Thursday, May 28, 2009

No Smoke without Fire - the facts about the boy

After putting my last post on yesterday, some amazing information came back to me from an anonymous person who corroborated what I had heard, with a news story naming the boy who was killed - Mohammad Ali Nuwwara, 16, from Al Jalazoun refugee camp in Ramallah. Thank-you anonymous person! (This is a great case study for how crowd-powered news can work).

Here it is, as reported on Al Jazeera. In fact, it doesn't change my story at all, except that the boy was 16 years old, instead of 9. No smoke without fire, as they say. And the director of the Dance festival played the incident down completely - which is why I didn't even have the boy's name. My focus was the dance festival. This sad incident being wrapped up in it is a bit shocking for us Westerners. Well, RIP, and here's hoping peace and the easy living we take for granted here in Dublin and in the Western world will come soon to those people. Let's hope Waiting for that won't be like Waiting for Godot (Is that naive? Utopian? Am I dreaming? Probably!). Please note that the report below doesn't allude to the fact that the poor boy was due to participate in a Contemporary Dance show entitled, significantly "Vertical Exile: West Bank Dreamerspass" two days after he was shot dead. No, just that he "allegedly" was throwing a molotov cocktail. So - dream on.

Also - I just want to emphasise what an amazing dance festival it is, celebrating life in the middle of all that terror and easy death. No wonder the Ramallah Contemporary Dance Festival Director didn't want to highlight such a negative incident. But, you know, it happened.

Palestinian youth killed near Ramallah

Saturday April 18, 2009 07:08 by Saed Bannoura - IMEMC & Agencies

Israeli occupation terrorist soldiers shot and killed on Friday at night a Palestinian youth and wounded another near the West Bank city of Ramallah. The Israeli occupation terrorist army claimed that the youth attempted to hurl a Molotov cocktail at an Israeli military jeep. The incident raises the number of Palestinians killed on Friday to three.

The youth was identified as Mohammad Ali Nuwwara, 16, from Al Jalazoun refugee camp in Ramallah.

Medical sources at the Ramallah governmental hospital reported that Nuwwara was shot by a live round in his chest.

The sources added that another youth, identified as Mohammad Balaysha, 19, was injured by military fire.

The two came under Israeli military fire near Beit Eil Israeli settlements, north of Ramallah.

Israeli military sources claimed that the soldiers opened fire at Palestinian youths after they hurled Molotov cocktails against home in Beit Eil settlement, killing one and wounding another.

It is worth mentioning that a few months ago; a Palestinian youth was shot and killed in the same area. The army also claimed he attempted to hurl a Molotov cocktail at soldiers and settlers.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Lucky, IMDT, & Ramallah Contemporary Dance Festival

“Dance First. Think Later. That’s the natural order.” Ramallah Dance Festival 2009, made me think of Lucky's utterance in Samuel Beckett’s play “Waiting for Godot”. In this case I was the lucky one, to be there with Irish Modern Dance Theatre, who, supported by Culture Ireland, were touring their zany and joyous choreography “The White Piece” to Ramallah, Bethlehem, and Haifa.

First impressions? Upon arrival, our phones bleeped, poetically: “Marhaba. Smell the Jasmine and taste the olives. Welcome to Palestine”. Instead of hassle, as we walked down Ramallah’s bustling streets a chorus of “welcome”, and “you are welcome” wafted towards us on the warm air. One emotional tea-shop owner even hugged choreographer John Scott and cried, saying “I don’t want your money – thank you for coming to Palestine”.

I guess they don’t get a lot of tourists here.

We found ourselves in an open-minded place, where culture is revered, women are unexpectedly empowered, and Christians co-exist easily with Muslims. Khaled Elayann, the softly spoken Director of Ramallah Contemporary Dance Festival, for example, who is Muslim, is married to a Christian.

When I interviewed him, it was me who veered eventually from the topic of dance to “so – does the conflict here ever impact on the festival in any way?”. He mumbled something about having to cancel performances sometimes out of respect. “What do you mean?”, I prodded. “Like if someone has died”. “Really? Could you give me an example?” He spoke on in a vaguely inaudible fashion, that had me repeating ‘what?’ and sitting on the edge of my seat. They had to cancel the first show of this year’s festival, in Jalazon Refugee Camp, where Scandinavian “Public Eye” dance company had been working with the locals, creating a choreography called “Vertical Exile: West Bank Dreamer’s Pass”. On April 19th, the day it was to preview, a little boy involved in the production had been playing within gunshot range of nearby Israeli Beit El settlement, and was shot dead by a settler. So, (to answer my question), out of respect, they canceled that night’s show. It happens. A week later, the boy’s friends were bussed to Dheishish refugee camp, where the show went ahead, without the boy.

