance", a two-hour dance and music extravaganza of Irish talent depicting the epic journey of the Irish Celts throughout history. The festival's closing performance, "One Hundred Hands", will be performed by the China Disabled People's Performing Art Troupe.
This year's Palestine International Festival for Dance and Music is also mobilising over 200 volunteers and tapping an unprecedented level of support from Palestinian private-sector sponsors and donors. UNICEF and the Swedish consulate are also supporting the Festival.
As I finished writing this article, I received a call from the Freedom Theatre in the Jenin refugee camp in Palestine, asking me to participate in events planned as part of an upcoming Freedom Bus Tour, a nine-day procession across the West Bank which will visit 14 communities to help them express their oral histories through an interactive theatre technique termed Playback Theatre.
The truth is, you see, that we damned Palestinians do get it. We understand very well that justice will ultimately prevail. We have studied world history closely, and we know that no people have lived under military occupation forever. No people who maintain their living collective memory will remain refugees forever. We get it -- discrimination in all its shapes and forms is destined to crumble at the feet of those who actively support it, fund it, or turn a blind eye to it.
Now I am off to celebrate our humanity. Please join us.
The writer is a Palestinian-American business development consultant.