b a d k e i n P a l e s t i n e
In april 2014 Badke was on tour in Palestine/Israël. This production went to Nazareth (Mahmoud Darwish Cultural Centre), Jerusalem (Palestinian National Theatre) and Ramallah (Ramallah Cultural Palace). Koen Augustijnen made a report of the tour.
Badke is an artistic collaboration between les ballets C de la B (Ghent), KVS (Brussels) and the A.M. Qattan Foundation (Ramallah). Since 2007, these organisations have been linking up for a series of multi-disciplinary, long-term workshops with young potential Palestinian performers, dubbed the Performing Arts Summer School (PASS).
With Badke they are presenting the third production in this parcours. A trio consisting of Koen Augustijnen, Rosalba Torres Guerrero (les ballets C de la B) and Hildegard De Vuyst (KVS) are responsible for this production, in collaboration with ten Palestinian performers from different genres.
d i a r y
(by Koen Augustijnen)
At long last! After having given a successful series of performances of Badke in Belgium and The Netherlands, we're going to play and stay in Palestine. “Stay” was, in the first place, Ramallah, which we know best. But we're first going to play in Nazareth and Jerusalem.
Landing in Tel Aviv is always stressful and unpleasant. Unless you enjoy being subjected to extensive questioning and baggage control, it's best not to mention that you're travelling to the West Bank.
We pass Qalandia, the large checkpoint between Jerusalem and Ramallah. It has expanded slowly but surely over the years. One colossal chunk of concrete, something between an airport and a bunker. If you personally want to experience what is daily routine to Palestinians, I advise you to go through the checkpoint on foot. The narrow corridors consisting of steel pipes strongly conjure up images of passages where cattle in abattoirs are led to slaughter. There weren't many people when we went through them but the guards still kept us waiting in the narrow barred corridor. Then, gradually, one by one, we were let in through the automatic turnstile gate, after which we had to pass through a scanner. Our passport was checked by terribly unfriendly soldiers. It must be hell to have to queue there for hours on end on busy, hot, working days and to experience such insult, time and again. By the way, the wall and checkpoints are largely built by cheap Palestinian labour. I have an idea that Palestinians must be in dire need of earning some money to choose to do a job like that. Degrading people is a trade in its own right in which people there have become most skilled. It must be exasperating for a Palestinian to be compelled to help build the wall.
Luckily the reception by the Palestinians in Ramallah is always very warm and hearty. And I can forget all that negative energy. We are invited to people's homes or taken out to a restaurant. The Ramallah Contemporary Dance Festival is in full swing. It is abundantly clear that the festival is growing year after year. I see more and more young Palestinian dancers displaying promising work in various places in the city. I can also go to French, Australian, Canadian and Swiss productions in the evenings. One almost forgets about the occupation. Not for long, though.
If our West-Bank dancers want to play in Nazareth and Jerusalem, they must all apply to the Israeli administrative services for a permit to cross the "border". One of the 11 dancers is refused permission to leave the West Bank. There is no reason whatsoever why this young dancer should not be given this permit. Or is there? ... It is a prime example of the Israeli policy to underhandedly undermine anything and everything that could in the slightest way possible let anything cultural blossom on the part of Palestine and the Palestinians. They aren’t succeeding this time, however, because a very diverse audience is sitting on the edge of their seats watching the performances of Badke in Nazareth and Jerusalem. The dancers are overwhelmed by a standing ovation at the end and after the performance we encounter numerous enthusiastic reactions by the audience.
"How come these dancers are so free on stage? This is the new Palestine Debke dance of the 21st century.
This performance works wonders against depression! By performing Badke, you are achieving something that our political parties and the NGOs cannot, that is, to unite Palestine!"
At long last there is something positive from the other side. Two Jewish friends who live in the vicinity of Nazareth have come to watch the performance. They are most moved and impressed by the performance and invite us to visit them. We don't really have time to do so but I hear that they live in "a new city". The thought flashes through my mind that chances are that they live in a colony built on the ruins of one of the 541 Palestine villages destroyed or cleared by the Israeli army. I got to know these friendly people in Geneva at a time when didn't know much about the "Nakba" yet, the bloody ousting of 700.000 Palestinians in 1948. It makes contact with my friends rather ambiguous. This all the more so because it seems that they do not know much about what really happened at that time and have no idea of the violence to which Palestinians are subjected every single day. It’s disconcerting to see how our friends live in a "nothing-wrong-with-the-world" bubble.
