Friday, August 12, 2005

An Invitation after midnight

An Invitation after midnight

The apartheid illegal wall surrounding the northern side of Aida camp is finished. We thought and hoped that would end the Israeli occupation soldiers to enter Aida camp, and stop their unwelcomed barbaric behavior and disturbance of the calm of our nights. However, this all seem to be a hope without foundation.
On the night of 10th to 11th of August 2005, at about 2:00 a.m, several vehicles of the occupation army invaded Aida Camp with a huge uproars. Their screams and noises shouting at the people in their houses and knocking at the doors and windows of peacefully sleeping inhabitants torn this peace into pieces and scattered our hope of a calm night. The shouting increased: Get out… switch the light off… come here… go there… turn your face to the wall…
My cousin Ibrahim reports hearing the sounds but not seeing where and in which part of the camp it happens.
His youngest girl, Reyan, who is 5 years ld, left here room ad came to her parents room…. She was in panic, asking what are these noises, and who is making them? He hugged her, and just said: that these were the occupation soldiers. Go to sleep
She looked with fear in her eyes once again, and asked: Are they going to enter our house?
Ibrahim said: I don’t know. Go to sleep and think about it.
Well she slept after one hour, but not as children sleep…. She had tears on her cheeks and fear in her heart… and an adventure to live somehow…
One hour later, the vehicles of the Israeli Occupation army started to move out, with all the noises possible as if celebrating an undeserved victory. They left finally, around 4:00 a.m, after 2 hours of vandalism and horror in the streets ad some of the houses in the camp.
Now what is really amazing is that, this night they didn’t come to arrest any one. They didn’t come to demolish a house… The just have done all of this to invite 3 people in the camp to one of the interrogation and detention centers in the south of Bethlehem, called Atzion. They are required to meet with Israeli intelligence… If they do not go, then the same thing will happen another night, but this time, to arrest them….
They are so polite, aren’t they? How would you like to be invited for a meeting after midnight with such honors? All the neighbors would admire that, specially your wife and children if you are married, or your parents, brothers and sisters

Once again, the occupation army re-enters the camp at 3:00 a.m thus morning, August 12th.
This time, they arrested Raed Sharara, a 30 years old young man. He is married and has 3 children. Nobody knows yet the reason of his arrest…
And the news shall continue…
If you miss excitement where you live, come to Aida Camp… Life started to take its rhythm f the old days….

Hope you all well and a good day rest and a good night sleep… Hope that your children will hear nothing, maybe your snoring if you do snore…

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Alrowwad Tour Report in Vermont (28 June to 4 July)2005
Tuesday, June 28:
Fabulous potluck at my house with Connecticut drivers and all our support team from Vermonters for a Just Peace in Palestine/Israel. After supper kids went swimming.
Wednesday June 29:
Great soccer game with penpals from Aida and low-income students from Lawrence Barnes school. Press conference with writer from Seven Days, our alternative weekly, and Burlington Free Press. Mayor gave out frisbees and maple syrup. Photos in both papers next day. Picnic and swim at beach. Potluck at beautiful house of Sister-Cities (Burlington-Bethlehem-Arad) friend. Kids were fabulous - served, helped cook and clean-up.
Thursday June 30:
Pick strawberries. Echo Museum (beautiful museum of life in the lake). Picnic in park. Abed and two children radio interview for public radio. Abed and technicians to theater, kids came a little later. Performance (more than 150 people).
Friday July 1:
Abed radio interview in Waterbury with Mark Johnson, our liberal voice in Central Vermont. Kids to Ben and Jerry's factory in Waterbury, then to pool in Montpelier. Picnic in park, hosted by WILPF. 4:00 all to theater, 6:00 performance - maybe 50 people. (Beginning of holiday weekend.) After performance, bag suppers prepared by Women in Black. One and a half hour drive to farm in Wheelock.
Saturday July 2:
Fabulous Palestinian breakfast prepared by S'ra. Swim at Willoughby cancelled because it was too cold.On to Bread and Puppet in Glover, for rehearsal and dinner with puppeteers. Nancy back to Burlington during the day. (Exhausted) Troupe back to farm to spend night.
Sunday July 3:
Performance with Bread and Puppet and performance of play as well. Theatre is full. Vans return to Burlington at 10 p.m. for a late meal.
Monday morning July 4:
Early departure for flight to Louisville-Kentucky. Our team of five was assisted by probably 75 volunteers in one capacity or other. We mixed with refugee children at Lawrence Barnes and Jewishchildren in Montpelier. We had four photo-stories in newspapers. No TV coverage. We tried too hard to give the troupe the Vermont experience. We succeeded in that, but we didn't make enough money.
Nancy Farell,
Burlington - Vermont

Alrowwad Tour Report in Louisville - Kentucky (4 July to 10 July)2005

Dear Friend of Al-Rowwad Children's Tour,
What an amazing experience in creativity, community, and relationship building you helped to make happen in the recent work on the Palestine to Louisville Friendship Tour: Building Friendships, Strengthening Community!
Whether you gave your time, your talent, your leadership, or your financial support, without your part in the incredible work we have done together, this project would never have been what in the words of so many who were involved was a "LIFE CHANGING" experience.
As one of the coordinators, Bob Cunningham said after the tearful good bye to our new family, the Al-Rowwad theatre troupe at the airport on Sunday, "The Palestinian children and their teachers are now a part of all of us. But you know, we here are now more a part of one another as well."