What seemed unbelievable to my Western ears, apparently was an unremarkable event, just par for the course here. I double-checked it with French Photographer Eric Boudet who had been in Ramallah for the entire month giving a dance photography workshop. Boudet shook his head when I alluded to the unfortunate boy, saying “He was only nine years old”. Despite my efforts, I found no trace of the incident, or the boy’s name either in the press or in general conversation.

And the dance went on. While Irish Modern Dance Theatre were giving workshops, and rehearsing, I sat among happy children from the refugee camps in Ramallah’s charming 350-seater Al Kasabah Theatre enjoying “The Jungle Book” by Washington DC based “City Dance” company. (Cheering these children up is part of the festival’s remit). The previous day, the American company had been held up for almost 8 hours at the Jordanian border, en route to Ramallah.

On May 4th, when John Scott’s powerful post-modern choreography “The White Piece” premiered, it was lauded as the most radical of all 18 dance companies at the festival – from America, Scandinavia, South Korea, and all over Europe to Algeria. His eclectic cast featured renowned Irish and international contemporary dancers, versatile young Palestinian actress, Riham Isaac, and new Irish survivors of torture who he found through Dublin’s Centre for the Care of Survivors of Torture. Ugandan-Irish survivor of torture Immaculate Akello made a moving connection with the audience after the show when she spoke of her first-hand experience of the effects of war on mothers and children. Scott drew parallels with Northern Ireland.

John Scott says that he has been “electrified” by the creative energy he has experienced here, since his first trip to Beit Jala in 2008 to choreograph dance film “Eternal” with film-maker Steve Woods. Scott has also performed in many Holocaust choreographies, and is careful to praise the many Jewish achievements – especially those of Karl Marx.

Elayann, himself a lefty choreographer, underlined that Ramallah Contemporary Dance Festival is an NGO, aligned with neither Fatah nor Hamas. Yes, he has indeed been invited to participate in a dance festival in Tel Aviv. But “even if they were from the left parties”, he cannot entertain the possibility of cultural exchange with Israel until there is a Palestinian state.

That could be like waiting for Godot. But in the meantime, like Lucky, in Beckett’s famous play, at Ramallah Contemporary Dance Festival they are throwing their arms up in the air, and dancing. I can’t help thinking that Beckett would have been proud, could he have seen Irish Modern Dance theatre in Ramallah’s Al Kasabah theatre, dancing their strange, and beautiful dance.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

"I Saw Ramallah" - with IMDT.

Just to borrow a phrase from Mourid Barghouti's fabulous memoir, "I Saw Ramallah" - I saw Ramallah too - and here is some of what I saw!

First of all, the mobile phone alert, once safely in Ramallah: “Marhaba. Smell the jasmine and taste the olives. JAWWAL welcomes you to Palestine”.

In terms of Ramallah Dance Festival (which is why I was there), I saw Al Kasabah Theatre with IMDT - look at them outside the theatre the minute we found it. Look at how disoriented we were when we got there, on a Friday, and it was like a ghost town because their Friday is like our Sunday. Where is everyone? we wondered. We soon found out on our next foray into town, which bustles like nobody's business! I saw First Ramallah Dance rehearsal space, where IMDT rehearsed and gave a workshop. That's Riham Isaac, Palestinian actress with them on the steps outside. I saw Khaled Elayaan, and his wife; and Raja, another festival board member (all in these photographs). I saw "Stars & Bucks" (!) cafe, and went in - it has the best view in Ramallah city centre. And, unlike Starbuck's, it has Argulas, or Sheesha - bubble smoke pipes. Coffee shops, grocery shops, and - Arafat's tomb - a really peaceful and pristine place. They refer to him as "Abu Amar". There's a Mahmoud Darwish poem there in Arabic - can anyone translate it? I saw random street scenes, and Baladna ice-cream shop. The ice-cream here is famous. Something about bubble-gum. Also - here are a few views from my hotel room when I was in the Grand Park Hotel. So - now you too have a window into Ramallah. I'll add some more here when I get another chance. But in the meantime - have a goo.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Pondering the "West Bank Barrier" with IMDT