We end the evening with the dancers belonging to the company of the granddaughter of Emile Habibi, in a beautiful old restaurant, which previously belonged to the Edward Said family. Such taste, refinement and sensuality! It is a wonderful evening. I make the comment that – apart from their lucrative objectives – the British and, later, the Israeli colonisers presumed that they were bringing civilisation to the uncivilised Palestinians. Nothing is further from the truth.
Afterwards, on the journey back the next day, I noticed how many settlements there are on the West Bank. One can truly speak of fortified strongholds, often on top of rocks, surrounded by walls and barbed wire. It also gives me the impression that these people are locking themselves up.
It has in the meantime become an irrefutable fact that the "settlements" are meticulously designed, with the result that Israel has already taken over 40% of the occupied West Bank. This naturally includes taking over important water reserves and valuable land and creating "Bantustans" (black homelands in South Africa) for the Palestinians, as Ariel Sharon – architect of this plan – himself called them. Constructing the wall is a part of the annexation policy, and not for safety or security reasons, as one would so much like to have the international community believe. "All these actions are a violation of international law and, therefore, criminal, " according to Noam Chomsky in his book "Building the future".
I wonder how long they can still continue appropriating land. Until there is no Palestinian left at all and the Arabs become part of Israel, perhaps? In that case, the Arabs must be given equal rights; otherwise Israel will be openly accused of being an apartheid regime. The Zionists are scared to death of both scenarios.
The Badke dancers tell me that the population has lost much confidence in the Palestinian government. Some regard the PA (Palestinian Authority) as a fake government that is allowed to exist under the occupier's terms and conditions. This means that the PA must ensure that it maintains public order and nip potential resistance in the bud.
A Portuguese voluntary worker helping in the refugee camp in Jenin tells me that eight adolescents have been shot by the Israeli army since September. Taken out for security reasons, because they were posing a potential threat. The word "security" is a word that is shamefully often used as justification. The volunteer tells me that some children would rather be shot point blank by the occupiers than be taken alive and fall prey to the hands of the agents of the PA. This is how bad the situation really is.
We move on to Jerusalem, where the National Palestinian Theatre proves to be too small to accommodate the large audience. Our Badke dancers perform to and completely overwhelm a hall bursting at the seams. The second positive element of the day is that colleague dancer Ido and a few friends have come to watch the performance. He, too, is very impressed with the strength and authenticity of the Palestinian dancers. Ido – who, as an Israeli, still shuddered at the invitation to attend a rehearsal of the Palestinians – is most enthusiastic and proposes to create a performance with a Palestinian-Israeli cast. I think that this can be fantastic if one were not to do everything possible to make life difficult for the Palestinians.
A tour of Jerusalem was a real eye opener for me. Take the opportunity, if you can, of standing on a roof in East Jerusalem – the Arab part of the city – and you will see increasingly more flags bearing the Star of David. These are mostly at houses that look rather new. These houses have been renovated or built on top of old ones. As you walk in the street, you see more and more bars above your head. You will often find a guard post with an armed soldier and a blue and white flag, which means that this house has recently been occupied. All types of administrative means are employed to expel Arabs from their homes. Some Arabs are asked to sell their houses and are paid by being given a ticket to a faraway country such as Australia, a large amount of money in dollars and a false passport. A Palestinian selling his house to an Israeli is actually regarded as a traitor who commits treason. If an Israeli succeeds in getting hold of a house, then the surrounding houses are emptied ... for security reasons.
A Palestinian acquaintance tells me that young politically committed Arab men in Jerusalem are eliminated by the Israeli security services. One of the methods used is to mix a chemical product in their drink, which leads to grave brain damage. Young Arab men are seduced by young women, who take them along to a hotel room. All types of sexual acts are then filmed. The young Arabs are then asked to work for the security forces. If they refuse, they are threatened that the video will be sent to their family, something which, according to Arab standards, is an extremely painful issue. Going abroad for your work as a Palestinian can lead to being expelled from Jerusalem. During the past few years, thousands of Palestinians have been forbidden to return to their home city. Life was made difficult for an acquaintance of mine who often needs to travel abroad for his work and who was born and bred in Jerusalem. He must submit official documents of his studies and professional activities to the Ministry. Any slight administrative carelessness can mean that you lose the right to live in Jerusalem. The list of harassment and attempts to oust Palestinians in East Jerusalem from their homes is endless.
Here is another image that comes to mind most vividly: I saw 3 tired Arab construction workers eating their lunch on a square while they were being jeered and mocked at by a small group of Israeli schoolchildren no more than 8 years old. It seems that hate is ingrained at a very early age.
"Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided." This is what Obama said in his speech to the Israeli lobby organisation, AIPAC, in Washington in June 2008. The consequences of this policy are disastrous. (source: Noam Chomsky/ Building the future)
We run into Professor Ludo Abicht in the Via Dolorosa. He is fuming and tells us about how blatantly history is being distorted. Parks with remains of buildings and ruins are claimed as being of old Roman or Jewish origin. In the meantime, most of them are ruins of Palestinian villages that were raised to the ground in '48. Pine trees were then planted there to hide the history. You can almost be certain that if you see any pine trees standing on a hill anywhere in Israel, there is something that had to be destroyed or hidden there. Pine trees are not part of the indigenous and natural Palestinian flora, and were introduced by colonists.
Our visit to Hebron is perhaps even more poignant (and distressing). Approximately between 500 and 600 fanatic colonists who are convinced that Hebron belongs to them, have settled in the Arab inner city. As a matter of fact, Arab authenticity in Hebron really hits you in the face: you must be blind, deaf and unable to smell not to notice the Arab nature of the city. Those 500 colonists are protected by 2,000 Israeli soldiers, i.e. four soldiers per colonist. How insane can a policy be which protects such a gang of fanatics?
While wandering around in the old city, an Arab addresses us and invites us to his home. He takes us to his roof terrace. Here too, there are increasingly more houses belonging to colonists, each surrounded by fenced steel gates, bearing flags and guarded by soldiers. There is a small Jewish school next to our host's house and the soldier guarding it comes to jeer at us in our face. Our host tells us that they make life for him and his family as difficult as possible. Every two to three days, the soldiers raid the house in the middle of the night and put the entire family, including the children, out on the street, by force if necessary. All in the name of security measures. The real reason is that they are trying to oust the Arabs from the neighbourhood of the school. Many different means are allowed (in order to do so). I could not restrain myself from answering the soldier who smirkingly stood jeering at us. Palestinians tell me that Arabs have already been shot for less.
We continue wandering again and large parts of the old shopping streets are covered with iron nets and bars, which means that colonists who want to protect themselves live above those. It is said that they regularly throw their rubbish down through the grids and bars. We don't see it happening but do see old rubbish hanging from the grids here and there. We buy a few things from the Arabs. Then there is a moving and funny meeting with an old man selling caps made of rabbit's skin. This pleasant moment doesn't last long because as we approach the old inner city on our way to the mosque, we suddenly have to pass a checkpoint containing a scanner. It is incredible that Arabs who want to go to a mosque to pray must first pass a scanner. A colonist tries to provoke us on the square. When I give him an unimpressed look, he quickly takes shelter by standing with a few soldiers on guard, from where he resumes his provocation. It all feels terribly nauseating. Full of anxiety and hate.
When we get back to Ramallah, I notice that all this negativity has had a depressing effect on me. It creeps into your body and takes hold of you. From the roof terrace of my hotel I look at Ramallah by night. The city seems to have expanded to three times its size since I first visited it in 2007. Apartment buildings have sprung up like mushrooms. The Ramallah Cultural Palace – the largest theatre in the city, which is funded by Japanese money – was still a solitary building on a hill outside the city that first time. Now it is completely surrounded by housing blocks, official buildings and the Mahmoud Darwish Museum. I wonder how so much is built in a country that has little or no industry or economy left. The international community and Israel are doing everything (such as investing) to make Ramallah the Palestinian capital so that the conflict regarding Jerusalem can be eradicated. I am also told that a substantial number of buildings have been built for money laundering purposes. Thirdly, a policy to buy mortgaged houses has been encouraged lately. Approximately 200,000 Palestinians work directly or indirectly for the PA administrative services. Many of these families have bought a house on mortgage and must pay for it for the rest of their lives. These people cannot afford to lose their jobs. They continue to work obediently and support the Palestinian Authority. Only if the PA were to come to a fall, causing them to lose their work, would any change could come about or could any movement be established.
Talking about movement – I almost forgot that we came here to dance. The last performance of Badke in the Ramallah Cultural Palace becomes one huge celebration. We get nervous as we see all those people entering the building. Suddenly, before Badke starts, the audience stand up to silently remember the martyrs and then the national anthem is played. It gives me goose bumps. After that, the performance grips the entire hall and does not let go of the audience right until the very end when the lights go off. There is a thundering applause that we could only dream of. I have a feeling that we haven't seen the last of this performance.
After that, we celebrate the success of our tour with the entire festival team in the Rocky Hotel. Happy faces all round. I will spare you the detail of the return journey with all its checks and controls. I prefer to end my travel report with the following quotation:
“A truism in human as well as world affairs is that if you threaten people, they will defend themselves. If you reach out in good faith, people are likely to reach back.” (source: Noam Chomsky/ Making the future)