For all who wish to celebrate, there will be a pot luck and viewing of some of the film footage taken by the hard working, creative crew of KyDigital Media on Tuesday, July 26 at 7pm at West Broadway United Methodist Church, 3620 West Broadway. Please pass the word to all the "Buddies" so that the youth can be with us to share in the affirmations.
From the very beginning the leadership that was engaged in forming the project and carrying it out, knew we wanted to do this in a way that truly built community here, that had at its core the relationship between the oppression too many face here in this country, and the violence and struggle our visitors face under Occupation and war in Palestine. This was about reaching one another as equals, and knowing that the growing and learning and support would be a two way process. The project focuses on communities sharing the way culture, and non violent-expression through the arts, is one of the most powerful weapon for peace and for justice, and in particular, that the participation of local youth with each and every event organized was central.

*tremendous community building, with special appreciation to West Broadway Community Center, Chickasaw Park team, the River City Drum Corps, Squallis Puppeteers, UrbanSpirit, Americana Community Center, Stage One, Muhammad Ali Institute, Ramallah Club, Louisville Arts Council and Genesis. Thank you all for your part in building relationships and friendship across lines of race, nationality, ethnicity, culture, religion, sexuality, gender and age.
*diverse, affirming and visionary leadership team: Bob Cunningham, Nadia David, Pat Geier, Ibrahim Imam, Cyd Iyun, Zambia Nkrumah, Marsha Schneider, and Carla Wallace, assisted by an amazing support team including Nana Yaa Asentewaa, Stephon Barbour, Loey Basyouni, Robin Bensinger, Keith Bertrand, Kathleen Campisano, Milton Carpentier, Deb Conrad, Sonja De Vries, Nancy DeMartra, Logan Dooley, Chris Doerflinger, Teresa Dunson, Jean and George Edwards and FORsooth, Dan Farrell, Aletha Fields, Phyllis Free, Jessica George, Heaven and Earth, Al Herring, Holly and Darcy, David and Mary Horvath, Airin Hutchings, Iyman Imayreh, Dawn Jenkins, Darnell Johnson, Martha Johnson, Peggy Kidwell, Carol Kraemer, Mary Ann Lambert, Ed Lassiter, Gracie Lewis, Edgardo Mansilla, Ben Mays, Pam McMichael, Terry Mickler, Ken Nevitt, Lisa Osanka, Howard Owens, Kirk Owens, Omar Ayyash, Kristi Papailler, Shamika Parrish, Christine Payne, Kris Phillips, Beth Harrison Prado, Natalie Reteneller, Ann Reynolds, Angelyn and Marcos Rudd, Scheldorf Family, Janene Shakir, Erika Stith, Chetan Talwalkar, Ms Taylor, Sara Todd, Russ Vandenbrouke, Alice Wade, Melanie Walker, Holly Wallace, Lorena Wallace,Naomi Wallace, Sharon Wallace, Joyce Ware, Ed White, Pamala Wiley, the UrbanSpirit crew's Claire, the kitchen team, and the Avon Church group, and many others who volunteered for events, helped make and serve food, decorate, make banners, sell and buy tickets, raise and give donations, get the word out and involve others, bring their children (or bring their parent(s)), send e-mails, serve as Peace Marshals, give rides, make flyers and on and on and on.....over 325 volunteers and financial supporters.

*Thanks to the "Buddy Program" developed by Cyd Iyun, local youth made friends with our Palestinian visitors and participated in the events throughout the week. T-shirts bore Arabic names scribbled in marker, and young people spoke often about what it meant to learn about one another's lives and challenges, hopes and dreams. Appreciation to all the "Buddies" including Ajourney, Ashley, Christopher, Devlin, DJ, Lorena, Luka, River City Drum Corps youth, Shenee and all the others.

*tens of thousands reached through the media with coverage on all TV channels, two live interview pieces with Abed and live dance performances by the youth, two great articles with photos in The Louisville Courier-Journal, a full page article in LEO, and extensive interview pieces on the local NPR affiliate, WFPL.

A Review of the Week's Events:

*JULY 4:
Over 40 people participated in the Airport Welcome on Monday, July 4. The Al-Rowwad children and teachers arrived to balloons, banners in Arabic and English, and smiles and hugs. Afterwards, at the headquarters of the River City Drum Corps, Al-Rowwad was welcomed by RCDC's Zambia Nkrumah and Ed White in words of solidarity and a delicious meal donated by Ramsi's Restaurant. The children of RCDC had made beautiful gift bags celebrating the struggles and history of Black people in the United States.Later at the Welcome Dinner, Zambia Nkrumah of the River City Drum Corps youth drum training group shared a moving testimony on how our struggles for justice are connected, and then, her husband and co-creator, Ed White reminded us all, "None of us are Free Until we are all Free".

