This year marks 70 years since the 1948 Nakba (‘the catastrophe’) which saw a mass exodus from Palestine. More than 700,000 people were made refugees because of the war that broke out that year between neighbouring Arab countries and the newly established state of Israel, as the Zionist movement had started its campaign and captured cities and villages.
In London, @70 festival (which was held from May 14 – 20) celebrated contemporary Palestinian culture over the course of the weeklong event which saw a series of theatre, dance, films and talks, in partnership with Amnesty International UK and Amos Trust, Hoping Foundation, Palestine Solidarity Campaign and Al Zaytouna Dance Theatre.
MILLE caught up with Gaza-born writer and curator Ahmed Masoud to find out why organising this festival in today’s climate is fundamental and how Palestinian culture is still thriving.
How did the idea of creating the festival emerge?
I’ve had the idea of organizing an event in commemoration of the Nakba since last year. But I wanted to do something slightly different; I didn’t want it to be political, or activist-y. I started approaching writer and director Ahmed Najar and Khaled Ziada, founder the organization MARSM, which promotes Arab culture, as well as organizations and charities and it snowballed from there. It really was a collaborative process.
What topics did the shows explore?
My play titled “The Shroud Maker” is about an 80-year-old woman, who lives in Gaza and buries dead bodies. It is a black comedy, which also examines intimate moments of her personal life: her childhood in Jerusalem as a child adopted by High Commissioner of Palestine Sir Allan Cunningham and her struggle to survive, as she escapes the wars and the Intifadas.
“Project 51” is a play by Ahmed Najar, which explores relationships between people. While combining contemporary choreography, oriental dance and visual projections, the play follows a father trying to teach his daughter “dakba” – a traditional dance – to distract her from the war, Sana Moussa, who reinterprets traditional folklore oriental music, gave a great concert. A lot of Palestinians are keeping our culture alive through art and they need exposure.
Why do you believe the media has wrongly reported the Palestinian cause?
A lot of governments, including in the Arab world, have used Palestine either to galvanize people around them or to disengage them. In both cases, states and the media have misrepresented Palestinians. We are depicted as martyrs or terrorists. The human aspect is missing in the narrative. I want to speak about the people who just want to live a normal life, such as my parents who wish they could travel and come visit my daughter they still haven’t met.
Why is it particularly important to hold this festival in our time?
There has been a shift in terms of how people understand the Palestinian humanitarian crisis. The recent images of peaceful protesters in Gaza have confirmed that feeling. There’s a desire to learn a bit more about Palestinian politics and culture and that’s why it’s important for me to present my work now and to be part of this change.