Photo by Bryan MacCormack
Written by Veronika Nýdrlová and Anika Machura
We spent our day getting to know about Aida Refugee Camp, which is one of the 59 refugee camps built in the occupied West Bank since 1948. Aida is home to more than 6000 Palestinians. We were welcomed in Alrowwad Theatre and Cultural Training Centre, a cultural community space which is a “Home for Dreams, Hopes, Imagination and Creativity”. Here all people, especially children, can gather for education and cultural activities such as traditional dancing, camera and photography workshops and music lessons. We were introduced to the concept of ‘beautiful resistance’, being explained to us as the opposite to the ugly occupation. We had quite a discussion about what the word resistance really means for Palestinians, and for all of us. Could resistance actually be described as beautiful, and if so, is every kind of resistance beautiful? Or is it more a necessary reaction which shouldn’t be classified or judged?
In a walking tour through Aida Camp we got to know many collective and individual stories of the people who lived here for many generations, nowadays right next to the separation wall. No one knows what is going to happen to the self-built houses in the camp, since the leasing of this area’s land is for 99 years of which 68 have passed. The inhabitants of the camp are threatened on a daily basis by the Israeli army that starts shooting tear gas into the camp in the afternoons or demolishes the water tanks on the roof tops at any time.
The afternoon was filled with a string of very interesting talks. We heard professor Mazin Qumsiyeh, teaching at various Palestinian universities and a former lecturer at Yale, who talked about the occupation in a global context and opened some other interesting topics. “I want to make a workshop on revolution”, he said after talking about all the initiatives, especially organised by NGOs, to support Palestine, which not always benefit the Palestinian communities.
One of our Freedom Riders and actors from The Freedom Theatre, Osama who grew up in Al-Azzeh Refugee Camp, explained his categorisation of the different refugee generations: the Nakba generation, the Stone generation, the Intifada generation and the Oslo generation, divided further into the Tank and the Wall generation. Growing up throwing stones at army jeeps every day to express his feelings and to show that he was a living human being, Osama said, “I believe that theatre is the way I can call for revolution”.
One other fellow Freedom Rider and leader of the Jana Natya Manch theatre group, Sudhanva, gave a talk about solidarity, its definition and why it was important for him and his group to get together with the Palestinian actors from The Freedom Theatre. He closed with the famous quotation of Mahatma Gandhi: “Be the change you want to see in the world.”
Photos by Bryan MacCormack w/Left in Focus, and Ibraheem Moqbel
Omar Kettani from the Right to Education Campaign at Birzeit University continued talking about the effects of the occupation, especially on education in the West Bank. He connected to what Osama was talking about and introduced the Bank generation, children who are caught somewhere in the middle of their parent’s loans and their expensive lifestyle in the Ramallah area. Omar Kettani emphasized that “education is resistance, but not the education that brings you to a privileged level; that is the opposite”.
At the end of the afternoon, the director of the community centre, Abdelfattah Abusrour, summarised the vision of Alrowwad and focused on an important part of the resistance, which is the creativity of the new generation. “We are prisoners of the collective narrative, we need to recognise the individual stories,” he said.
The band Shajar closed with variations of traditional Palestinian music, being warmly appreciated by all of us after this really important educational day in Aida Refugee Camp.
Photo by Bryan MacCormack w/Left in Focus
The Alrowwad stage became full of clapping and singing and the Freedom Riders left the camp with heads full of stories and impressions, singing on the bus back to our guesthouse.
Drawings by Tim Sanders