*JULY 5:
The Palestinian youth spent a day at the Americana Community Center and performed in two dance sessions for other youth from war torn lands like Somalia, Sudan, and Rawanda.
A beautiful dinner was hosted by the Ramallah Club at the cozy home of Coordinating Team member Nadia David. The Al-Rowwad youth met members of Louisville's Arab American community and enjoyed the food of their homeland. Dabka dancing on the sidewalk afterwards carried cheers and smiles through the neighborhood.

*JULY 6:
Over 50 people filled the West Broadway United Methodist Church for workshops in drum and puppet making lead by the River City Drum Corps and Squallis Puppeteers. Palestinian youth learned about the "spirit of the drum", beautifully creating designs in colors of the rainbow. They made new friends in the youth from River City Drum who assisted them and listened to a brilliant display of drumming in the performance that preceded lunch. Spontaneous lessons in Arabic or English broke out, and many figured out ways to communicate without words. A "puppet bus" was chosen as the subject of the puppet making because, in the words of Palestinian youth Hamada, "a bus can fit many people". Indeed, despite getting disconnected from its cab during the Peace Parade to Chickasaw Park, at least ten small boys and girls made a valiant effort "walking the bus" in the July swelter. In the park, a wonderful meal was waiting with time for soccer, relaxing and a game of "Parachute World".

*JULY 7:
The morning hosted by the Muhammad Ali Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution included a chance for our quests and local youth and adults to enjoy the University of Louisville Planetarium and lunch at the Red Barn. Aletha Fields and her class of teachers brought dessert and the youth got UL gift bags and a juggling lesson.
Later, the group was able to see the technology behind film making at Kentucky Digital Media and view some of the footage they had helped to shoot the day before. A tremendous applause for Aaron, Sonja, Terry, Shannon, Brad and Shadwick for their work filming the entire week's events!

Then the CHILDREN of AL-ROWWAD THEATER perform their "beautiful resistance" theater, "We are the Children of the Camp" and the community embraced Al-Rowwad as family, and honoring the young artists with over 300 in attendance at the University of Louisville's Playhouse theatre. In what for many was the most moving moment in the play, technical difficulties cut the music sound just as the youth were dancing. Without missing a single step, the children kept dancing and the audience clapped to the silent music's beat.
After the extended ovation at the end of the play, an audience member said of the technical problem moment, "Perhaps we helped carry them, but they were also carrying us."

*July 8:
The morning was filled with laughter and encouragement as Al-Rowwad joined over 15 local youth in the "Master Class" led by Stage One Children's Theatre's J Herron with assistance by Kristi Papailler who arranged the opportunity for the theatre skills workshop.
The afternoon was arranged by Janene Shakir and hosted by the Islamic School. Local "buddies" and adults participated in with our Palestinian sisters and brothers in Muslim prayer services and shared lunch and conversation together. Teens who are part of Janene's group Pride without Prejudice participated in dialogue about Palestinians struggle, and the civil rights srtuggles here.
That evening the fabulous "Festival of Arts and Community Building" drew a large and enthusiastic crowd in Portland's UrbanSpirit for food, friendship, dancing, mural making and poetry.

*July 9:
All day at Moncada Farms for a train tour of Henry's Ark, swimming, horse back riding, food, and relaxing over looking the beautiful river view. Buddies played with their Palesintian friends and community was shared by many who had joined in the week's events. DJ dived for her first time ever, and Amal touched an animal (the horse she rode) for the first time in her life. People wrote their messages and created beautiful drawings, in some cases inserting their photo, for the Al-Rowwad group to take back to Palestine with them in two books, and a card for Pat who was in the hospital (she's out and doing well now).

*July 10:
Tearful goodbyes and a hug line sent our friends back to Palestine. A little piece of each of our hearts goes with them.

We were all left ready for more wonderful activities to keep the spirit alive!

Carla Wallace
City Coordinator, Louisville – Kentucky

Friday, July 15, 2005

Palestinian children’s theater inspires U.S. audiences
By Charlotte Kates
Published Jul 8, 2005 10:42 PM at:

The young actors, dancers and singers of Al-Rowwad Palestinian Children’s Theater visited New Jersey and New York June 17-22 as part of a U.S. tour that also includes stops in Connecticut, Vermont and Louisville, Ky.

A new generation takes up thePalestinian cause.

