A few nights ago I watched Palestinian folkloric dance and theatre performed by the Ibdaa  dance troupe. The group is the third generation of dancers, consisting of ten boys and ten girls from the Dheisheh  refugee camp in the West Bank. The troupe performed at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst campus, the first stop in a countrywide tour to raise money for the Dheisheh refugee camp. The audience of nearly 200 Palestinians, Arabs, community activists, and curious students eagerly awaited the new generation’s first folkloric (debke) performance in the US.
During the show a Palestinian boy in red garb stood at the head of the stage with his arms raised, proudly waving a Palestinian flag. Boys dressed in green and gold adjacent to girls in purple and gold stood behind him. The children stared into the audience serious-faced, flashing the sign of peace.
The troupe’s performance “depicts the history and aspirations of Palestinian refugees,” and provides the children much needed exposure and an opportunity to express their humanity and courageousness through dance and theatre. These young performers not only dance, but involve themselves in production, choreography, sound, and public speaking.
Founded in 1995, the Ibdaa Cultural Center in Dheisheh creates programs that help children and women cope with the hardships of refugee life through positive outlets. Nearly 1200 children and women make up the community center, which serves as an inspiration to the camp and Palestinians everywhere. The group initiated the first girl’s basketball team in a refugee camp out of the 59 camps that spread across historic Palestine, Lebanon and Jordan. Allowing people from around the world to experience Dheisheh, the center built a Guesthouse, which accommodates up to 45 people and serves guests in their restaurant with “reasonably priced meals.” The women’s committee of Ibdaa created a program that produces and sells Palestinian embroidery (tatriz) in the Occupied Territories and overseas. The center has a kindergarten, a library with more than 1000 books, workshops, and training programs in “health, human rights, leadership development, women’s empowerment, and technology skills” that readily equip Palestinians with the tools for survival and the values of integrity and justice.
Ibdaa means "to create something out of nothing," which is exactly the response necessary to 38 years of occupation. In 1948, when the camp was created, thousands of indigenous Palestinians fled to the Dheisheh from 45 villages west of Jerusalem and Hebron. Living in tents, while enduring the aftermath of Al-Nakba (The Catastrophe), the camp built from the ground up persevering through displacement and strife.
The children of the camp continue to move forward in a chaotic and tumultuous environment. One of the organizers of the troupe proclaimed on stage, “I learned how to throw rocks, before I could read or write.” Yet these 20 children are throwing rocks today in America, refusing to be held down by the pressures of occupation, while making a positive difference for themselves and their community, as well as debunking the negative perceptions surrounding Palestinian people.
At the reception after the show, the Ibdaa dancers mingled with their new American fans. These twenty children were comfortable and at home. One wouldn’t believe they were brought up in a refugee camp–”more likely a suburban town in Western Massachusetts such as Amherst. Giving a human perspective to a dehumanized conflict is crucial in changing the common misconceptions in the US.
The Ibdaa dance troop will be touring the US, in 20 cities, over the next month with all proceeds going to the Dheisheh refugee camp. Support Palestine and support these children, come out in your community and be apart of this experience. For a tour list visit the Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA)
. For more about Ibdaa and the Dheisheh camp visit www.dheisheh-ibdaa.net/home.htm