Dr Abde Abusrour has more than a dream. He has Alrowwad, an impossible miracle that is seeding hope , ambition and dreams. Children and young people living the Aida Regugee Camp, families displaced for 20 years longer than I have been alive, are using the power of artistry to embrace a beautiful resistance to the occupation of their country, the apartheid they live with and the uncertainty of their daily lives and their futures. They are strong, proud, they express and share the culture and heritage of the Palestinian people and they embrace the challenge of being the change agents who will create the new way. I have found what has been looking for me. This organisation and I are now joined. Read why I will stand with and work to support Abde and his beautiful resistance in his words below. Dear Glasgow, I write you from Bethlehem, occupied Palestine
I was born Palestinian and I don’t want to do anything to change this.
I was born in a refugee camp, in my own country, and there is nothing I can do to change this fact.
I was born under occupation, and I will do everything possible or impossible to change this.
My name is Abdelfattah Abdelkarim Hasan Ibrahim Mohamad Ahmad Mostafa Ibrahim Srour Abusrour. Among these ten generations, I am the only one who was born in a refugee camp on August 12th 1963. UNRWA established Aida refugee camp on a rented land for 99 years. Seven years under the tents, then temporary shelters, some of them are still standing until today, but most of them replaced by people in the seventies. My family originate from Beit Nateef, located about 17 km to the south west of Alquds (Jerusalem). Beit Nateef is one of 534 villages destroyedand occupied by Zionist bandits in October 1948.
I grew up in Aida refugee camp. When I was 4 years old, I remember most of the people in the camp hiding in the cave behind our house in the war of 1967. I remember the old people talking about the war of 1967 and later on of 1973. I remember the sky full of planes, and all of the young children covered by black blankets, and cherished by their mothers.
I remember the first curfew after the Israeli occupation in Aida camp in 1968. I remember the first Israeli soldier I have seen, an old Iraqi Jew of about 60 years old who took position in front of the door of our house, with his kaki uniform and his big rifle. I remember the day my second brother was “invited” for an interview by the military occupation administration in 1972, and never returned back to the house. He was exiled 6 months later, without any confession, without any court judgment.
I remember the four collective water distribution points in the camp with four taps each for the whole population in the camp. I remember the four collective double WC units in the camp. I remember the field around the camp, where we used to play, to perform our theatre plays in the open fields. I remember the big holes in the ground, when they were filled with rain water, they became our outdoor swimming pools.
I remember the first Israeli colony built to the North West of Aida camp, the Gilo colony… the cranes are still working in it since the early seventies. I remember the Jewish worshippers coming to pray in the Mosque of Bilal Ibn Rabah, which was transformed into Rachel Tomb Synagogue after the occupation of 1967. We were not anymore allowed to wash our dead people and make the last prayers before burying them in the cemetery next to it.
I remember the UNRWA school about 1.5 km from the camp in Beit Jala, where the 6 to 15 years old children of the camp used to walk to regardless of the weather. I remember how important education was for each Palestinian family, and the dreams families had for their children.
I was lucky to have a scholarship to continue my university education in Bethlehem university and then a scholarship to continue my Master and PhD in France. After refusing to grant me a permit to leave the country to continue my studies, Israeli military administration gave it on the 7th time in 1985, thinking it was too late to deliver it after one year from the first request for the permit. But the scholarship was renewed and I was able to leave despite them.
When I arrived to France, on the 29th of August 1985, it was an amazing experience to be outside the box, to feel the freedom and normality of life, to look at yourself from outside the box, and feel how others were looking at you. At that time, we used to travel with an Israeli travel document, which states our nationality as Jordanians. Until today, Israel delivers this travel document to Palestinians in East Jerusalem, and they are always considered as Jordanian temporary residents, and not actual citizens. If any Jerusalmite gets married with someone from the West Bank or elsewhere and leaves Jerusalem, he or she loses their resident status and their ID card is withdrawn. This “law” is applied only on Palestinians and doesn’t apply on Jewish Israelis.
Anyway, I went to do my residency card ” Carte de Sejour” in France and I was delivered a residency card with nationality : “Jordanian Refugee under Israeli Mandate”. I wasn’t very happy with that, and I protested: “I am not a jordanian who fled the dictatorship of Jordan to be in the Beautiful Democracy of Israel. I am a Palestinian Refugee under Israeli Occupation, if you want to put it in such terminology”. After a big discussion, the director asks me to come back on the next day. On the next day, I was delivered a residency card with nationality “To be determined”. The paradox was that you could hear and read the media talking about Palestinian Terrorists. As terrorists we become flesh and blood, but as normal human beings it seems that we do not exist.