Al-Rowwad center in the Aida camp was founded and is directed by Dr. Abdel Fattah AbuSrour. It consists of an arts, theater and cultural center for children. It also houses a computer center and a library. Abu Srour wrote and directed “We are the Children of the Camps,” the play performed by the children of Al-Rowwad during their tour.
Performed in Arabic with English subtitles developed for the U.S. tour projected behind the actors, this play tells stories of exile and expresses the commitment of a new generation of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and lands, and to struggle for freedom.
The young Palestinians play and laugh until their joy is broken by the Nakba—”the catastrophe”—of 1948 and their expulsion from Palestine. One by one, the characters recount the destroyed villages of Palestine. Then they face the audience in unison, shouting the names of the villages destroyed by Zionist occupation.
Al-Rowwad were met with great enthusiasm at all four of their area performances. Beginning with their opening performance on June 18 at the Passaic County Technical Institute in Wayne, N.J., at a show sponsored by New Jersey Solidarity-Activists for the Liberation of Palestine and the Palestinian American Congress-New Jersey Chapter, the children of Al-Rowwad delighted and inspired their audience, who cheered and clapped at images of resistance and the young actors’ portrayal of Palestinian courage, strength and dedication to return to their land.
The warm reception for Al-Rowwad’s performance continued on June 20 at the Barrow Street Theater in New York’s Greenwich Village. Theater-goers welcomed the performance and again generously supported the group’s fundraising efforts.
The following night saw a sold-out performance at the CUNY Graduate Center’s intimate Martin E. Segal Theater.
Their final performance on June 22, sponsored by Al-Awda New York, brought the young performers to Brooklyn’s Al-Noor School. They were greeted by a large and enthusiastic crowd in the Islamic school’s auditorium, who again contributed generously to Al-Rowwad’s fundraising to expand their center in Aida camp.
Through song, dance and performance, the young actors of Al-Rowwad not only portray the tragedies of the past and present, but continue to express their dedication to struggle, their strength and connection to Palestine, and their unbreakable commitment and hope to return to their homes and liberate their land.
Al-Rowwad’s time in New York City was arranged by an ad hoc committee of theater activists from Theaters Against War and Nibras, an Arab American theater group, as well as Palestinian and Palestine solidarity activists from a variety of organizations. All came together to raise funds for Al-Rowwad’s visit to the New York/New Jersey area and plan housing, meals and activities for the actors and staff of Al-Rowwad during their visit.
Activities Coordinator Ibrahim Abu Srour and Stage Manager Amal Asad, a graduate of the Al-Rowwad program, along with Dr. Abu Srour, accompanied the Al-Rowwad cast—11 boys and girls chosen from the dozens who work on art, theater and dance at the center.
Husam Alazza, Ribal Kordi, Muhammad Anwar, Rowa Abu-Srour, Salam Alazza, Hamada Alkurdi, Woud Darkhawaja, Ikhlas Abu-Srour, Ahmad Alajarma, Jehad Alajarma, and Hanin Alaaraj made up the cast who traveled to the U.S.
Thousands of dollars were raised for Al-Rowwad during their New York/New Jersey tour, and their success promises to continue in Connecticut, Vermont and Kentucky. Plans for them to return to the U.S. next summer for another tour are already being discussed.

Charlotte Kates is an activist with New Jersey Solidarity-Activists for the Liberation of Palestine and Al-Awda New York.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Palestinian youths perform, share their lives
A group from a Palestinian refugee camp performed at the Festival of Arts and Community Building. The members of the Al-Rowwad Children's Theatre and Cultural Training Center are wrapping up a monthlong trip to this country. (By Michael Clevenger, The Courier-Journal)
By Chris Ottsand Paul WilsonThe Courier-Journal

Terryll Wadlington and RyOndrae Wesley watched intently as 11 children from a Palestinian refugee camp in one of the world's most turbulent regions smiled and danced before them.
"Yeah, boy!" Terryll yelled at the one of the dancers.
"They must be in good shape," RyOndrae said.
Terryll and RyOndrae, both of western Louisville, were among about 100 people who watched the Palestinian dancers last night at the Festival of Arts and Community Building at Urban Spirit, 26th and Bank streets. Louisville is the last stop in the Palestinian group's monthlong trip to the United States, which ends tomorrow.
The children are members of Al-Rowwad Children's Theatre and Cultural Training Center in Aida, a cramped refugee camp in Bethlehem, said AbdelFattah Abu-Srour, who founded Al-Rowwad.
"The children have no space to play, no green space. They have only the streets around them to fight with each other, to break the windows of the neighbors -- or just to be in continuous confrontation with Israeli soldiers," he said.
Al-Rowwad gives Palestinian young people a chance to express their opposition to the Israeli occupation peacefully with song, dance and art, he said.
The group also seeks to change an American perception that Palestinians "are only throwing stones or being suicide bombers," Abu-Srour said.
The children produced a play that draws on their lives in the camp and is also a historical drama about Palestine.
"This is our version of our own history," he said.
The play has been staged in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Vermont.
"The people here have been so wonderful to us," said Husam Alazeh, 15, another Aida resident.
Before last night's event, the group met yesterday with a group of black teens from around Louisville called Pride Without Prejudice.
Mohammed Abu-Srour, 16, noted that unlike where he lives, in the United States people of different races and cultures mingle.
Janene Shakir, a lifelong Louisville resident who converted to Islam in 1979, explained that it wasn't that way before schools integrated. Blacks still face oppression, she said.
RyOndrae, who is black, said he related to the Palestinians' feelings. "Like if me and my friend were to go into a different neighborhood, they'll look at us different," the Central High School student said.
Some Americans still carry suspicions of Arabs as possible terrorists or religious fanatics, but all the Americans they've dealt with have been welcoming, AbdelFattah Abu-Srour said.
Husam said the group has been able to make Americans see that average Palestinians are peaceful. Of terrorism, he said, "I don't why they do that. I am against that. I don't want any problems for the society."
After spending a nearly a month in the United States -- away from the Israeli checkpoints at his home in Bethlehem -- Mohammed said he has a new appreciation for a free society and for Americans.
"They are very good people, I love them," said Mohammed, a distant relative of Al-Rowwad's founder. "And I will tell the people at home that they are good people."
He said he hopes that the Americans who have met him will say the same about Palestinians.

