Paul Northup, Greenbelt’s Creative Director, outlines the range of Palestinian programming at this year’s festival and why a focus on Israel-Palestine remains fundamental to the festival’s DNA.
For a long time, Greenbelt has tried to shine a spotlight on the stories of the people who call Palestine and Israel home. From Bishops Elias Chacour and Riah Abu El-Assal in the 1980s and 90s through to our ‘Just Peace’ campaign in the noughties, we’ve now mainstreamed and embedded content from Israel-Palestine in the programme.
But this year we wanted to take things to a new level, bringing more artists and speakers from Israel-Palestine than ever before in one year. Because this year is special. It marks key anniversaries of many of the key events in the unfolding history of the region.
- It’s 100 years since the Balfour Declaration in 1917, which promised so much and delivered so little.
- It’s 70 years since the 1947 the UN resolution for the partition plan for Palestine was adopted – leading to the founding of the modern day state of Israel in the next year.
- It’s 50 years since 1967 and the Six-Day War which saw Israel occupy the West Bank and annexe East Jerusalem.
- And it’s 10 years since 2007 and beginnings of the blockade of Gaza (which quickly led to the three-week ‘war’ on Gaza known as Operation Cast Lead in 2008).
By any measure, this year is an auspicious year. A year to remember, to understand. But a year in which to search for fresh hope for a just and peaceful settlement for all those who call Israel and Palestine home.
We enjoy a fantastic associate partnership with Embrace the Middle East and a long term friendship with Amos Trust. We are grateful to both agencies for their support in this. Both have helped us engage more deeply and creatively with the region, its peoples and its issues over the years. Both will be a key part of what we do at the festival this year.
This year both myself and Katherine, Greenbelt’s Programme Manager, have been out to Israel-Palestine. I went to take part in the fourth Palestine Marathon in Bethlehem, while Katherine was part of the first ever Palestine Music Expo in Ramallah. Out of her experience there, we have booked two bands to be with us at the festival from the West Bank. TootArd and Apo and the Apostles join the already-announced 47Soul on the music bill this year – the best representation of Palestinian contemporary music we’ve ever featured.
In addition, we’re delighted to welcome Jewish singer songwriter Yael Deckelbaum to the festival for the first time. Now based in Canada, Yael came to our attention with her Prayer for the Mothers, a song which united women across the world in a cry against the conflict in Israel-Palestine and especially against the siege of Gaza and led to the ‘Women Wage Peace’ campaign being born.
Amos Trust will once again host Cafe Palestinia for us, showcasing the artists and speakers onsite with us who connect with justice and peace in the region and alerting us to the latest news and views from the region.
We are partnering with Embrace to bring across Muhanad Al Qaisy, a 28-year-old Palestinian refugee from a village called Beit Jebrin. Muhanad lives with his family in Deheishah Refugee Camp in the city of Bethlehem. He was born 28 years ago in the camp and has grown up there. Through his work with the Joint Advocacy Initiative Muhanad now leads on the Olive Tree Campaign on the ground there as well as travelling and sharing the story of the Palestinians under occupation.
Robert Cohen, meanwhile, returns to the festival again to give us his perspective as a Jew living in the UK. Describing himself as a dissident Jew, Robert went on a trip to Isreal-Palestine with Amos Trust and Greenbelt back in 2010 and has since then made it his life’s mission to “reclaim the Jewish Covenant” over on his fascinating blog – Micah’s Paradigm Shift.
We’re really excited to be bringing over Jewish peace activist and refusenik Sahar Vardi for the festival this summer. I had the privilege of hearing Sahar speak when I was out this March on the marathon trip and I was blown away by her youthful wisdom on the militarisation of her country and its people. After hearing her speak, everything I saw was framed by her powerful and persuasive analysis.
The wonderful poet and novelist Khulud Khamis will be with us over the weekend, too. From Haifa in Israel, Khulud is a feminist writer exploring identity in a multicultural context and committed to bringing to light the experiences of women in her setting.
At the more established end of the spectrum we’re also pleased to welcome back award-winning and hugely respected journalist Peter Oborne, whose lifetime passion has been to report from, and understand more, the Middle East and its peoples – and in particular the Palestinians and their plight. Peter brings us his typically frank and hard-hitting take on what might seem like an intractable situation.
On an altogether different note, Chai for All is a mixed Jewish-Palestinian klezmer and storytelling performance group, bring us their Arts Council-funded show Longing, Belonging and Balfour. And last but not least, we’ll be joined by Baroness Sayeeda Warsi who famously resigned from Government in protest over Israel’s attacks on Gaza and the international community’s reluctance to say or do anything in response.
All in all, Greenbelt 2017 looks set to host the richest array of content and and thinking and reportage and analysis from Israel-Palestine ever. We do this to ensure that the stories and realities of the people of that place – especially those working creatively and non-violently for peace there – are not forgotten. And so that we can be steeled and inspired to continue to play our part – as British Europeans, and some of us as Christians – to help to solve a problem we played a large part in making.