I am here.

It is a great privilege to be in the West Bank, in the ancient city of Bethlehem, Palestine. The citizens of Bethlehem, Palestinians, live life up against a wall not unlike the one I know from home in San Diego. This wall serves as a barricade, a tool for Israeli land acquisition, and as a weapon. In the U.S., we are actively engaged with big questions about just such a wall, and the politics and ethics that accompany it. I have an unsettling familiarity with the kind of empathy these conditions evoke in me, but the weight of walls is not the only thing that draws me to Palestine.

The separation wall at Bayt Jala.

I am someone who deeply values the keeping and passing down of cultural heritage as a means for respecting and connecting to the diverse history of Americans. My own Palestinian heritage is something that I know very little about, and I have always been curious to tap into that to know my own history more fully. When the opportunity to spend four weeks in Bethlehem emerged, it seemed like the absolute right thing to do.

I studied a bit about dance in Palestine in grad school as I researched dance history from a phenomenological and social justice perspective. I was moved by the focus of creative resistance and cultural preservation as a tool for young Palestinians to find autonomy and wellness in a complex and harsh world. It seemed as though all of my motivators aligned and opened this door for me to walk through: social justice and humanitarian work, personal cultural discovery, dance, sharing, and empowering young people. I am so glad Diyar Theatre and the steering committee of Diyar Dance Bethlehem Residency chose me to participate.

After nearly 20 hours of travel, I arrived in Bethlehem late Sunday night without my luggage and completely exhausted, but relieved because after many months of planning, I am here.

The first person I met was Gregory, who had been sent to give me ride to Bethlehem, when he thoughtfully greeted me at the airport with warm dinner pastries (because he knew I must be hungry). The next morning Loreen, a college student and staff member from Diyar Theatre, picked me up and helped me hunt around town for the essentials I’d need until my suitcase would be found. Without Loreen’s gracious help, navigating that whole process in a jet lagged state would have been really challenging.

I met with Rami Khader, Founder and Managing Director of Diyar Theatre, in person for the first time. It was exciting to talk with him about my plans for my four-week stay, and to hear about all of the opportunities I’ll have to engage in the community while I am here. He took the time to drive me around Bethlehem and help get me oriented.

With such a warm and positive welcome, I felt keyed up to jump right in. I taught my first community classes today: leading yoga for 5-6 year old children with their summer English camp counselors, and contemporary dance for a vibrant group of talented youth ages 11-14. It is uplifting for me to receive the energy from these little spirits, full of enthusiasm.

Along with these community classes, I’ll be talking with local artists from different mediums about what it is like to live and work in Palestine. I hope these artists will share their experiences and insights with me as I ask the questions:

 

What role does artistic practice play in preserving traditions, advocacy, and representation or expression of contemporary life for Palestinians?

How does creative resistance show up in your work and your life?

What is your mission?

What are the messages you’d like to share?

What contributions do you hope to make?

What conversations should we be having about the Palestinian experience in relationship to art practice?

 

I am grateful to have the resources and the time to be here and experience this place and these people.