Oppression can do strange things to people. When it is oppression in the form of a decades-long military occupation, it means the occupied people run the risk of becoming one-dimensional in the sense that the occupation is what defines them and shapes their past, present and future.
For the Palestinians, this is true to a large extent. Because the Israeli occupation consumes us, preoccupies our everyday lives and effects the smallest aspects of it, we find ourselves thinking mostly about this occupation and ways to resist it, do away with it, or at least work around it.
The thing is, the Palestinians are hardly one-dimensional. The fact that the occupation has taken over so much of our lives does not mean we do not have the potential to embrace other less discouraging aspects of life itself. In the past week, Ramallah – the hub of Palestinian cultural life – has seen Palestinian Fashion Week, the Contemporary Dance Festival and a Spring Festival for children. All of the above activities have been distinctly Palestinian but they were not solely catered to the traditional theme of occupation and oppression, which the Palestinians have grown so accustomed to and believe is the only way the world views them.
At the Nuwwar Nissan Festival [The Blossoms of Spring] , children danced debka [Palestinian traditional dance] wearing Palestinian kuffiyehs around their necks. Some even had little Palestinian flags painted on their cheeks. But mostly, there were happy children with butterflies or flowers for faces, carrying balloons, eating sweets and watching puppet shows.
At the fashion show, young fresh-faced Palestinian women walked a mini runway wearing stylish spring clothes, some of which had more than a hint of Palestinian heritage. There were dresses with Palestinian embroidery in traditional black and red, jackets with distinct Palestinian markings. But overall, this was a fashion show, a chance for young entrepreneurs and fashion designers to showcase their skills, for young women into fashion to dress up and march down the catwalk and for Palestinians interested in this art form to take part in something a bit different than usual.
At the final performance of the Contemporary Dance Festival, physically disabled dancers performed incredible routines that would be a challenge for any able-bodied person. The message was twofold. Not only was it a reconfirmation that the handicapped can be part of anything they set their minds to in society and even excel where most others would fail, it was also a message forcing viewers to think outside the box. Contemporary dance incorporates unique and often bizarre concepts foreign to conservative societies but ones that allow the imagination and mind to travel to places it has never been.
This is what Palestinians are being exposed to slowly but surely. Unfortunately, there are many in this society who do not want change to come, will fight it tooth and nail and brand it as anti-Arab or anti-cultural, using religion and tradition as their crutch. But while the good and the bad comes with change, we must learn to embrace the process and the fact that it broadens our mental horizons even if we do not necessarily have a palette for fashion shows or contemporary dance or modern art. Palestine and the Palestinians are dynamic, vibrant and alive. It is not just the Israeli occupation that defines us even though it is the most imposing obstacle in our way. Let’s put it like this: once the Israeli occupation ends – and it will end without a doubt – the Palestinians need to fall back on a cultural canvas that embraces not only their collective history and culture but one which is also a space to explore infinite horizons.
Joharah Baker is a Writer for the Media and Information Department at the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH). She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.