"Cowardice asks the question - is it safe? Expediency asks the question - is it politic? Vanity asks the question - is it popular? But conscience asks the question - is it right? And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular; but one must take it because it is right." -- Martin Luther King, Jr.
Living in Occupied Bethlehem you see such a variety of faces and people from all over the world -- pilgrims who come to see the holy sites, internationals who come to be with the locals. In the distance, Jewish-only settlements sprinkle the hilltops.
One of the most shocking things about being witness to the situation here is the normalness with which things happen. Every day someone is killed, beaten, jailed, harassed, humiliated; homes are demolished, their occupants (often extended families) left to wander and relocate. Not only does the Israeli state demolish their homes, it charges them for the cost of the demolition.
Back in March a festival celebrating Arab and Palestinian culture was banned by the Israeli municipality in Jerusalem. Event organizers decided to go ahead with celebrations in an act of civil disobedience. And it was Palestinians releasing balloons, dancing and singing in the streets and children playing games that caused Israel to send extra police forces into the Old City of East Jerusalem and arrest dozens of people.
"Despite the horrifying conditions and the newly elected right-wing Israeli government's open plans to make it worse, people continue to live their lives."
Part of the irony to me in all of this is that there were many instances in history where Jewish people had to practice their traditions in secret. Again history is repeating itself in the most ironic ways. Perhaps this is a chance for us to take a deep look at these lessons and truly mean it when we say, "Never again!"
The fact that there are people in the West Bank and Gaza Strip who are still willing to celebrate their culture, practice their religious traditions and protest and stand up for their humanity is nothing short of a miracle to me! It truly attests to the ability of the human spirit to affirm life no matter what the circumstance.
In fact, this place is seething with life! Everything from religious pilgrims praying at historical sites to activists, both internationals and Palestinians, carrying out various forms of non-violent protests and civil disobedience, to film, dance, theater and music festivals.
And despite the horrifying conditions and the newly elected right-wing Israeli government's open plans to make it worse, people continue to live their lives. Despite the right-wing settler group Chabad that is calling to "Judaize" the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem and rebuild the historic temple that was twice destroyed thousands of years ago and threatens to bring with it riots and violence, people still practice their beliefs.
Despite over 60 years of attempts at burying and erasing Palestinian culture, the people here continue to celebrate and create new and innovative art forms -- everything from feature films to plays exploring the experience of Palestinians in the diaspora to what the city of Jerusalem would say if it could speak about its history from a woman's perspective.
"Even in the starving and demolished Gaza Strip people continue to learn, imagine and create."
Even in the starving and demolished Gaza Strip people continue to learn, imagine and create. During a recent assault on this small land mass, the Gaza Music School was destroyed by Israeli missiles. Now there are plans to rebuild the school, with help from international donors/charities, and continue with music lessons.
Some interesting art to note are: Salt of This Sea (a film by Anna Marie Jacir), Pomegrantes and Myrrh (a film by Najwa Najjar), Spell (an audio CD by Nathalie Handal), Amreeka (a film by my sister Cherien Dabis), I am Jerusalem (a play by Ashtar Theatre in Ramallah), Theatre of the Oppressed Festival (by Ashtar Theatre) and the Ramallah Contemporary Dance Festival (by Sareyyet in Ramallah.)
These films and plays travel all over the world and the festivals bring people here from all over the world. Everywhere there are examples of non-violent resistance and global solidarity to the horrors people here are forced to live with. In essence, an assault to anyone's liberty or life anywhere is an assault on life everywhere.
Millions of Christians all over the world just celebrated Easter, and hundreds of people marched through the walled-in labyrinth of Jerusalem's old city streets. Israel sealed the borders of the West Bank, making it difficult for Palestinians living here to get permission to go. And of course the Gaza Strip is near impossible to enter and exit.
"Part of the irony to me in all of this is that there were many instances in history where Jewish people had to practice their traditions in secret."
In the West Bank city of Nablus there is a small sect of Judaism called the Samaritans. During their celebration of Passover they were joined by thousands of Muslims and Christians, including Nablus' Governor. They gathered in the streets of their small village to celebrate and congratulate them on this Passover holiday.
It is interesting that they are called the Samaritans and that they have lived in peace with their Palestinian neighbors since before there was a state of Israel. Their village has existed atop this mountain for thousands of years.
In Jewish tradition, Passover is the celebration of the Hebrews' escape from slavery in Egypt. Ironically, April 17 is Palestinian Prisoner day, and almost 11,000 Palestinians sit in Israeli prisons, many of them without charge or trial.
Easter is the celebration of rebirth, and I hold vision that beyond all of this death, racism and festering decay something better is being reborn.
Deema Dabis can be reached at .