Who am I? Who are you? Who are we? And what impact are we making in this life? What heritage are we leaving to our children and the generations to come?
I am a human being; I reclaim this humanity and I defend it. I am not born to be just a number on lists of martyrs, or handicapped for the rest of my life, or perish in an Israeli prison. And I am not born with genes of hatred or violence. Nobody is born with genes of hatred or violence. We are human beings and we are equal partners in creating a change and leave a heritage for our children and the generations to come that we can be proud of.
So how can we show this other image of Palestine? How can we show this beauty, humanity and culture of a people who despite living under occupation didn’t burry their heritage and culture under this ugliness of occupation and its violence.
Though I was preparing my master and PhD degrees in Biological and Medical Engineering, my heart was also with Theatre, Painting and Photography. And I did deepen my work in arts, because I believe that theatre, arts and culture are great means of self-expression. I returned back to Palestine, after 9 years in France, thinking that Palestine was only waiting for me to save it. I came back because I believed of the importance of the return of every Palestinian as an act of resistance against the policy of ethnic cleansing that Israeli occupation have been practicing against us since 1948.
I returned in 1994, and started working with biology to earn my living and volunteering with arts to win my soul.
In 1998, with a group of friends, I founded Alrowwad Cultural and Theatre Training center in my parents house, with a philosophy that I called : “Beautiful Resistance against the ugliness of occupation and its violence”, a way to show this other image of Palestine. I started with theatre, because for me theatre is one of the most amazing, powerful, civilized, non-violent and profond means of self-expression… a way to tell your story, your version of your story and history, a way to build the peace within, before talking about the peace with the others.
What was shocking for me is that when our people were asked how do they tolerate what is going on in Palestine, the most frequent response was “we are used to it”. This is not normal and it is not normal to be used to occupation, to humiliation, to oppression and violation and say I am fine with it, or I got used to it.
International community talks about human rights, justice, freedom, equality, fraternity, peace, love… these are the values that we share as human beings, whether we are Muslims or Christians or Jewish or Budhists or Hindou or Athiest or whatever we are… these values are not elastic… they do not change based on new realities on the ground or the dictation of a leader or another… this is the essence of our humanity and the heritage we want to leave to our children and the generations to come… so that is why for me, everybody is a change maker and everyone is responsible and nobody has the right to say “I can’t do anything, or it is too complicated or hopeless”. I say: “We don’t have the luxury of despair, but the steadfast hope that we can create a change and lave a heritage or our children and the generations to come that we can be proud of”. Every one of us is important, everyone is responsible. We cannot sit down, complaining that every day that comes is worse than the day that goes and it is always the fault of the others. We are partners in creating a future where every day that comes will be more beautiful than the day that goes, and we are actors in creating this change… and what is better than theatre and arts to create this change and build hope in times of despair and create role models among ourselves for the generations to come.
When I started Alrowwad, I said:“With or without money, we do it”. This message was for ourselves and to the others to say that we are not a humanitarian case. We do not need charity or pity. The Palestinian cause is not a humanitarian cause but a political cause. People are not poor because they are lazy or don’t have resources… people are put into poverty by this illegal occupation which deprives them from the right to live free, to circulate freely… to import, export, build etc… even our breath is controlled by Israeli occupation, who can fall in love with who, who can marry with who, who can leave the country or come in the country…
“With or without money we do it”, was to say that we don’t need charity or pity because this is more humiliating that the occupation itself. Those who want to support us financially or otherwise should do it in a positive and constructive way as partners in supporting infrastructure, programs and activities according to our priorities and needs… an act of partnership and not an act of charity to build together this future where every day that comes will be more beautiful than the day that goes…
Beautiful Resistance was the way to be truthful to ourselves and to our values…. to be independent… no compromises on the values that we share as human beings… no complicity or silence with the injustice… no sales on the rights… but revival of a rich heritage of non-armed struggle where more than 90% of Palestinian people never carried a gun in their life… where Palestinian women and men have been pioneers in non-armed struggle since 1882, before Ghandhi and before Martin Luther King… but there was a deliberate intention of erasing this rich heritage of non-violent resistance…
Beautiful Resistance builds hope and gives the space to use theatre, arts, culture and education as means to build the peace within before talking about the peace with others, so that our children and youth can grow up and remain a live… can be educated, fall in love and have children and create miracles in their life, and when the time comes, they will be the ones walking in our funerals and not the other way around. No parents in the world wish to burry their children. We all want them to grow up and think that they can change the world and create miracles without need to carry a gun and shoot everybody else. We want them to feel how important they are for the present and the future, and how they can create such a beautiful change and build bridges of exchange and partnership with others… meet and interact, tour with their performances in other countries… see what is a normal life in free and peaceful countries… break cultural stereotypes and exchange with others and look at each others as potential partners and not as potential enemies… grow up and remain trutheful to the values that we share and if they become diplomates or ministers or even presidents, they will not deforme these values to win an election or please a donor.
