Ribal, Aida Camp, Guest House 10/04/2009

Monday 28 December 2009
popularity : 4%

Read the whole report on our meeting with Ribal, on Friday April 10

Ribal is taking a short break at the guest house... first time we don’t see him running : we’ll make the most of it!

So Ribal : who are you?

Ribal 1
IMG/mp3/Ribal_1.mp3

Oh !… that’s a very difficult question to answer !... I don’t like to speak about me. I would prefer to tell you about Al-Rowwad centre, about the situation in Palestine. But I’ll do it for you : my name is Ribal, I’m just 19 years old, I’m in my second year at Al-Quds university (Jerusalem). I’m studying Law… I do a lot of things : I work in the camp as a coordinator of the activities organized at Al-Rowwad. I’m also a theatre and dance trainer. The Palestinian traditional dance is called Dabka.

Al-Rowwad centre was started in 1998, with a small theatre group whose idea was to speak about the situation in Palestine and to try to change the picture people could have of it. I was in this group (I was 7). Then I joined the dance-group and bit by bit, we developed many other activities in Al-Rowwad until it became what it is today...

I believe that if we want to do something for the Palestinians, if we want to change the situation in Palestine, we should start with creating activities, free activities just for and with the Palestinians, for the children of Palestine...

I’m studying Law, but it is really not easy to... First because I work 5 days a week at the centre and then because I’m always having problems at the checkpoints : sometimes I can’t sit for my exams, or attend a lecture, just because the Israeli soldiers have confiscated my ID and gone away with it. And I have to stay there and wait for 3 or 4 hours until they decide to give it back to me…. At other times, the checkpoint is simply closed, which means nobody can go to university or any other places... I chose to study Law for several reasons. I had first thought of studying Politics but then I thought that I wouldn’t want to work in that and talk about the situation just from a political point of view. So I changed. I decided to study Law to work on the situation of Palestine and the Palestinians from a legal point of view, that of the international laws. We need them in Palestine : there are indeed no laws here to support or defend the Palestinians, to say the Israeli are wrong and that this country belongs to the Palestinians, not to the Israeli... That’s why I chose to study Law. And also because I wanted to continue acting and dancing and Law is something you can do when you decide to... So in the future I can go on with the theatre and dance at the centre and put the Law aside...

Tell me, what are the things that make you furious?

Ah… Here in Palestine : that Israeli kill Palestinians, or make their life impossible. That’s what happened in Gaza 2 months ago and it made us all so angry !… I’m angry if I have to go to the university and the checkpoint is closed and the soldiers say to me : go back to your house, or to your camp… I don’t want to speak just about myself but… Sometimes, my girlfriend says that I’m bad. And she is right, I’m angry. But it’s the situation here that makes me be like that, it’s too unfair, there is too much discrimination... You can’t go anywhere, you can’t go out and see your girlfriend, nor do anything… Each time you want to speak about yourself you end up speaking about the situation here. For example, I’m angry now because yesterday, our passports were still not ready... Just because we are Palestinians. Everybody else can get a visa in 2 or 3 days, maximum one week, but we need 4 or 5 weeks to get a visa !... This system of course makes me angry !...

Why did you need these passports?

Because tomorrow, our Theatre Company is leaving for Austria to speak about the situation here through theatre and dance… I absolutely had to get the passports yesterday because today is a day off and the Austrian Consulate in Tel Aviv is closed ! So I was angry because we need them... Not because we want to go out of Palestine to have fun or visit a particular place, but because our group is going to Austria to tell the people there about our situation, show them what happens here in Palestine through our theatre play… This is not just going on holiday and have fun!.. We are going there to tell about the situation of the Palestinians !

Do you often have the opportunity to go abroad?

