Unless you were living on Mars this summer, you’ll be aware that the Alrowwad Youth Theatre from Palestine toured the UK – visiting and performing in London, Edinburgh, Bristol, Leeds and Derby (including appearances at the prestigious Edinburgh and Greenbelt Arts Festivals).
I was fortunate enough to be invited to join the Scottish leg of this tour and to share in many of the moments that touched the lives of everyone involved during this fortnight.
There are moments which mark your life. Moments when you realise nothing will ever be the same and time is divided into two parts – before this and after this.
This feature is an open letter of gratitude to the people that made these moments possible – people that I’m calling (at risk of revealing my age!)
Thank you for taking us to Palestine… and for bringing Palestine to us.
There are daily photographs, films and news articles about Palestinian life under occupation, but these can only do so much – and we all become desensitised to them over time.
What we really need to do, to get a true sense of the daily lives the Palestinian people endure – to make it personal and for it to really linger in our hearts – is to visit the country and meet the people … or, to have them visit us!
Amos makes this personal experience possible, with annual trips to Palestine. But for those unable to make that journey, Amos also brings a little bit of Palestine to us. For this first tour of the UK, they ensured the Alrowwad Youth Theatre’s performances were widely publicised and seen by many, from the JUST Festival, Festival of Politics (by special invite of Scottish Parliament), Fringe Central, Café Palestina at the Pleasance to a prime-time TV slot on STV news.
Thank you Amos, and your partners, for making this tour happen and reigniting our passion for Palestine and her people.
Thank you for your natural beauty and your generous community spirit.
The Scottish leg of the tour was inspired and created by the inimitable Katie Brown, co-organised with Amos Trust. Base camp for the fortnight was Aberdour – a picturesque seaside town on the south coast of Fife – and arriving there was a bit like going down the rabbit hole… in a good way!
This place could not be more different from Aida camp, where Alrowwad’s centre is based. Here the young people were free to enjoy large open spaces and fresh air; to walk, run, play football, swim and explore the beaches, without any Israeli army presence – none of their usual checkpoints, watchtowers, separation Wall, tear gas, raids, detentions or arrests.
They could also sleep soundly at night in the knowledge that there would be no night raids, with soldiers entering their homes indiscriminately. Here, they were free to simply enjoy what should be ‘normal’ life for all young people and, same the world over, to take a thousand selfies a day! It was also – shock, horror – sunny!
The community here is a shining example of what people can achieve when they come together to be of service. The kindness, generosity, inclusivity and love were evident from day one and watching the young people relax into this was a joy.
When not performing, they spent time with their host families, built special life-long friendships with the local young people and took part in the many activities organised for them by community groups and individuals – football, shinty, sailing, Scottish dancing, a tour of the town and its castle, dance lessons with the local school, group meals (including Barbara’s mouth-watering Maklubah), breakfasts at the local cafe and much more. Everyone involved, from toddlers to senior citizens, fully embraced the experience and proved that we have so much more in common than that which divides us.
When I see you through my eyes, I think that we are different.
When I see you through my heart, I know we are the same.
Aberdour, thank you for hosting and opening your hearts to create this safe, fun and inclusive space for your Palestinian visitors (now, your second family). Oh, and for teaching us all ‘Strip the Willow’ – I hope you’ve all added that to your CVs!
Alrowwad Centre, Aida Camp
Thank you for everything you do – and for teaching us about your Beautiful Resistance.
When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.'
When you visit Aida refugee camp, where the Alrowwad Centre is based, the reality of the people’s everyday life is a huge shock – and scary. The constant army presence is violent, aggressive and degrading, violating international laws daily. Over 6,000 displaced people live on just .07 km² of land – two-thirds of which are under 16 years of age and have never set foot outside the camp.
And there, right in the middle of all this darkness, like a bright beacon of hope, sits the Alrowwad Centre for Culture and Arts – the helpers, the guardian angels.
Established in 1998, this independent, dynamic, community-based organisation (amongst many other things) provides an alternative to violence against injustice and oppression, raises awareness of and preserves traditional Palestinian culture and empowers young people to express themselves and realise their full potential through creative outlets such as dance, film, music, photography and theatre. They call this ‘Beautiful Resistance’.
Thank you to everyone at Alrowwad for creating this magical place. Your commitment and creativity is inspiring and giving hope to so many young people for a better future. And thank you for sharing your stories with us during your two weeks in Scotland – through your national dance (Dabka), songs, theatre and personal experiences.
Thank you for your commitment to Alrowwad and your young people – and for sharing it with us.
Dr Abdelfattah, the beautiful Manal, and the exceptional Ribal, were the three adults accompanying the young people from Palestine. Abed founded the Alrowwad Centre for Culture and Arts in 1998, with the vision to create a community free from violence and respectful of human values and rights.
At the centre, he and his staff work tirelessly to create possibilities for the camp’s young people to express themselves positively through the arts – and to believe in themselves as change makers.
During this tour, Abed spoke eloquently and passionately at every performance – inspiring and motivating audiences across Scotland. He speaks from the heart, people listen and he embodies one of his own challenging phrases, every single day:
We don’t wait for miracles to happen – we provoke them.
In addition to his daily smiles and hugs (best hugs EVER!), gratitude goes to Abed for all the amazing work he does and for reminding us that we all ultimately share the same values of justice, equality, freedom, peace and love, which it is our duty to uphold.
All the young people
Adham, Ayah, Fatema, Hamza, Issa, Layan, Lojain, Motasem, Nida’a, Nidal, Sana, Shahed and Zeina
I saved the best ‘til last!
Given the constraints these young people live with every day, under Israeli occupation, you’d forgive them for being angry, despairing, frustrated and aggressive. But they are not any of these things. They are kind, gentle, smiley, engaging, respectful, proud, self-determined and full of warmth and generosity. They are beautiful and brilliant (unless you play the ‘hand-slapping game’ with them... don’t do it!).
They performed so many times throughout their fortnight in Scotland and at every single performance (regardless of how tired/hungry/hot/ill they felt!) they each gave 100% in energy, enthusiasm, passion and skill. Their joy to live and their love of their country, is shared and felt through every step of their dance and every word in their song.
To watch us dance is to hear our hearts speak.
Hopi Indian saying
Thank you for sharing your gifts with us: your powerful stories, your culture and traditions, your Palestinian identity and your light… and thank you for opening our hearts. LOVE really does win.
The parents, community and Alrowwad Centre can feel extremely proud – their influence has produced some of the finest young people I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet – and they have touched the hearts of everyone involved in this tour. If hope for the future lies with Palestine’s young people – well then it is in extremely safe, powerful and beautiful hands.
Together, I hope we can continue to support them on their journey: let’s be active, commit, give hope and be partners in helping them to reach their goals.
I think it would be pretty impossible to forget them – so please support BDS, pressurise your MPs, stay in touch with them, tell their stories and MOST IMPORTANTLY send any donations you can afford to Alrowwad to help them continue their amazing work.
Keep the momentum going… keep the special moments coming… and why not book a trip with Amos to visit Palestine and Alrowwad?
Use whatever you have, to do whatever you can. We’re all one big dysfunctional family now!
Amos supporter and Palestine Home Rebuilder