As artists, we are the keepers of the gate… the guardians of the values and builders of hope for the communities in times of depair… change makers and provocators who pose the question and incite people to find their answers.. challenging the system, the hypocrisy, the complicit normalisation with the injustice and violation of rights and values…
We were fed the love of this occupied country, because it is ours. I remember the old rusty keys for doors that exist or do not exit anymore in the houses of Beit Nateef… but these keys are for doors that were real and have existed, in real houses that were built and have existed, in which real people lived and brought up children. These old rusty keys are still with me. I remember that we were brought up with this eternal belief that the right is the right, and nothing can justify ignoring it… that our right of return to our original villages and homes is eternal, and nothing can change it, neither realities on the ground nor political agreements, because it is not only a collective right, but it is as well an individual right… it was my father’s right, it is my right, and the right of my children and grand children and all those who will come after wherever they are born.
My parents left this world with the hope to be buried in their original village, where they got married, where they brought up their 2 eldest sons, where they irrigated their land with their sweat, blood, and tears; where they filled their land with joy, laughs, dreams, love and whispers.
My parents are buried in the cemetery of Aida camp. My mother’s tomb is next to a military tower, and surrounded by Israeli barbwire. My mother’s tomb is not accessible… I can’t visit it in a day of feast to recite on her tomb Alfateha or a Surat from the Holy Coran.
Day after day, week after week, month after month, and year after year, we are living in lies and broken promises of change… and when change comes, it comes for the worse. Nothing improves with all these negotiations and promises to make things better? International community asks us to get used to it, forget, and forgive… Nobody is asking for our forgiveness or apologizes for what they committed against us… how can we forget while we are reminded of the brutality of occupation at every instant of our life… Can a victim of rape get used to it while the rape is still going on… Sixty-three years of continuous rape and violation and we cannot be used to it… are we abnormal?
International leaders, and our leaders talk about RED LINES that will never be crossed. What remains from these red lines? We heard about the green line… which became the gray line of the illegal and ugly apartheid wall. Red lines were diluted with the white of shame and compromisestill they became invisible.
Are we so worthless that we do not deserve any time and energy from those in power to stop this circus and unite people instead of searching always what divides our tortured spirits? Is it not enough that we are considered only as a humanitarian case, that worth no more than a sack of flour or a bottle of oil or an expired medication? Is it not enough that a whole population is transformed into beggars and put in poverty, depending on charity rather than helping them to be producers and keep up their dignity? Isn’t the humiliation of the occupation enough that we are forced to have more humiliations to come?
I am a full believer in peace and non-violence. I am a full believer in hope and right and justice. I am a full believer in the values that make of the humanity what it is. I never learned to hate. I never hated any one. My parents were full of love and peace. They never taught me or my brothers anything other than respect of others and endless love to give and help the others. They taught us that when you practice violence you lose part of your humanity. But in the same time, they taught us to defend what is right and to stand against what is unjust and wrong.
We do not give up our rights. We will never give up our rights. Peace can be built with justice. Real peace can be built with real justice… anything else is just a joke in the face of history. And I still believe that theatre, arts and education are the best means to build the peace within, and create miracles in this world without need to carry a gun and shoot all those who are different or who don’t agree with us. I still believe that every one of us is a change maker and important, and none of us has the right to say I can’t do anything or it’s hopeless… because simply we do not have this luxury of despair.
My name is Abdelfattah Abdelkarim Hasan Ibrahim Mohamad Ahmad Mostafa Ibrahim Srour Abusrour. I am still a refugee in my own country with 2 rusty keys in my house.