The reporters can be reached at and

Monday, July 04, 2005

Children of war express feelings through art
By Larry Muhammad
The Courier-Journal

Ribal Alkordi, a Palestinian boy living in Bethlehem's war-torn Aida refugee camp, used to throw stones at Israeli soldiers.

"They invade the camp and kill people; they burn down houses," said Ribal, 16, in a telephone interview from New York, where he was touring.

Casualties on both sides have mounted in the Middle East conflict amid continuing suicide bombings and military actions.
But the energetic 11th-grader learned to channel his anger into acting and dance through an apolitical, nonprofit arts institute in the camp - the Al-Rowwad Children's Theatre and Cultural Training Center.
"Al-Rowwad helped me not go and throw stones at the soldiers anymore," he said. "Our lives are very difficult, but we go to the center and express our feelings through art. They teach us languages -- English and French -- and they have events and theater."
Ribal and 10 other Al-Rowwad youngsters are visiting Louisville this week as part of their first American tour performing Palestinian dance and theater.
"All the camp children throw stones," said Abdelfattah Abu-Srour, Al-Rowwad's founder and director. "But we wanted to take them off the streets, waiting for soldiers to come and sometimes get killed, to give them an alternative form of resistance, one that would lead somewhere other than the military approach."
Founded in 1998 for children 6 to 18 years old, Al-Rowwad ("the Pioneers" in Arabic) mobilizes Palestinian artists and educators for three-month arts workshops. It has served about 800 Aida children since it began.
The students perform original plays, including the musical "We Are the Children of the Camp," which they performed in Denmark and Sweden in 2000.
In the United States last month, they performed at a festival and several schools and theaters in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.
The Louisville performances will include a show Thursday at the University of Louisville's Thrust Theatre. Russell Vandenbroucke, chairman of U of L's theater arts department, urged theatergoers "to seize the opportunity to encounter in person these young emissaries from this war-torn part of the world.
"While our eyes and ears may be numbed by years of news reports on the Middle East, we seldom have the chance to experience for ourselves the human beings who are among the victims of war, violence and occupation."
Stage One, Louisville's professional theater for young audiences, will host a workshop for the Al-Rowwad group on voice, body movement and imagination in American acting techniques.
J. Daniel Herring, Stage One's artistic director, who is conducting the workshop, noted that the theater has hosted groups from the former Soviet Union, Africa and other countries.
"Every country does the arts a little bit differently. We knew Al-Rowwad was coming to the U.S., and as a courtesy we felt like we'd offer a workshop and discussion. We feel strongly that when kids work together through the arts, it's a great way for cultures to blend and for us to learn about one another."
The Aida Camp is an area of makeshift homes where 5,000 Palestinians are crowded along narrow streets and gunfire and other violence are not uncommon.
Camp children frequently experience nightmares and bed-wetting, exhibit aggressive, antisocial behavior, and lose interest in school, according to reports by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency.
Officials of the Al-Rowwad center, now located in a two-room house with basically a computer lab and a library/performance space, hope to establish a permanent, full-service cultural center and theater in the camp, equipped with high-tech lighting and sound systems and a movable stage for traveling shows.
The group's Louisville visit is sponsored by arts, education, human-rights and business groups, including the Fellowship of Reconciliation, Islamic Cultural Center, Louisville Arts Council, Stage One Children's Theatre, Ramsi's Cafe on the World, Genesis Arts, Kentucky Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, River City Drum Corps, Squallis Puppeteers, Muhammad Ali Institute for Peacemaking and Understanding, Committee for Peace in the Middle East, University of Louisville Department of Theatre Arts and the West Broadway United Methodist Church Community Center, among others.
"These exchanges fulfill a central role for Al-Rowwad," said Abu-Srour, the director. "They project positive images of Palestinian children to the outside world, as opposed to the violent representations often portrayed by most media outlets. It's also important that these children know what is normal life without checkpoints, and to continue to have hope."

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Children of the Camp
Palestinian theater troupe resists beautifully, without the language of hatred
The Al-Rowwad troupe’s activities include painting and dancing, but the group now touring the United States focuses on a theatrical presentation called “We Are the Children of the Camp.”

