Palestine Culture Under Occupation

If Palestine is in the news, it usually means something bad has happened. Just today, the news exploded when Israeli settlers burned down a house in a village outside Nablus- with the occupants, including a 4 year old child and an 18 month old, inside. The 18 month old was killed. The attack and the graffiti left at the scene left no question as to the motive of the attackers- terrorism and "revenge." Another senseless tragedy, another injustice, with no end in sight. The Palestinian story continues to play out in the international mediascape as an unsolvable tragedy.

Of all the injustices perpetrated among Palestinian society, this is one of the most insidious. Of course, the settlements, the occupation, the corruption, it's all bad. But I feel that part of why it is so easy to repeat the "Palestinians are terrorists" trope is because for many, this is simply all they hear about our culture, our lives. When I first brought my American husband and mother-in-law to the West Bank, I think they were surprised at how, honestly, normal it can be. Families gathering around huge dinners. Kids kicking soccer balls outside. Adults complaining about the heat. Kids complaining about homework. Sure, all of this is under the context of a military occupation, but at the end of the day, people are people. They still eat. They still dance. 

And so, Palestinian culture and history, which is so rich, diverse, and beautiful, is often lost in the conversation about Palestinian people. Think about it- Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Jericho, some of the most historic and important cities of mankind, are inhabited by Palestinians and have been for generations. Surely this society has given more to the world than an intractable political situation.

That's why I really enjoyed these news stories I found over the past few weeks, celebrating the beauty of Palestinian culture, but the tragedy of how it is being stifled under the occupation, just like the Palestinian people themselves. The first, "Meeting violence with a violin at a West Bank checkpoint," is an excerpt from a book by Sandy Tolan, centered around the youth music school Al Kamandjâti. The second, "Palestinian chefs frustrated, while Israeli food culture soars," discusses why it is so hard to get the word out about Palestinian cuisine, and simultaneously why it is so difficult to elevate the Palestinian palate in ways that many other societies have done. It is hard for your culture to thrive, spread, and communicate when the people themselves are struggling to maintain an already untenable status quo. I always urge people to visit the West Bank, and they generally laugh as if it must be a joke- they assume it's like recommending a summer vacation to Raqqa or Donetsk. But despite the occupation, or perhaps because of it, people must see Palestinian culture so that they can see the Palestinian people as more than political chess pieces, terrorists, or faceless numbers.