Of course not... There are too many steps to take… First you must know that we don’t get the visa from the Austrians : our passports are first sent to Tel Aviv and there the Israeli check them all for the names. If it’s OK with them, you get your visa. Or you don’t... Maybe people think we get our visas from Austria but that’s not the case, Israel is the first step, and then only Austria checks the names, etc. The Austrians don’t know anything about me nor about what I do in Palestine. So, who gives them information ? Israel, of course, in Tel Aviv. That’s how some Palestians can’t go to Jordan or to the USA : simply because Israel decided not to let them go...

And then, there is the checkpoint in Jericho… Yes, there are so many obstacles… Once you have got your visa, you have to go through Jericho checkpoint where you get checked again : your name, your visa, your passport … It is too difficult…. It’s the same thing in Jordan, we have problems there too, and in the other Arab countries too, problems, always… Everybody checks the Palestinians, again and again : « Where are you going to ? »… «What are you going to do abroad ? Something for the Palestinians ? »…

Three years ago, I was stopped at the airport in Jordan. They asked me why I was going to France. It was in 2006. I told them I was going to dance. The soldier looked at me : « Not to do theatre and tell about the situation in Palestine ? »… Because he knows everythging about me, about Al-Rowwad and about what we are going to do in France !… The same thing happened to me in 2008. I had been to France, Bordeaux. When I came back, I was stopped at the Israeli checkpoint here and they said to me : « You speak well about the Nakba… » (*1948, the Catastrophe, as experienced by the Palestinians). I said I had given a dance and theatre show. They said, « No, you spoke about the Nakba in Bordeaux ». I said, yes, that’s true... Because, in any case, they know everything about me... How ? I don’t know... They know what I’m doing tomorrow, that at 7.30 or 8 tomorrow in the morning, we are going from Al-Rowwad to Jericho… That’s the situation here in Palestine : we are living in a big prison… Before I do anything, I should know that Israel will know about it …

What are the things that make you really happy? Things that would make you say : Waouw, I feel good...

Ribal 2
IMG/mp3/Ribal_2.mp3

Oh, there are many… Each time a project is a success, a festival, or my exams, sure then I feel happy... There is one thing in particular : I don’t always feel good with my girlfriend. But if I know that for one whole minute, or one hour, she was happy, I feel happy too... Because if you want to know about how it is with love, etc here in Palestine, things are really complicated. The Palestinian culture is different, everything is difficult, express yourself, your feelings...

What do you mean ?

Look, you can’t just say to somebody "I love you", for example... The families should first meet and so... No it’s really difficult... To express yourself or talk about your feelings... I’m also so happy with what I’m doing at Al-Rowwad centre and that our tour in France was a success... I was happy when I could visit Jerusalem... I’m happy when I can go to the university and the checkpoint is open... I don’t need to do extraordinary things to feel happy... Just simple things : go to the university or if Al-Rowwad organizes activities in Bethlehem...

Being angry or happy probably gives you energy. But do you sometimes feel tired, or even discouraged, because this is all too much?... What happens then? Do you feel like dropping everything?

No not at all… You know, at Al-Rowwad centre, for example, we feel all the time angry, then happy again. This morning, I was angry and tonight I feel happy again because the photo exhibition at the centre was great… Of course the best thing would be staying in-between, not only angry or happy… But when I’m angry, I don’t speak to anyone anymore. If you saw me this morning, just smoking and going to and fro in the centre, you could guess I was angry... It is the same at home, when I’m angry, I keep silent, just smoking. Because I know that I could fight with anybody then… The fact is sometimes you feel you are a loser who is unable to manage, or to succeed in anything... This is an awful feeling : you want to start something, for ex, but sometimes you just don’t manage, because you are tired, or you have already too many things to do at the same time… That’s the problem with my work : I’m both a coordinator and a trainer in different workshops : theatre, dance, « Images for Life » (photo and film workshop)… I’m under much pressure, but how else could it be ?…

You are still so young for so many responsibilities ! Is there someone you can go to, in case you need it?

