First Of The Month — September 2022

First Of The Month — September 2022

In This Land
The Art of Cultural Resistance

We have a slightly different take on cultural resistance from many of those who advocate for it. For us, cultural resistance has multiple strands — each has a distinct spirituality.

One we are firmly committed to is the Cultural Boycott. It’s in Amos’ DNA, and many of us were brought up singing along to The Specials and campaigning against the apartheid regime in South Africa — where boycott played a key role. We believe musicians, artists and writers have unique capital regarding boycotts. We are also very much aware of how hard this can be for some of them and how vital their solidarity is.

Musician Brian Eno said, “Palestinians are not asking you to save them. By calling for a boycott of Israel, they only ask you not to help Israel oppress them.” You will hear more from Brian later.

...many of us were brought up singing along to The Specials and campaigning against the apartheid regime in South Africa.

We also believe that our culinary work, a Taste of Palestine, is Cultural Resistance. It is taking dishes that have often been appropriated and ensuring that their identity, flavours and heritage are understood and enjoyed. So much of the food and its cooking is either uniquely Palestinian or is rooted in the Levant.

Understanding more about Palestinian food points toward a unique relationship between the land and its people. It’s an understanding that has been squeezed out of many cultures. Since 1948 this relationship has been hard to maintain for many Palestinians. Every year it becomes more challenging as more land is taken and the areas under Palestinian control become increasingly over-populated.

We are delighted that Amos can work alongside our partners, HIRNHoly Land Trust and Wi’am, who are deeply committed to investing in and supporting this ongoing engagement with the land.

Brian Eno

Producer, Musician, Writer and Artist: Brian Eno
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“Palestinians are not asking you to save them. By calling for a boycott of Israel, they only ask you not to help Israel oppress them.” Brian Eno

The last home rebuild, which we undertook with Holy Land Trust in April 2022, was also, to our surprise, an act of Cultural Resistance reflected in its location, views, and the communities refusal to cede this land.

As we ate Ifta meals with extended families and community members and laughed and tried to dance with local builders between the steels that held up the temporary ceilings in the partially reconstructed house on our final night, we were reminded that there is a culture of family and community life which is also massively under threat and needs celebrating. It is through our partners that we have started to understand the absolute imperative of hospitality and why it is such a central tenet of all the major religions.

As we talk of dance, we cannot help but think of our partners Alrowwad and their Dabke dancers. It is so inspiring how they use music, arts, photography, drama and dance to enable young people to express themselves. These young people have been brought up under the shadow of the Wall in the densely over-crowded Aidia refugee camp (which is often described as the most tear-gassed place in the world). Yet, they use the arts to channel these young people’s rage and frustration from the futile and potentially deadly circle of throwing stones at the Israeli military into constructive Beautiful Resistance.

To watch these young people, who we brought to the UK in 2016, dance on the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral as the sun set and the crowd clapped along to songs of Palestinian resistance, is a precious memory. To see them savour the beauty and grandeur of Derbyshire, running up the Peaks and splashing through the Dales is the most potent reminder of what freedom and peace mean.

Dabke dancers from Alrowwad performing at Greenbelt Arts Festival

Beautiful Resistance: Young dabke dancers from Alrowwad performing at Greenbelt Arts Festival in 2016
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In 2016, we took them to perform at the Greenbelt Arts Festival as part of their visit. The audience loved them, and they loved the event — but not the camping! As Ribal, one of the leaders of Alrowwad, said, “You gave us tents in 1948. Sleeping in them now is just as bad.”

And speaking of Greenbelt, we move forward to 2022. The British writer, musician and performer Roger Robinson, in his interview, talked of (and I am paraphrasing) that the role of the poet, the artist, the writer, and the musician, is to take the awful aspects of life and see these through the lens of creativity and somehow create a thing of beauty, and ultimately hope. It is not to make sense of what is occurring; how could anyone make sense of a family killed in Gaza? Instead, it lets us tap into a different part of ourselves and engage with the world in a way that was impossible before.

We took our On Location exhibition to the Festival, which featured the art from eight Gazan artists as well as films from Gaza, installations and new work by one of the artists, Malak Mattar.

We were thrilled to be joined by Malak for the weekend. Malak is from Gaza but has been studying in Turkey and was therefore able, after earlier refusals, to get a visa to come to the UK. The story of how she came to paint is remarkable. Talking to her about what it means to be learning her trade in public and being thrust into the spotlight at such a young age reminds us of the massive expectations that we load onto young artists.

We organised a panel discussion under the umbrella of On Location. It featured Malak, the aforementioned musician and activist Brian Eno, We Are Not Numbers founder the journalist Ahmed Alnaoug (also from Gaza) and Palestinian musician Rasha Nahas.

Rasha Nahas

Heartbreak: Rasha Nahas
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We asked each of them to choose a piece of art from the exhibition and why it stood out to them. We didn’t ask Malak though — as it would be a bit like choosing which of your children you love most, but she talked of her favourite poem, which is by Palestine’s favourite poet! (See below).

Brian chose one of the signature pieces of the exhibition, ‘Gaza Lighthouse’ by Shareef Sarhan. “It says it all. A lighthouse in Gaza harbour, which you would have thought had been there for years and years, made up of pieces of scrap and rubbish. Rubbish transformed into art. It is a lighthouse for a harbour that cannot welcome boats from different countries or those in need of a guiding light.”