“A beautiful resistance” is the term Abdel Fattah Abu-Srour chooses to describe Al-Rowwad, the Palestinian children’s theater troupe he founded in 1998, which performs in Louisville on Thursday at the University of Louisville Thrust Theatre. It’s a “beautiful resistance” intended to foster hope among the children, challenge media stereotypes of Palestinians and open doors between Palestinians and the rest of the world.
Dr. Abu-Srour, who has advanced degrees in biology and medical engineering, grew up in the Aida refugee camp, in the occupied West Bank. He earned a doctorate in France and in 1998 returned to the camp in an effort to improve the lot of his people.“There was nothing for the children in Aida,” he told me during a phone interview. “They had nothing except the streets where they just play or fight with each other or break the windows of their neighbors or are in continuous confrontation with Israeli soldiers.”
Abu-Srour’s dream for the next generation of Palestinians is to “show these children that the things that happen in the refugee camps are not normal,” he said. “You can hear the children say, ‘We are used to that.’ But they should not be used to this. It is not normal to live under occupation, oppression and humiliation, and we cannot build a free and democratic Palestine if the children do not learn that this is abnormal.”
In New York City, early in their tour of the United States, the children were invited by actor Denis O’Hare to view the Broadway production of “Sweet Charity.” Afterwards, backstage, Abu-Srour recalled, they were asked how they liked New York. “One of the children said, ‘It’s nice that there are no checkpoints.’ This is the normal thing, that there are no checkpoints, no soldiers. This is how a country should be, and we have to show this to our children.”
Statistics about the refugee Palestinian population are remarkably controversial and notoriously difficult to confirm, but in 2000 a United Nations report indicated that a half century after the 1948 Nakbah (the forced relocation of perhaps a million Palestinians that followed in the wake of the founding of Israel), there were roughly 5 million Palestinian refugees registered with the U.N., of whom perhaps 1.25 million were under the age of 15. No matter whose statistics one accepts, it’s clear that generations of Palestinians have grown up as refugees, and Abu-Srour’s “beautiful resistance” is, at the very least, an attempt to move in new directions.
The youths in the touring Al-Rowwad troupe, drawn from Aida and from the Beit Jibrin refugee camp, range in age from 10-16, but the company also includes children as young as 6. The company’s activities include dance and a puppet show, but the core activity is a theatrical presentation called “We Are the Children of the Camp.” The show began as a collective improvisation in which the children talked about their homes, schools and lives. Over time, the play has grown to include reflections on their lost villages of origin, tales of their ancestors and the history and politics that have hovered over the Palestinian people since the beginning of the 20th century. “We wanted to give the children a chance to say what they want to say,” said Abu-Srour. “And we wanted to show that Palestinians are human beings, that we want to live like human beings, that we don’t accept the way we are portrayed in the media as just terrorists or savage, barbaric people without humanity.
We are resisting in a way that shows that we enjoy life despite everything that is happening to us, despite the occupation. “And we are resisting to preserve our identity, our culture and our traditions, and to show that we are a people under occupation with the legal right to resist that occupation the same as every other occupied people. But we resist without the language of hatred.” Indeed, in order to maintain its independence, the company resists by remaining independent and unaffiliated with any political or religious parties. “We are Palestinians without restrictions associated with party or religion, and the team is all volunteers,” said Abu-Srour. “If you have funding, then when the funding goes away, you can no longer do the work. But the work needs to be done regardless.”
And the core of that work, he continued, is education. “To save the future of Palestine, we need a generation of educated people. We do not need a generation of ignorance. There is enough ignorance in the world, and we do not need more. We need to create the possibility of exchange between Palestinian children and French, American, Jewish children, so that if we meet each other we will not kill each other, because basically we are the same human beings, we can have a better future for our children and the generation to come. And we can give them hope. When the audiences come, the children understand that they are making a change and there are people who listen to us, who are ready to help us continue this beautiful resistance of ours. If the Palestinians lose hope, then we have lost everything.”

Tickets for Al-Rowwad’s
July 7 performance at the Thrust Theatre are $10-$25, with a sliding scale for adults and $1 for children under 18. All proceeds will benefit the non-profit Al-Rowwad Children’s Theatre.

The troupe arrives in Kentucky on July 4. In addition to their July 7 performance, the Al-Rowwad Children’s Theatre will join local youth in workshops with the Squallis Puppeteers, the River City Drum Corps, and a “Master Class” given by Stage One Children’s Theater. Their last performance will be held at UrbanSpirit, 448 N. 26th St., from 6-9 p.m.,

Friday, July 8, following a pot luck supper as part of a Festival of Arts and Community Building. This event is open to the public; donations welcome.

For more information, call 609-7985, 448-3496 or 776-9338.

By Marty Rosen
Al-Rowwad Children’s Theatre
Thursday, July 7
University of Louisville
Thrust Theatre
Warnock and Floyd streets : 456-6586
$10-$25; 7:30 p.m.

Last changed: June 28. 2005 11:35PM

Saturday, June 25, 2005

The Children of the Camps and the Spirit of Return
by Charlotte Kates

The young actors, dancers and singers of Al-Rowwad Palestinian Children's Theater visited New Jersey and New York between June 17-22, as part of their U.S. tour that also includes stops in Connecticut, Vermont and Louisville, Kentucky. Al-Rowwad center in Aida camp was founded and is directed by Dr. Abdel Fattah Abu Srour, and consists of an artistic, theater and cultural center for children; it also houses a computer center and a library. Abu Srour, a member of the board of directors of BADIL Refugee Rights Association and a speaker at the 2004 Al-Awda convention in New York City, wrote and directed "We are the Children of the Camps," the play performed by the children of Al-Rowwad during their tour.

