I have been here for two weeks now, and every day I have been fortunate enough to experience something or someone remarkable. I have spent quite a bit of time at Diyar Theatre, teaching classes, assisting the teaching staff, and diving into my own physical research. I’ve been exploring and getting to know Bethlehem of the past and present.
To better understand the circumstances here, I took a geo-political tour of Bethlehem with a brilliant man named Baha. He is a guide with To Be There, an organization who proposes that one must be physically present in Palestine to truly experience and understand the dynamics at play.
Even after just two weeks of being here, I couldn’t agree more. The sounds, sensations, impressions, and details of daily existence here reveal undeniable truths about the culture, history, political, and social realities of Palestinians who are living under occupation. Not only do you begin to mentally grasp the complexities of the situation, but you also begin to notice and feel the effects of the systematic oppression, disenfranchisement, and erasure of the Palestinian people from their homeland. The institutional policies enforced by the Israeli government are globally acknowledged to be criminal and heinous, but the trickle down of such massive injustice seeps into the nooks and crannies of daily life in ways that are difficult to understand from the outside.
But the people are strong and gracious. The artists, activists, and community organizers I have had the privilege to meet all approach these circumstances in many different ways. Rami and the staff at Diyar Theatre, Nihaya and Mohamad at Bab idDeir Art Gallery, Abel with the Municipality of Beit Jala, Dar al-Kalima University theater student Manar, upcycler Ala’ of Resign for Recycling Design, pianist Ghareeb of a local band called Mafar, and geopolitical tour guide Baha’, are just a few of the many individuals making a difference in their community. Whether it is the preservation of their traditional culture and history in the face of erasure, the establishment of programs that care for the well-being, advancement and evolution of the community, or radical art practices that challenge the status quo, these passionate individuals all share the same desire for a liberated and independent Palestine.
My daily journal is a collection of observations, questions, cultural and historical particulars, connections and lightbulbs, more questions, context clues, feelings, and anecdotes. I am trying to take it all in and process bits and pieces when it feels right, but with no rush. I am trying to be present and to be here, immersed and receptive.
I also see the news of events taking place on the other side of this planet, closer to “home” like the protests in Puerto Rico and the mobilization of opposition to the migrant concentration camps in the U.S., and can’t help but feel inspired by the collective power of the human spirit fighting for freedom from oppression, corruption, and hate.