Last week I witnessed two very different celebrations.
The first celebration took place in At-Tuwani. This is the village I wrote about in ‘Shelter From the Storm‘. The celebration was not a traditional yearly celebration, but a special occasion. The Freedom Bus was coming to town.
The Freedom Bus carried a troupe of Palestinian actors and musicians around the West Bank, visiting people who were struggling against the Israeli occupation. The Bus tour focused on villages in the Jordan Valley, and the South Hebron Hills. The Bus brings with it events for both the people of the village and outsiders. These included concerts, theater, movie screenings, tours of the villages, building projects, workshops, marches, and parties.
This was huge news for the people of At-Tuwani. This was a village that struggles to be allowed to have electricity, and they are going to be hosting concerts and theater performances! I was in the village leading up to the event and everyone was abuzz with excitement and preparation. The Freedom Bus would be parked in At-Tuwani for six nights, and be doing events there and in the villages around At-Tuwani, finishing with a march from At-Tuwani through the villages in ‘Firing Zone 918’.
The whole CPT team decided to go down for the first day of celebrations. We arrived at around ten in the morning. The whole village was at the school, where none of the kids were in class. The place was decorated beautifully. When we arrived there was a woman from the Freedom Bus telling stories with funny music in the background. Some people from the village were dressed up in traditional garb practicing old arts and using old timey tools. After the story was over some of the young schoolkids started preforming. I was told they were recreating a traditional wedding from 1920s Palestine. After them it was the older kids turn. They did ‘Dabke’, a traditional Arabic line dance with fancy footwork. (Here’s an example, the kid’s one wasn’t quite this elaborate).
After the kids were done some people got up to give long boring speeches (at least they were boring for me since I didn’t understand what they were saying). We decided to go visit a friend of ours who lived beside the school. We sat in front of his house, sipped tea, watched the festivities from afar, and he told old stories about how he had helped CPT out when we were based in At-Tuwani. We returned to the party just in time for lunch, which consisted of basic, but delicious traditional Palestinian foods served in the traditional way, and by that I mean served in mass quantities.
In the afternoon the Freedom Bus took a tour of At-Tuwani and the surrounding villages led by some villagers. A couple of the CPTers went back to Hebron to do some work, but since I was going to the ‘Firing Zone’ early the next morning, I, and another CPTer, got to hang out in At-Tuwani, and stay over night. This meant that we would get to attend the performance that night!
The performance was a ‘Playback Theater’ arranged by the ‘Freedom Theater’, the main group behind the Freedom Bus. The performance took place in a persons front yard. It started out with some music as people gathered. Once the crowd was gathered around the MC of the event started asking the crowd basic questions, “What’s the weather like?”, “How was your day?”, “How are you feeling?” When someone would answer the actors would act out that answer. Someone said the weather was hot, and the actors acted like they were melting under a scorching sun. The crowd all laughed and all the people loosened up. Then the MC asked people to come up and tell a story.
This part was powerful. The two stories told were very similar. Both were told by parents about their children being falsely arrested. Knowing the village’s history I knew that this was a story most of the parents in the village had lived. Not only did the people get to share their stories, but they got to see their stories performed. It was amazing to watch the faces of the storytellers as their stories came to life.
The final question the MC asked of the crowd was, “What do you think of when you think of At-Tuwani?” The answers were beautiful: “Resilience,” “Struggle,” “Home,” “Strong,” “Creative,” the list went on and on. After the performance, the musicians took over playing their instruments and making up songs about At-Tuwani as they invited the villagers to turn the ‘stage’ into a dance floor. The people danced and sang and laughed through the night. This was one of the best days I’ve had in Palestine.
There is a Christian worship song with the refrain.
Open up the doors and let the music play
Let the streets resound with singing
Songs that bring Your hope
Songs that bring Your joy
Dancers who dance upon injustice
I always appreciated the imagery of this song, but that night in At-Tuwani I felt like I was living that imagery. Here were people who were under constant threat of settler violence and governmental expansionary policies, and they were dancing, and singing, and laughing. And in doing that they were resisting the injustice against them. It was not a celebration to numb the pain of the occupation, it was a celebration which challenged the occupation. It celebrated the people’s strength, and in that, strengthened the people’s resolve to combat the injustices against them.
The celebration would continue for the rest of the week, but I spent the next day in one of the “Firing Zone” villages. Upon my return north to Hebron I encountered a very different kind of celebration.
As most of you know last week was Passover, or Pesach. Passover, is first and foremost, a holiday celebrating liberation (It even says so on Wikipedia). The Jewish people celebrate their liberation from Egypt. In Hebron this celebration has taken on some odd, possibly contradictory, traditions. Here was my introduction to Passover in Hebron.
I stepped out of the car bringing us back from the ‘Firing Zone’ and began walking toward the first of three checkpoints I would have to cross to get home. I and the CPTer I was with were both a bit tired from the celebration and hiking around the ‘Firing Zone’ the past two days. As we got near the checkpoint we noticed that there were no cars around. All the roads which crossed the one leading to the checkpoint had been blocked off, literally giant stone blocks had been put across every intersecting road. As we neared the checkpoint there were more soldiers then usual.
On the other side of the checkpoint it was like another world. There were army vehicles driving to-and-fro. Soldiers were all over the place, and hundreds of Israeli Jews were walking around. The Palestinian residents of the area were nowhere to be found. We saw a CPTer standing around, and asked her what was going on.
She informed us that she had been there since she started school patrol that morning (this was around 11, so she’d been there 4 hours). Things were so chaotic that she didn’t want to leave. Also all the checkpoint leading to our home were closed. See during this time the ‘Tomb of the Patriarch’ (Abraham’s family tomb), which was usually split, half mosque half synagogue, was ‘Jews Only’. In order to ensure that it was Jews only all the checkpoints surrounding the Tomb was closed. This was not good news for us weary travelers. Worse news was that the two schools nearby would be letting out soon, and many of the kids would be hoping to pass through the same closed checkpoint we were.
Two of us went to the boys school, I had met the headmaster before, and waited with the administrators until school let out. When the bell rang I got my camera out and walked down with the kids and teachers. At the first checkpoint they were met by a soldier who immediately turned them back. Since no one had anywhere else to go, everyone just stood there. The kids and teachers explained that they all just wanted to get home, and this was the only way. The principle wanted to make sure that I, and more importantly my camera, was was front and center. After some heated debate the soldier took the group down a back path. We passed some Isreali boys, who complained to the soldiers about this group of Palestinians. One of the Israeli boys picked up a rock, but the group hurriedly walked by. The soldier took the group to a locked gate which led to the other side of the checkpoint. He opened it, let the group through and locked it again. (You can watch the film I took, with Arabic narration HERE)
The kids got home, and the CPTers, were able to get home too. That incident was the only part of the Passover celebration I witnessed. CPT continued to patrol around the city, Palestinians continued to have the movement around their city obstructed, and Jews continued to celebrate their liberation.
It amazes me how easy it is for us to selfishly celebrate our liberation while denying it to others, or worse yet, to celebrate our liberation by oppressing others. I could point out times when groups I am a part of have done this, but no example is as stark as the one I witnessed in Hebron.
I reflect on Passover and think about the two celebrations I witnessed, and I think the Muslims in At-Tuwani celebrated Passover much better then the Jews of Hebron. In Passover the Israelites actively participated in their liberation (from Egypt) by feasting. In At-Tuwani the villagers did the same.
Pray for those who ‘Dance upon injustice’ that they do not grow weary
Pray for the Israelis, that they may remember the liberating spirit of Passover
Pray for peace