Al-Rowwad were met with great enthusiasm at all four of their area performances. Beginning with their opening performance, on Saturday, June 18, at the Passaic County Technical Institute in Wayne, New Jersey, at a show sponsored by New Jersey Solidarity – Activists for the Liberation of Palestine and the Palestinian American Congress – New Jersey Chapter, the children of Al-Rowwad delighted and inspired their audience. The Saturday evening show was attended mostly by the local Palestinian and Arab community, including many children; the audience cheered and clapped throughout the performance, at images of resistance and the young actors' portrayal of Palestinian courage, strength and dedication to return. Linking Palestinians in exile in the United States with Palestinian refugees living in the West Bank, the Al-Rowwad actors' theme of return and liberation was met warmly by the community, who responded generously to the appeal for funds for Al-Rowwad's center delivered by Dr. Abu Srour.

The play itself, "We are the Children of the Camps," is a 75-minute tale of dispossession and resistance. Brought to beautiful and human life by the young actors, the play begins with them as children, playing and living amid the environment of Aida, Palestinian children in forced exile from their home villages.

Performed in Arabic, an English translation of the play is projected on a screen near the actors for their U.S. performances. The innocent play of Palestinian children, however, is soon disrupted by a voiceover of the Balfour Declaration and the beginning of the time of exile, as the actors walk in circles through the seasons of exile, old, young and newborn children, until settling in Aida camp. A video montage highlights the story of al-Nakba, as scenes of Palestinians driven from their homes and lands accompany scenes of Palestinians resisting their dispossession. During the video montage, an original song, "1948," plays, illustrating musically the images on screen:
"You have seen what happened
The country is swallowed by destruction
The tents filled the country
Time shall take revenge from the occupier
No right shall be lost
As long as there is resistance and there are demanders."
One by one, the actors come forward to state their original villages and towns in occupied Palestine, recounting the settlements, invasions and massacres, until all 11 actors stand across the stage, speaking in unison, recounting the stories of village after village and reiterating their commitment to return to their homes before singing their story:
"We are the children of the camp
We are the sons of refuge
We are the children of exile
We are the lovers of resistance."

We follow the children of Aida through the stories of their lives as children and the story of Palestine; they depict children again at play one moment, while discussing conditions in the camp; in the next moment they become the generation of the Intifada, courageously resisting the occupier, demonstrating and throwing stones until most of them are martyred. Nonetheless, a few survive, and help the others to rise and stand tall once again, speaking of their commitment and ties to the land of Palestine that have not been broken by exile, oppression or death.
Another film montage, this one focusing on scenes of the Intifada and resistance, closes with a fluttering Palestinian flag, an image of a key, and, in English and Arabic, the words "We will return." Al-Rowwad's actors then cast a critical and humorous eye on the news, interspersing headlines of alleged breakthroughs in the "peace process" with continuing tales of occupation and promotions of products – even Coca-Cola, and call for news that reflects the truths of their lives.
One of those truths is illustrated in the scene that follows, as the actors queue up for a checkpoint manned by sadistic guards who steal a woman's glasses, beat a man trying to cross the checkpoint, and humiliate others, before their practices cause the death of a Palestinian baby, born at the checkpoint after they refused to allow his mother and father to pass. Four women then emerge, speaking as the sisters, wives, daughters and mothers of prisoners, exiles, martyrs and fighters, declaring "La salam" (No peace) until there is justice for the refugees, the prisoners and the martyred as they represent the strength and endurance of Palestinian women.
The performance reaches its climax with a powerful debkeh scene, as each actor performs, dancing to a song that celebrates the continuing struggle for return:
"The raven flies, the raven flies
they brought destruction to our country
Open a window, remove a door
The state of injustice is a mirage
The partridge fly, the partridge fly
Sing my country's traditional zajal
Every exiled, every prisoner
Shall return home immediately"
The performance closes with a satirical commentary on the so-called "peace process", contrasting the promises of peace with the reality of continued occupation, and the actors of Al-Rowwad again return to their lives as Palestinian children of Aida camp, playing, living, and struggling for return. The show closes with a beautiful debkeh performance as the actors, in traditional Palestinian dress, dance, as the young woman at the center holds aloft a Palestinian flag.

The warm reception for Al-Rowwad's performance continued on Monday night, June 20, at the Barrow Street Theater in New York's Greenwich Village, as theater-goers welcomed the performance and again generously supported Al-Rowwad's fundraising efforts. The following night, Tuesday, June 21, saw a sold-out performance at the CUNY Graduate Center's intimate Martin E. Segal Theater, before their final performance, on Wednesday, June 22, sponsored by Al-Awda New York, brought Al-Rowwad to Brooklyn's Al-Noor School. The evening performance was greeted by a large and enthusiastic crowd in the Islamic school's auditorium, who again contributed generously to Al-Rowwad's fundraising to expand their center in Aida camp.

