Michael Riordon

the view from where I live

“The world had better take note”

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“What do Israel and the international community get in return for their systematic plundering of Palestinian livelihood?  A stubborn, collective Palestinian memory which refuses to cower under the weight of historical injustice.  If this was merely a memory it would not be a big deal, but those damn Palestinians insist on keeping that memory alive via the performing arts – music,  dance, theater, circus, festivals and the like…”  Sam Bahour, on the upcoming Palestine International Festival for Dance and Music.

  Palestinian circus school.  (Photo: Activestills)

Sam Bahour lives in the Palestinian city of Al-Bireh, about 10 miles north of Jerusalem.  Describing himself as “a Palestinian-American business development consultant,” he writes fiercely and with wry humor about living with, and against, the military occupation.  Sam Bahour blogs at www.epalestine.com.

Here he focuses on a spectacular cultural intifada which starts tomorrow, July 4.  Too late now to get tickets, but Sam offers a quick behind-the-scenes tour:

“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 think they have sufficiently battered (or bought) Palestinians into full political submission, we embark on yet another act of terrorism — the terror of dance, music, song, and cultural celebration.

This is not just any act of humanity; it has global dimensions.  The world had better take note.

To begin with, Israel dispossessed Palestinians of 78% 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 state created a system of structural discrimination, much worse than that against black South Africans before the end of Apartheid.

As if that was not enough, Israel militarily occupied the remaining 22% of Palestine and subjugated the rest of the Palestinians – those in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip – to a state of prolonged disenfranchisement.  And as if that was 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 territory.

And to add insult to injury, 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza were besieged and made to live as if 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 Separation Wall, higher and longer than the infamous Berlin Wall, was built on occupied lands; and the list goes on and on.

What do Israel and the international community get in return for their systematic plundering of Palestinian livelihood?  A stubborn, collective Palestinian memory which refuses to cower under the weight of historical injustice.  If this was merely a memory it would not be a big deal, but those damn Palestinians insist on keeping that memory alive via the performing arts, music, song, dance, theater, circus, festivals and the like.

Even Palestinians engaged in performing arts would not be so intolerable if that were the extent of their activity, but it is not; those damn Palestinians insist on sharing their cultural resistance with artists around the globe and repeatedly inviting other communities to join in solidarity.

2011 festival (Photo: Popular Arts Centre)

Every year since 1993, the Popular Arts Centre, a Palestinian organization that promotes professional performing arts, has organized the Palestine International Festival for Dance and Music.  This year, performances are scheduled over five days, July 4th through July 9th.

The festival is loaded with meaning.  For starters, performances are 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 organizers: a form of resistance to the cultural siege and systematic isolation imposed by the Israeli Apartheid system on those of us living under direct military occupation (in the West Bank and Gaza), and those of our brethren inside Israel, whom most Palestinians under occupation are unable to physically reach.  The message is clear.  We are one people and refuse to allow a forced military separation to keep us apart.

Then, there is the festival’s theme this year —“learning,” in the non-conventional sense.  The theme is meant to showcase the importance of popular education as developed by the late and renowned Brazilian educator and influential 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.

American theologian Richard Shaull, drawing on the works of Paulo Freire, writes:   “There is no such thing as a neutral education process.  Education either functions as an instrument 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.  Instead of accepting their dispossession, they keep reaching out and learning from experience around the world.

A glance at the festival’s agenda for 2012 leaves one in awe at the breadth of global solidarity.  In addition to the cream-of-the-crop of Palestinian dance troupes, Irish, Chinese, and Egyptian performers are all participating.  The festival will open 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 [MR: a history which also includes centuries of resistance to cultural and military occupation].  The festival’s closing performance, “One Hundred Hands,” will be performed by the China Disabled People’s Performing Art Troupe.

This year’s Festival will mobilize over 200 volunteers and tap an unprecedented level of support from Palestinian private sector sponsors and donors.  UNICEF and the Consulate of Sweden are also supporting the festival.

As I close this article, I just received a call from the Freedom Theatre in Jenin Refugee Camp, to participate in the upcoming Freedom Bus Tour, a nine-day procession across the West Bank which will visit 14 communities and engage them in expressing their oral history, through an interactive theater technique called Playback Theater.

The truth, you see, is that we damn Palestinians do get it.  We understand very well that justice will ultimately prevail.  We have studied world history closely and know that no people in struggle have lived under military occupation forever and no people who maintain a 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 all those who commit it, support it, fund it, or turn a blind eye to it.

Now, I’m off to celebrate our humanity.  Please join us.”


Author: Michael Riordon

Canadian writer and documentary-maker Michael Riordon writes/ directs/produces books and articles, audio, video and film documentaries, plays for radio and stage. A primary goal of his work is to recover voices and stories of people who have been silenced or marginalized, written out of the official version: First Nations (aboriginal) youth, Mozambican farmers, inmates in Canadian prisons, traditional healers in Fiji, queer folk across Canada, Guatemalan labour activists. Michael also leads courses, workshops and seminars for community organizations, trade unions, schools, colleges and universities.

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