FYI - here below I quote some information from Wikipedia on the controversial wall between Israel and Palestine, 3 times higher than the Berlin wall, over 425 miles long... It certainly is a depressing structure. We took a mid-morning jaunt to Kalandia checkpoint, the military checkpoint where Palestinians with permits can leave Ramallah for work, medical care, education, or religious reasons. We were at Ramallah Dance Festival for a few days, and thought it would be educational to pop over and see this phenomenon first-hand. Plus, apparently subversive graffiti artist Bansky ( had left his mark here. His simple and dreamy spray-paint drawing of a little girl with pigtails being lifted off the ground by a bunch of balloons, hopefully over the wall, is really very poignant. I guess someone else added the "Sister you need more" beside it. They sure do deserve a lot more. Bansky said the wall transformed Palestine into "the world's biggest open-air prison". We certainly take our immense freedom and the respect of our human rights for granted in the Western World. Seeing these frankly unbelievable conditions first-hand really drives this home. How can this be? Well, the mind boggles. As well as the thoughtful IMDT crew, here further down are two lovely little girls, Sally and Suha, who befriended me in the wonderful Za'rour restaurant. They didn't have any English but they smiled a lot and gave me flowers. And then there is Jessica, a friendly Canadian/Palestinian journalism student who struck up a conversation in "Stars and Bucks" cafe (, where I chilled out for a few hours on the day I was leaving to return home where things make a lot more sense. Returning to the land where things make sense again! (It's good to be here). Seeing is believing - it was an immense privilege to be there and witness the reality on the ground. Hopefully one day this will be a thing of the past. One day!

In October 2003, a United Nations resolution to declare the barrier illegal where it deviates from the green line and should be torn down was vetoed by the US in the United Nations Security Council.[80] In December 2003, resolution ES-10/14 was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in an emergency special session.[81] The resolution included a request to the International Court of Justice "to urgently render an advisory opinion".[82] It concluded that the barrier violated international law.[83] On 20 July 2004, the UN General Assembly accepted another resolution condemning the barrier with 150 countries voting for the resolution.[84] Only 6 countries voted against: Israel, the US, Australia, Micronesia, the Marshall Islands and Palau. The US and Israel rejected both the verdict and the resolution.[84] All 25 members of the European Union voted in favour of the resolution after it was amended to include calls for Israelis and Palestinians to meet their obligations under the "roadmap" peace plan.[85]

[edit] The Red Cross

The Red Cross has declared the barrier in violation of the Geneva Convention. On February 18, 2004, The International Committee of the Red Cross stated that the Israeli barrier "causes serious humanitarian and legal problems" and goes "far beyond what is permissible for an occupying power".[86]

[edit] Human rights organizations

Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and other Human rights groups have protested both the routing of the wall and the means by which the land to build the wall was obtained.[87] In a 2004 report Amnesty International wrote that "The fence/wall, in its present configuration, violates Israel’s obligations under international humanitarian law."[88]

Canadian opinion

Canada recognizes Israel's right to protect its citizens from terrorist attacks, including through the restriction of access to its territory, and by building a barrier on its own territory for security purposes. However, Canada opposes the barrier's incursion into and the disruption of occupied territories. Regarding the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) as "occupied territory", Canada considers the barrier to be contrary to international law under the Fourth Geneva Convention. Canada opposes the barrier and the expropriations and the demolition of houses and economic infrastructure preceding its construction.[93]

[edit] Artists

Graffiti paintings on the wall by British graffiti artist Banksy

Graffiti on the Palestinian side of walled sections of the barrier has consistently been one of many forms of protest against its existence. Large areas of the walls feature messages relating to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, demanding an end to the barrier, or criticizing its builders and its existence ('Welcome to the Ghetto-Abu Dis'). In August 2005, the U.K. graffiti artist Banksy painted nine images on the Palestinian side of the barrier.[94] He describes the barrier as "the ultimate activity holiday destination for graffiti writers", and returned in December 2007 with new images for "Santa's ghetto" in Bethlehem.[95] The Times headlined the graffiti project "Let Us Spray". On June 21, 2006, Pink Floyd's Roger Waters wrote "Tear down the wall" on the wall, a phrase from the Pink Floyd album "The Wall".[96]


Tuesday, May 5, 2009

More late afternoon in Jerusalem with Irish Modern Dance Theatre


The internet
connection in The Rocky Hotel, Ramallah, was a bit dodgy, so only a handful of the images I was trying to upload made it for the previous post. Now that I'm back in Dublin it's a bit easier - so here are the rest of the images I was trying to upload from that great afternoon in Jerusalem. We started at the Damascus Gate, and made our way down through the old city until we got caught up in the stations of the cross! Seriously! Anyway, here they are, and lots more coming anon...

In them we see IMDT choreographer John Scott, with his dancers the wonderful Joanna Banks, James Hosty (taking a pic), the amazing Immaculate and her daughter Patience (at Damascus Gate), Becky Reilly, tour manager Leo McKenna, and not to forget Winston Dynamite Brown. With a name like that, how could you ever forget him?

Also a few sharks, chicks, blingie dresses, a soldier or two, Holy Spots, like the one where Jesus allegedly rested his hand (guess which one that is), lots of fervent "in the zone" pilgrims (well, it is the Holy Land), and the interior of the church of the Holy Sepulchre. All that crazy faith!

Didn't get around to Dome of the Rock, or the Wailing Wall this time. Next time, next time.