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Annual Cultural Events in Palestine

Contributed by This Week In Palestine on 10.10.2011:


October 2011

Palestine is the destination for those seeking cultural and spiritual enrichment. At the crossroads of civilisations for centuries, and the birthplace of the three Abrahamic faiths, Palestine is rich in historical endowments. The rich history of Palestine is still very much alive today in its ethnically and religiously diverse population.

Despite the country’s great cultural wealth, Palestinian heritage is under constant threat. Preservation means more than protecting items from the passage of time. The ongoing military and civil occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip has been accompanied by a parallel effort to erase the Palestinians’ historical and cultural connection to their land. Palestinians have worked hard to preserve and enhance access to culture through a broad range of governmental and non-governmental, local and international initiatives. The chief form of resistance to their cultural annihilation has been the establishment and flourishing of cultural centres that aim to preserve the past and engage the present.

These centres, only a handful of which are mentioned below, conduct events, performances, training programmes, and workshops throughout hundreds of communities in the West Bank and Gaza Strip – each and every day. A number of annual events have become mainstays of local Palestinians and international tourists. Space would never allow us to name and describe each and every event in one go, but we have tried to show that whenever and wherever you may be in Palestine, culture, art, heritage, and celebration are close at hand.

Palestine International Festival (PIF) for Dance and Music – Popular Arts Centre – Summer

Perhaps the oldest and largest of annual festivals, the PIF was founded in 1993 to organise and host the first international cultural events in Palestine. The festivals have brought music and dance groups from Spain, Greece, Chile, Egypt, Morocco, Algeria, Iraq, and Turkey. It is truly the most international festival held in the West Bank. It is, of course, also a celebration of Palestinian artists and heritage. In 2005 the festival expanded beyond Ramallah into a number of various villages and refugee camps throughout the West Bank. The age and scope of the event have made it a “must do” for seasoned and new visitors to Palestine.

Jerusalem Festival – Yabous! – Summer

Each and every year, local Palestinians and international visitors come together to celebrate Palestinian heritage in Jerusalem. This weeklong celebration brings together visitors in a number of carefully selected sites to celebrate Palestinian music and culture. Yabous! – a Palestinian NGO focused on performance arts – along with a number of other community organisations and cultural centres dazzle audiences with live performances of Palestine’s living culture. The festival features several headline artists each year who can be seen for affordable rates, as well as a large number of free shows.

Contemporary Dance Festival – Sareyyet Ramallah – Spring

For dance lovers of all types, the annual Contemporary Dance Festival simply cannot be missed. Sareyyet Ramallah, a local troupe of scouts that also focuses on increasing Palestinian youth access to culture, puts on a three-week festival that brings together performers from Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Palestine. In addition to a large number of performances, this festival also hosts a number of workshops for the community. This combination of spectatorship and participation creates a lively and creative atmosphere for visitors to come and enjoy the best that Palestinian, and indeed world, performance artists have to offer.

The Jerusalem Show – Outside the Gates of Heaven

The Jerusalem Show (‘Ala Abwab Al Janna) borrows its English title from the vivacious and atypical formats of the Saturday Night Live show and the Muppet Show, whereas its Arabic title ‘Ala Abwab Al Janna (Outside the Gates of Heaven) references the sacramental veneration that is bestowed on Jerusalem. A similar ludicrous dichotomy is ostensible to Jerusalem’s inhabitants (including those at Al-Ma’mal Foundation).

The Jerusalem Show is neither a biennial nor a one-time event. It is neither a large-scale show nor an international grand exhibition. It is an attempt to intercede within the apocalyptic decadal tides of upheaval under which the city kneels, stealing time during the ebb of violence (yet sunk neck-high in hatred and discrimination) to wage an action of covert resistance to the forced hegemony of one creed and one people on the city. In a way, it can be perceived as a political action, and so the organisers try to garner as much support as possible from institutions, organisations, youth centres, clubs, etc., which operate in the city. The Jerusalem Show presents works, performances, and interventions throughout the Old City as unique actions that promote a re-reading of the city in a creatively open, accessible, and interactive manner.

