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May-26-2010 22:06printcomments

A Nakba Commemoration at Shatila Palestinian Refugee Camp in Beirut

Palestine Civil Rights Campaign-Lebanon: A PCRC update by Sarah Marusek, Board Member PCRC

(SHATILA CAMP, Beirut) - 22 May 2010—On this warm Saturday afternoon inside Beirut’s Shatila Camp, hundreds of Palestinians gathered at the Palestinian Youth Center to observe the annual commemorations of the 1948 Nakba or disaster, that forced hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their homeland, including around 120,000 who found refuge in what were originally intended to be temporary camps in Lebanon.

Earlier that morning Franklin Lamb had showed me around the camp and we had visited the Center. Created in 1986, the Center is a wonderful community space for public meetings in a densely populated settlement with no green space despite the restricted opportunity for Palestinians to move around outside of the camp’s barriers.

The courtyard was deserted except for several men setting up a stage against the back wall. We were told that the local youths had organized a special commemoration for later in the day and were invited to come back then.

When we returned that afternoon, the Center had transformed into a vibrant celebration of history, tragedy, resilience and hope, an atmosphere truly remarkable to witness. The diverse crowd comprised babies, children, adults and the elderly, assembled altogether in a festive mood. People were also leaning over balconies and peering through windows to watch the event.

As a foreigner to the camps, women standing around me welcomed me with warm smiles and greetings. Children stared at me with wide eyes before breaking into infectious laughter, either then asking my name or shyly looking away.

On stage young men and women were interpreting a series of traditional Palestinian songs and dances as modern reflections on how they live the Nakba through their own lives as well as through their parents, grandparents and the wider community. They communicated a powerful message of solidarity: we honor you all and continue to live the resistance.

The enormously talented youths sang poetic songs about the Nakba, with two young men alternating strong vocals with a back up chorus, keyboardist and two drummers. During these songs several women danced in front of the stage while waving kafiyehs and Kalashnikovs, capturing the defiant spirit of the performances by the resolute smiles on their lips.

After each song the youths performed a dance. According to one of the dancer’s sisters, they had been staying up until eleven p.m. every night leading up to the commemoration. This hard work was apparent in a series of dances that were emotional, athletic and full of grace.

They performed the Palestinian debka and choreographed a retelling of the Nakba, a story of love that is taken away but never forgotten in solidarity.

The performers were wearing traditional Palestinian clothing that was just beautiful. I was told that the young women borrowed their amazing costumes from the nearby Palestinian Red Crescent Society (PRCS).

The PRCS was founded in 1968 to alleviate suffering in the Occupied Territories and the Diaspora. One of their current projects involves teaching women in the camps how to sew and embroider, artisanship which the PRCS then sells at a museum and showroom just outside of the Sabra and Shatila camps.

In-between the performance of each song and dance, those members of the community who were forced to leave their homeland 63 years ago were recognized for their perseverance and strength.

These inspirational men and women were given a plaque while the respectful crowd showed their appreciation through cheers and applause. Behind the stage was an artistic graphic montage of Palestine, and above that a poster with images of those martyred in the resistance underneath a large Palestinian flag.

These scenes captured the contradiction of the Nakba and the spirit of Palestinians in the camps today. Tragedy and loss accompanied by hope and defiance.

The resistance lives on…


Photographs courtesy: Palestine Civil Rights Campaign

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