Masterpiece Of Resistance

Crossing between Jordan and the West Bank was something I thought for a long time about how to describe. Going between looking up and seeing Jordanian flags and pictures of the king one minute and Israeli flags and soldiers and checkpoints the next does something to a person psychologically that I don’t think I can adequately describe through writing. It was not just what I saw, it was knowing that I could technically go anywhere in Jordan, but am limited to travel after crossing the border into the West Bank because of my Palestinian passport that messes with the psyche.

But nevertheless I was in Palestine, I was home again. And the summer had begun when street markets started selling the apricots, when the lullaby at night became the sound of children riding their bikes and kicking the soccer balls through the streets, and most of all when the festivals and concerts filled the air with the music and dance of a people under occupation.

I was in Palestine for the summer through the University of North Carolina to research the role and impact of the arts in the lives and perceptions of Palestinians. My research focused on answering the question, “How has arts exposure/experience affected Palestinians living in the West Bank, and what role does it play in their lives?”

The goal of my research was to discover the current status of arts exposure in the West Bank, and its impact on Palestinians in order to:

1) Understand how music has created a sense of cultural and national identity for the Palestinians

2) Analyze the role the Arts has played in creating an outlet for emotional or political thought under occupation

I noticed a few things this summer.

First, Ramallah by far is the cultural center of the West Bank. This is great because of the large population of the city and the opportunity its residents have to experience the arts.  However, for the other cities and villages of the West Bank, there is little to no arts exposure. For example, when I visited Jericho, one of the city officials at the town hall told me, “Arts? In Jericho we don’t have arts, we herd sheep”. This has resulted in the same people attending the same art events every year. For this reason some Palestinians do not see art as a form of political resistance, but rather as a hobby or luxury for the elite.

Second, the occupation is not the biggest problem for artists here, or at least the artists I have interviewed so far. Many say huge problems include funding (as the Palestinian government gives little to no money to arts and culture), and society.

Third, to many artists, what they do is an escape from a harsh reality and to others it is something they do for the love of it. For example, a young musician at Al-Kamandjati organization in Ramallah told me she feels alive when she is playing her instrument, and a dancer from El-Funoun Palestinian Popular Dance Troupe told me he considers dance a window into the rest of the world.

The most challenging aspect of my research was ensuring I got the interviews with the artists after the concerts and festivals, and of course, the lack of movement I could make throughout the country because of my Palestinian passport. Although I was born in Jerusalem, I cannot enter the city without special permission because of my passport (yes, I am a U.S. citizen as well, but because I have a Palestinian passport, it overrides the US passport in the eyes of the Israeli government). I was ‘awarded permission’ to enter Jerusalem my 10th and last week in Palestine after a long, often unsuccessful process of applying to the Israeli government for entrance. I am happy I was able to view my birth city, but disappointed at what lengths I had to take to enter and aware that so many others are not given the opportunity. I not only was rejected entrance twice, but also had to visit an Israeli settlement to file for a special card, contact one of the government ministries, and wait over 3 hours at a factory farm/prison-style checkpoint before seeing the city.

One of the most memorable experiences I had this summer was my visit to Ofer prison in Beitunia with artist Ibrahim. Ibrahim takes artillery the Israeli army fires and uses them to create beautiful works of art. As I was speaking to Ibrahim and helping him collect the tear gas canisters, one of the canisters shot by nearby Israeli jeeps landed right beside me.  Needless to say, I do not think I appreciated the beauty of fresh air until that moment. I was later able to line the tear gas canisters and bullets in front of the prison with Ibrahim. I came out of the experience fine, and with an interesting story to tell my friends back in the states.

I also got the opportunity to interview renowned Palestinian artist Sliman Mansour at the International Academy of Art in Al-Bireh, Palestine. I asked him why he is a political artist, with many of his painting’s relating to the life of Palestinians under occupation. He paused for a second before telling me “I did not choose to be a political artist. I paint what I see around me, and it is just what I have always done.” I hope to take the footage I have collected this summer and create a film so that others can also live my summer.

I saw the beautiful relationship between Palestine and its artists in a festival in Al-Bireh, as hundreds of people jumped up and down waving Palestinian flags despite the illegal settlement that towered in clear sight above the concert arena; a mutually beneficial partnership between a people needing an art and an artist needing the people.

Layla Quran

Layla is a student at the University of North Carolina majoring in International Relations with a concentration on International Politics in the Middle East. Layla was born in a mildly congested hospital in Jerusalem, but came to the US at the age of four from Al-Bireh, Palestine. Layla traveled to Palestine this summer in order to research the impact and role of the Arts, and has also researched the impact of the US invasion on Iraq.

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