It is the aim of Al-Ma’mal to re-define its work and position in Jerusalem from that of artistic space-fillers to activists. In a context and time such as this, art, culture, activism, manifestations, political protest, social work, etc., are all part of its actions and its understanding of what a show in Jerusalem should entail.

PalFest – Palestine Festival of Literature – Spring

The written word, loved throughout the Middle East, is especially treasured by Palestinians in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and around the world. The Palestine Festival of Literature brings Palestinian and international artists together for audiences across Palestine, organises cultural festivals with international and local participation, and facilitates workshops with Palestinian students in co-operation with academics. Rather than remaining in one place, the festival is held in several locations throughout Palestine. Last year’s festival wrapped up in the Solidarity Tent of Umm Kamal in Silwan, where an open-mic night for poets and authors was held, as well as a performance by Dam.

Shashat Women’s Film Festival – Autumn

Shashat Women’s Film Festival in Palestine is the only ongoing annual women’s film festival in the Arab world. Shashat, which means “screens” in Arabic, held the first edition of its festival in 2005, and is now launching its seventh edition as part of the project, “I am a Woman from Palestine.”

The festival tours nationally in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, in partnership with nine Palestinian universities and several cultural and community centres. It celebrates Palestinian, Arab, and international women’s cinema in its objective to explore the social and cultural implications of women’s representations. The festival consists of screenings, discussions, panels, workshops, and the subtitling of selected films into Arabic.

The seventh edition of the festival focuses on Palestinian women filmmakers and consists of the following components – an intensive three-month training/production workshop in Gaza, which resulted in six films by young Gazan women filmmakers; four productions by established women filmmakers; 85 screenings/discussions in 13 Palestinian cities followed by social consultancies; and 6 specially produced TV programmes.

The seventh festival is funded by the European Union, Heinrich Boll Foundation, Goteborg Film Fund, and the Ford Foundation.

Annual Bird Migration Festival – Jericho Botanical Gardens – Spring

When so much of the focus on Palestine and Palestinians is directed toward the land, many forget to look up at the wonders of our skies. At the crossroads of civilisations and continents, the fact that Palestine is an important migratory route for birds should come as no surprise. According to the Palestine Wildlife Society, the West Bank and Gaza Strip are home to 12 important sites for birds, making it an increasingly popular site for bird enthusiasts around the world. Each spring, over 500 million birds traverse Palestine on their journey from Africa to Asia or Europe and back again in the fall.

The Christmas Bazaar – Bethlehem – Winter

As Christmas approaches each year, the municipality of Bethlehem, along with a number of local and international partners, organises a Christmas bazaar in Manger Square. Religious pilgrims and tourists alike converge on the city, some to celebrate the birth of Christianity in the world’s oldest standing church, and all to share in the unique heritage of the West Bank. Unlike that fateful night that pilgrims come together to celebrate, when Mary and Joseph could not find a room and were forced to stay in a shed, Bethlehem has the tourist infrastructure to support the ever-growing crowds.

Birzeit Heritage Week – Birzeit – Summer

At the height of summer, the still-sleepy city of Birzeit comes to life in a five-day festival of music, dance, cuisine, film, poetry, and theatre, all within the beautifully restored old city. Home to one of the largest and most prestigious universities in the region, Birzeit is known for its college-town ambience and wonderful hospitality. While it is already a popular destination for local families, international tourists are increasingly moving beyond the traditional tourist sites in the West Bank to enjoy the living culture of Palestine amidst the beautifully terraced hillsides.

Theatre of the Oppressed – Ashtar Theatre – Spring

The Theatre of the Oppressed is now in its fourth year. The event features performances by local and international groups and is attended by people from around the world. The three-month “season” of theatre dazzles performance art lovers with dozens of extremely varied and unique performances from Ashtar and its international partners. While the Theatre of the Oppressed concept was born on the other side of the ocean and is currently all over the world, the unique experiences and talents of Palestinian artists, combined with the context of the occupation, make the Palestinian version stand out from the rest.

