Dancing for Palestine

by Revolt

Revolutionary Worker #1209, August 10, 2003, posted at rwor.org

"I don't know how it is to play in a playground,
but I know of all the prisons in my country.
My father was in prison,
because he had a dream to live in freedom without oppression..."
"My birthday? The 6th, 7th, 8th?
I don't remember exactly,
because I didn't celebrate my birthday.
I didn't blow out candles.
I swear I will never blow out candles,
because my brother Hassan was like a candle
Extinguished by the bullets of the occupier when he was only twelve years old."

From two poems delivered in Arabic by the IBDAA Dance Troupe at their July 3 performance in La Mirada, California

To see Palestinian youth fly across the stage in a beautiful folkloric ballet depicting the struggle, the history, and the dream of the Palestinian people was inspiring.

On July 3, 1500 people came together at La Mirada Theater in La Mirada, near Los Angeles, to experience the IBDAA Children's Dance Troupe from the Dheisheh refugee camp in Bethlehem, Palestine. Palestinians from all over southern California came together to watch the youth perform the debkeh, a Palestinian folkloric dance, and to hear the poetry of the youth.

The IBDAA Dance Troupe recently concluded their U.S. tour, which was sponsored by the Middle Eastern Children's Alliance. This was the troupe's second trip to the U.S. Their first tour was in 1999 when they visited five cities. This time they visited 11 cities, including New York, Chicago, and L.A. The troupe has traveled to more than 13 countries around the world since they were founded in 1994.

The La Mirada performance was sponsored by the L.A. and Orange County chapter of the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC). The theme of the night was the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their historic homeland.

The youth of the dance troupe are united around their struggle as refugees. They aspire to let the world know of their oppression as refugees. There are millions of Palestinian refugees all around the world and within Palestine, driven out from their homes by the Zionist regime of Israel.

At the July 3 performance, Ban Al-Wardi, the president of the ADC chapter, said, "We will continue to work together as a chapter, as a community, and as a family, to ensure that the right of return for all Palestinian refugees from around the world is heard, respected, and protected." Al-Wardi is a lawyer who has been supporting people persecuted by the U.S. government since September 11, 2001.

Michel Shehadeh--a Palestinian activist who has faced political persecution by the U.S. government, including being charged under the Patriot Act--introduced one of the youth from IBDAA. The youth told the audience about the fight the dance troupe had to wage to do their U.S. tour. The group did not get their visas until shortly before they were scheduled to leave for the tour. And even then, two of the main organizers of the troupe were refused visas. But the youth told the audience, "Even with all these problems we are anxious to perform for you tonight and to continue the rest of our tour with the message of Palestinian refugees, wherever they are: there is no solution without the right of return."

The event was broken into four main performances that spoke to particular struggles within the overall fight for Palestinian liberation. The first scene, "Al-Matakal" ("Political Prisoners"), was a theatrical piece about the experience of the Palestinian people in Israeli prisons. An Israeli soldier blindfolds the prisoners, ties their hands, shoves them on the ground, beats them, and then walks off the stage arrogantly. This skit was emotional, and it sent chills down my spine. A very powerful moment was when a child from the troupe sang in a strong voice in Arabic, "My friend left and came back in a coffin."

"Al-Waseeya" ("The Will") told the story of Palestinian farmers and village life before 1948, when the UN came and divided the land between the Palestinian people, who had lived there for hundreds of years, and the Zionist occupiers. The scene showed what type of relationship the Palestinian people had with the land and how the people were determined to resist various occupiers--from the Ottoman Empire, to the British, and to the current Israeli/U.S. occupation. The youth danced in circles in motions depicting the tilling of the land, accompanied by words and music of traditional Palestinian folk songs: "No matter how hard they'll try to bring us down, we're always going to rise."

The third performance was a dance of the struggle of Palestinian refugees, dispossessed of their land.

The final dance ended with support for the intifada (Palestinian uprising), with the youth chanting about how beautiful freedom would be. In the scene, the dancers raised their fists while the Palestinian national anthem, "My Homeland," played in the background. When the Palestinian national flag was brought on stage, the whole crowd went on their feet to cheer and chant, and some even broke into tears.

To Create Something Out of Nothing

" There are now three generations for the dancing troupe. Generation after generation, we carried the message of the refugees and all Palestinian people, of their dreams to return back to their homeland. The second generation is performing here tonight, while in Bethlehem, the third generation is dancing too."

IBDAA Dance Troupe organizer at La Mirada Theater, July 3

The IBDAA Dance Troupe was founded in 1994, in the Dheisheh Refugee Camp, near the city of Bethlehem in the West Bank. The dance troupe is made up of 18 youth, men and women, and their ages range from 15 to 19. They have expanded from performing in their schoolyard to traveling around the world--from Arab nations to Europe and the United States.

The Arabic word ibdaa means "to create something out of nothing." The dance troupe performs dances that speak to the Palestinian people's struggle against oppression, their history, and their hopes of returning to their homeland. They combine a traditional Palestinian dance called debkehh with theater.

After the troupe's performance at the La Mirada Theater, I had a chance to talk to two 17-year-old performers, Zeid and Iman. They told me they're not dancing for themselves but for the Dheisheh refugee camp and for the Palestinian cause.

When I asked them why they chose dance to convey their message, they told me: "There are many ways to get a message across. We are using dance because it's Palestinian tradition. These are the same clothes that our grandfathers used... This is part of our culture."

In a documentary about the dance troupe, Children of IBDAA: To Create Something Out of Nothing,by S. Smith Patrick, one of the members talks about her dancing: "When I'm dancing, I feel that I'm expressing the meaning of Palestine. It expresses what it means to be a Palestinian farmer, and what is the Palestinian dress."

The dance troupe is a project of the IBDAA Cultural Center, which provides artistic and cultural activities to the youth in Dheisheh. The center tries to "create something out of nothing." In the refugee camp where the youth grow up with nothing, the cultural center brings culture, art, and education to over 1500 youth in the camp and provides jobs for 60 families.

The center's program includes a nursery, kindergarten, children's library, computer and Internet centers, women's cooperative, and music courses, among other things. The Zionist occupiers want to take even this center away from the people in the camp. They've attacked the cultural center, smashing their computers and destroying their art and culture. The troupe's U.S. tour is a fundraiser for the IBDAA Cultural Center.

In addition to their beautiful and breathtaking performances, one of the things that's inspiring about IBDAA is their life struggle. They have nothing--yet they create art and culture for the people of the world and the Dheisheh refugee camp. They resist through their movements, telling people of their daily struggle as Palestinians.

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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