Al-Rowwad's time in New York City was arranged by an ad hoc committee of theater activists from Theaters Against War and Nibras, an Arab American theater group, Palestinian and Palestine solidarity activists, from a variety of organizations, who came together to fundraise for Al-Rowwad's visit to the New York/New Jersey area and plan housing, meals and activities for the actors and staff of Al-Rowwad during their visit. Activities Coordinator Ibrahim Abu Srour and Stage Manager Amal Asad, a graduate of the Al-Rowwad program, along with Dr. Abu Srour, accompanied the Al-Rowwad cast, eleven boys and girls of the dozens who work on art, theater and dance at the Al-Rowwad center. Husam Alazza, Ribal Kordi, Hammad Anwar, Rawa Abu-Srour, Salam Alazza, Hamada Alkurdi, Woud Darkhawaja, Ikhlas Abu-Srour, Ahmad Alajarma, Jehad Alajarma, and Hanin Alaarj made up the cast who traveled to the U.S. While in New York and New Jersey, the Al-Rowwad performers went to Coney Island, a Broadway show and the Empire State Building, stayed in the homes of committee members, and ate meals, many of which were donated by supportive local restaurants and community members. Thousands of dollars were raised for Al-Rowwad during their New York/New Jersey tour, and their success promises to continue in Connecticut, Vermont and Kentucky; plans for Al-Rowwad to return to the U.S. next summer for another tour are already being discussed.

For more information on Al-Rowwad, please see
This article may be shared, reproduced or distributed under a
Creative Commons License.

Al-Awda is published monthly by New Jersey Solidarity-Activists for the Liberation of Palestine. We welcome submissions, letters to the editor, cultural works, and other proposals for publication.Contact us: Al-Awda Newspaper (973) 954-2521

Palestinian Theater: Going Global
By Hala Nassar

The coming of the al-Rowwad's Children’s Theater this month to Hartford sends a positive sign both for the Palestinian theater working in the occupied territories and for the Americans. Al-Rowawd's Children’s Theater is an important segment of the Cultural and Theater Training in Aida refugee camp situated between Bethlehem and Beit Jala in the West Bank south of Jerusalem. The center aims to cater for the children of the camp whose inhabitants are refugees of the tragic events of the 1948 and 1967 wars with Israel. Forty percent of the camp is composed of children under the age of fourteen, who lack the space to play freely or to live in dignity. A 30-foot high Wall built by Israel goes through the camp. On the other side, it is surrounded by military checkpoints that separate it from the nearby settlement of Gilo. Established in 1998, the Cultural and Theater Training Center helps the children to release and deal with the harsh reality of the camp in an artistic and creative healthy manner. The plays that come out of this center help not only the children, but also their audience to see a different image of Palestinians who are usually stereotyped as terrorists and suicide bombers in the West. Through the various international tours the children see that there are people who care for their existence as equal human beings who deserve to have their national rights as people and refugees restored.

After the signing of the Oslo Accords peace agreements between the Palestinians and the Israeli government, in 1993, the geographical reality since then has changed dramatically. The increase in the building of settlements, bypass roads and countless checkpoints, makes it impossible for the inhabitants of the Palestinian cities to connect with each other whether for economic trade or family reunions. This also had a great toll on the cultural life in the West Bank and Gaza. Since the southern regions of the West Bank have been isolated for many years from Jerusalem, the center of cultural activity, al-Rowwad’s Children Theater along with Ibda Cultural Center in Dhiesha camp are taking the lead to empower Palestinian children and keep them off the streets, thus minimizing daily confrontations with the Israeli Defense Forces, which have claimed the lives of more than a thousand children in the last 5 years.

Since it is quite hard for Palestinians from the north or the south to travel to Jerusalem without having military permits, the Jerusalem based Palestinian theater makers; mainly that of al-Kasaba theater and the Palestinian National Theater lost most of their audience and consequently could not survive. The former in 2000 inaugurated a second venue in the city of Ramallah to cater for the nearly non-existent cultural life there. For the last decade, Palestinian theater went more than once into a period of stagnation depending on the political situation. Another factor that is crucial to the continuity and rejuvenation of this theater depends on financial support. Since the local Palestinian Authority cannot maintain funding for its own survival, theater makers had to turn to foreign donors mainly coming from Europe. Another method is to go global and perform in the west with the aim to spread their messages and maybe get proper funding in order to make it for the next season. This is the first time for the Al-Rowwad Theater in the USA but not for other Palestinian troupes. Al-Kasaba was featured in New Haven’s International Festival of Arts and Ideas in 2001 and toured other US cities. The Palestinian National Theater is performing for children in New York’s Toy Theater this month.

As for the American audience, the Hartford appearance of Al-Rowwad is a rare opportunity to hear the voices of Palestinian children on stage. Bringing other theater troupes whether Palestinian or from any Arab countries will help the western audience to see another side of the Middle East; where countries and regions are relentlessly trying to advocate for freedom, equality and peaceful solutions to their conflicts; solutions that should maintain their civil and national rights.

Hala kh. Nassar is Assistant Professor of Modern Arabic Culture and Literature in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations of Yale University