Fête de la Musique – Al Kamandjati – Summer

Do you like music – any and every kind of music? Then you simply cannot miss the annual Fête de la Musique. Organised by Al Kamandjati in cooperation with the French Consulate, this four-day event brings together local and international artists for a celebration of contemporary and classical music. Each day of the performance is held in a different venue throughout the West Bank and is open to the public. The atmosphere and university setting of these events make them a unique treat for audiences – and it only gets better year by year.

International Puppet Festival – Palestinian National Theatre – Autumn

The Palestinian National Theatre (PNT) was founded in 1984 by El-Hakawati Theatre Company. One year later, the management of the centre was handed over to a board of directors composed of artists, writers, and notable persons in the Palestinian community. The PNT supports or participates in a number of the annual cultural festivals listed above, but they are especially famous for their annual International Puppet Festival that is held between 15 and 30 October. This festival brings together local and foreign puppeteers to delight audiences of Palestinian children and adults alike. In a day and age where Palestinian youth are engulfed in new high-tech gadgetry, the not-so-lost art of the puppeteer leaves them as awestruck as the most digitally advanced movies.

Al-Kasaba International Film Festival (KIFF) – Al-Kasaba Theatre – Autumn

The International Film Festival began in 2006 and works to promote inter-cultural dialogue and cultural diversity while helping to create adequate conditions for the development of cultural activities through regional and international networking. The KIFF targets areas of Palestine that are physically isolated or economically marginalised, helping Palestinians from all walks of life to learn about more than the political story of their nation. Through hosting workshops, filmmakers, and screenings, as well as bringing in a number of regional and global celebrities, Al-Kasaba is able to put on a unique show year after year.

Youth Drama and Animation Festival – Theatre Day Productions – Autumn

Unknown to most in the West Bank, but known to most people in Gaza, Theatre Day Productions (TDP) hosts an annual Youth Drama and Animation Festival. TDP fills a small area with art and expression created by young people and drama teachers. This year TDP will go to Rafah and parts of Khan Yunis where 15 groups of children will prepare for 6 weeks of drama workshops and video animation. On 26 and 27 October, they will gather in the one venue where their mini-performances and films will be shown to family, friends, teachers, and the community at large. Coffee, sweets, and a public debate about the benefits of theatre and arts for children end the two-day festival.

Artas Lettuce Festival – Artas Folklore Centre – Summer

Beginning in 1994 in the southern West Bank village of Artas, near Bethlehem, the annual Lettuce Festival brings together local and international visitors to honour the history and culture of the Palestinian peasantry. Traditional food, music, dance, and handicrafts are all on display, as is the legendary village hospitality.

Olive Oil Festival – Bethlehem – Autumn

In October the main square of Bethlehem fills with local and international visitors to celebrate the olive harvest while enjoying music, dance, and traditional handicrafts. Those interested in the more than 6,000 years of history behind olive cultivation and the unique bond between Palestinians and the olive tree should not miss this event. Palestinian oil, known for its deep colour and rich taste, is as famous throughout the world today as it was 6,000 years ago.

Oktoberfest – Taybeh – Autumn

The tiny village of Taybeh has been welcoming people from all corners of the world to celebrate life during Oktoberfest every year since 2005, when this unique event was initiated to become the highlight of Palestine. The exquisite hills and valleys of the village offer the perfect escape from any busy schedule to all international and local people who come to support local products and boost the economy while celebrating the deep cultural heritage offered by one of the most ancient spots in Palestine known by its Biblical name Ephraim.

The two-day celebration usually happens on the first Saturday and Sunday of October and gives venue to local music groups to celebrate their talent and skills in promoting a different face of Palestine. Bands from Brazil, Germany, Greece, Spain, and England have participated. Oktoberfest has even featured a Japanese dancer.

For more information on ongoing cultural events,

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