Gaza Lighthouse – Shareef Sarhan

Gaza Lighthouse: Shareef Sarhan, 2020
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Rasha chose the picture ‘The Heart of Gaza’ by Mohammed Al Hawajri. One of these cacti, originally from Mexico but widely adopted in Palestine before 1948, is in her grandfather’s garden in Ramallah. She said how it so powerfully reminds her of her home (she now lives in Germany) but that this heart, with a cut down its middle, reminds her of the heartbreak and the open wound that is Palestine.

The Heart of Gaza – Mohammed Al Hawajri

The Heart of Gaza: Mohammed Al Hawajri, 2017
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Ahmed chose ‘If You Love Us, Ride With Us’ by Mohamed Abusal. It reminded him of the densely crowded streets of Gaza and the people packed in there, the vibrancy of their life and how they are all trapped on a boat going nowhere.

If You Love Us, Ride With Us’ by Mohamed Abusal

If You Love Us, Ride With Us: Mohamed Abusal, 2021
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There were many positive responses from the 400-plus people who came to see the On Location exhibition — and many tears. One of the films we showed was made by We Are Not Numbers. It was about a Gazan artist Zainab Al-Qolaq who lost 22 members of her family to an Israeli air strike in 2021. Although she was buried in the rubble of her home for 12 hours, she could not talk of her loss except through the amazing art she had created.

We are looking to take the On Location exhibition to different locations across the UK. So please do get in touch if you are interested in hosting it. The exhibition catalogue will be available to buy online soon. It is in keeping with our Change The Record campaign (it’s the size of an album cover), and as more than one person said, “It is itself, a thing of great beauty”.

This catalogue joins our other books in the Amos shop, Words of Hope and Seeds of Hope. The poem Malak was referring to is on page 90 of Seeds of Hope. It is called ‘On This Land’ by the great Mahmoud Darwish.

Arabic poetry translates very badly into English. So much of its form, the beauty of its wordplay and how it picks up on other writings and local colloquialisms is lost. Darwish, therefore, hated having his work translated. We hope this is as faithful a translation as possible.

‘On This Land’ — Mahmoud Darwish

We have on this land all of that which makes life worth living
April’s hesitation
The aroma of bread at dawn
A woman’s beseeching of men
The writings of Aeschylus
Love’s beginning
Moss on a stone
Mothers standing on a flute’s thread
And the invader’s fear of memories
We have on this land that which makes life worth living
September’s end
A woman leaving ‘forty’ behind
with all of her apricots
The hour of sunlight in prison
A cloud reflecting a swarm of creatures
A people’s applause for those who face their own erasure with a smile
And the tyrant’s fear of songs.
We have on this land all of that which makes life worth living
On this land
The lady of our land
The mother of all beginnings
And the mother of all ends
She was called Palestine
Her name later became Palestine
My mother...
Because you are my mother
I have all of that which makes life worth living.

Seeds of Hope also contains work by several writers who took part in Greenbelt this summer, including Amos trustee Zena Kazeme, who joined a group of poets chosen by Harry Baker to perform on the final evening. Her remarkable poem Atlas is a huge personal favourite.

‘Atlas’ — Zena Kazeme

You bring me a doll
And tell me to point to where it hurts
I tell you
I need an Atlas
Bring me a globe I place my fingertip
On the northernmost point
And let it spin before me
And watch
As grand mountains
And dying oceans
And pillaged forests
And lifetimes
Pass before my eyes
And wonder how
I would rearrange it
If the world was a just a small sphere
In my hand

Zena will be speaking about her work with refugees and asylum seekers at this year’s Amos Day, and we are sure we will be able to ask her to perform one of her poems. Ahmed Alnaoug will also be joining us for what should be a wonderful day. You can find the details here.

Another personal favourite from Seeds of Hope is Roger Robinson’s ‘A Portable Paradise’. We could have chosen any poem from his TS Elliott award-winning collection. It is the book I have turned to most since its publication. His poem ‘Maracas Beach Prayer’ features in the words we say each week in our Word of Hope.

Roger was interviewed at Greenbelt by Pádraig Ó Tuama and read various poems from his book. The session’s wisdom, insight and power, which included laughter, tears and advice to aspiring writers, were remarkable. He started the interview with poems about Grenfell and the care his infant son received in hospital. He finished with his glorious tribute to the musician Sade and the poem ‘A Portable Paradise’.

My partner Sarah is a Systemic Family Therapist at Freedom From Torture. She works with families, young refugees, and asylum seekers who are torture survivors. She says this poem resonates with the advice she gives to these beautiful, battered people who are often adrift in a strange land.

‘A Portable Paradise’ — Roger Robinson

And if I speak of Paradise,
then I’m speaking of my grandmother
who told me to carry it always
on my person, concealed, so
no one else would know but me.
That way they can’t steal it, she’d say.
And if life puts you under pressure,
trace its ridges in your pocket,
smell its piney scent on your handkerchief,
hum its anthem under your breath.
And if your stresses are sustained and daily,
get yourself to an empty room — be it hotel,
hostel or hovel — find a lamp
and empty your paradise onto a desk:
your white sands, green hills and fresh fish.
Shine the lamp on it like the fresh hope
of morning, and keep staring at it till you sleep.
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A Little More... 

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