2018 marks the 70th anniversary of the 1948 Palestinian exodus known as the “nakba” which means catastrophe. @70: Celebration of Contemporary Palestinian Culture which took place last month in London, was a week-long festival of theatre, dance, films and talks.
Every year on May 15, Palestinians around the world, who number about 12.4 million, commemorate the Palestinian experience of dispossession and the loss of a homeland. This year, artists from Gaza collaborated with Amnesty International U.K., the Hoping Foundation, the Amos Trust, the Palestine Solidarity Campaign and Al Zaytouna Dance Theatre for aweek-long festival which took place at RADA Studios in London from 14-20 May.
The festival opened with Palestinian writer and director Ahmed Masoud’s satirical play,“The Shroud Maker”.Hajja Souad, an 80-year old Palestinian woman living in the besieged Gaza Strip, survived decades of war and oppression by making shrouds for the dead. The play delved deep into the intimate life of ordinary Palestinians, weaving a path through Palestine’s turbulent past and present. Loosely based on a real-life character still living in Gaza, the play combined comedy and satire with true stories told first hand to the writer.
Al Zaytouna Dance Theatre,in collaboration with the Havadance troupe, presented“Project 51”,written and directed by Ahmed Najar. The name “Project 51”alludes to the Israeli invasion of Gaza in summer 2014 which lasted 51 days. The performance was an intriguing blend of traditional Palestinian folk dance called “dabke” together with modern dance and theatre and challenged the perceptions of the Palestinian struggle as presented by the western media.
Palestinian singer, Sana Moussa, born in Deir Al-Asad in the Galilee, paid tribute to Palestinian folklore and indigenous traditions in the face of occupation and globalization. Moussa released her first album“Ishraq” a year ago, before touring Palestine, Jordan, and Cairo and now London.
The film program included “Portraits of Palestine: a case study from the British colonial archive” The film is based on a 1947 British propaganda film exemplifying how the British government sought to present its role in Palestine at the end of the mandate period. Presented by writer and researcher, Francis Gooding, using archival documents to tell the story of the film’s production, the film showed the forces at work in the creation of propaganda at the end of empire and a rare chance to see fascinating footage from the British colonial era.
Azza El Hassan’s documentary film, “Kings and Extras: digging for a Palestinian image” chronicled the director’s journey to recover films made by the PLO which went missing during the Israeli invasion of Beirut in 1982. She had been told the films documented the determination of the Palestinians from the time of their expulsion in 1967 to the activities of the PLO until 1982. Through the narratives of individuals who El Hassan felt could assist in her search, the film documented many aspects of contemporary Palestinian life. Traveling through Syria, Jordan and Lebanon searching for clues as to where the lost film archive might be, the increasingly absurd search leads her to a martyr’s graveyard, where the films are said to be buried but no one wants to dig them up. The film reflects the situation of the Palestinians – a failed revolution, problematic relationships with other Arab countries and questions of Palestinian identity.