Sure. In my work, there is Oussama, and also AbdelFattah Abu-Srour, the director of the centre. We share the work at Al-Rowwad, and I can always ask for help with the different workshops... With the tour abroad, too... But the problem is if I want something, I want to do what is necessary to get it… For ex, I’m the one who decided that we should go to Austria rather than to America and I saw to it that we would… That’s the problem with me : if somedy at Al-Rowwad tries to make me do something I don’t want to, I refuse... I only do what I want and think what I want to think ...

My father at home says, you are only 19, you should ask me for permission. But I tell him, no. Because I think that if I want to start something, for myself or for other people, it is my own decision. Nobody should tell me... That’s the difference between the other people in the camp and me : in the Palestinian culture, when you are 18 or 19, it is still your father who decides for you... Concerning the studies, for ex, if you want to study Maths but your father wants you to study Science, no problem, you will study Science because this is what your father wants you to do...

I have problems with myself being like that... Because nobody can decide everything alone... But I think that in the future, I will be able to do some good things for myself and for the others because I know what I want...

So you told us a bit about your girlfriend. Can you tell us more about the boy-and-girl relationships inside the camp ?

Look, you can get an idea about it by looking at what is going on in Al-Rowwad. In the centre we are just working on that... In the theatre workshop, you saw more girls than boys (3 boys for 6 girls, but we are very happy with that. Indeed, if you go to the other centres, you will maybe see 2 girls only for 10 boys !... Al-Rowwad centre is the best in Bethlehem city in this respect... Because, as I told you, we meet difficulties because of the Palestinian culture. For ex, dance is only for girls, or only for boys, you can’t have a mixed workshop because the family, the father won’t agree that his daughter holds the hand of a boy from Aida camp or anywhere else. But why? Where is the problem?... If a father sees his daughter hold the hand of a boy, will he kill her?... That’s the problem... And if we go abroad with the centre, there must be two leaders, one to go with the girls, the other one to go with the boys... Our families, our culture needs to think about this and find solutions to this problem... How can this be changed? That’s what we are working at in Al-Rowwad : we organise workshops and activities for mixed groups and we try to meet the families of Aida and speak with them to try to change the society... The Palestinian culture doesn’t need only boys or only girls ! We should try to do something together, to make things change together.

Could you please now say something to the people who are going to watch this video ?

Ribal 3
IMG/mp3/Ribal_3.mp3

Here, in Palestine, it’s very difficult for us to change the situation… But you who have come here to Al-Rowwad, or to Aida camp or simply visit Palestine, there are two things you can do when you are back home : tell about what is really going on here, tell about the situation as it is… We don’t need people coming here and making long speeches to us but not telling the people outside about our situation. Our problem is that the journalists, the media, the whole world is on the side of the Israeli, and that we can do nothing about it because the Israeli control everything. The only way to have things change is that the people who have come here tell about the life of the Palestinians here once they are back. The Palestinians don’t need money, we have got everything we need here, we live alright... But we need freedom and justice… Tomorrow, I would like to be able to go to university without being arrested at the checkpoint I would like to be able to get out of Palestine without having to go through all these checkpoints. I would like to do things without having to constantly ask for Israel’s permission.... That’s what we want, nothing more than that... As for you Théodore, you are still at school, aren’t you?... I think this is a first good step... You are only 15 : of course, as you said yesterday, you can do nothing to change the way things are at the moment, but, later, thanks to your studies, you will be able to. I’m convinced that studying, be it theatre or politics or other subjects will give you tools to speak about the situation in Palestine, speak of justice. Not only in Palestine. You will be able to act so there is more justice and freedom for all the people who, here in Palestine or in other countries, live under occupation… Yes, here is my message...

You have been speaking so seriously about all that, Ribal… But yesterday, I told you you had such a beautiful smile... I would so much like to see it now !

Listen, I’ll tell you all what I said to Anne-Claire yesterday… I have always had problems with my face and with my smile : everybody, in my family, or in Al-Rowwad say that I always look angry… One day, at university, a teacher was explaining something about I don’t remember what : he stopped talking and asked me why I was angry. But I wasn’t ! Most of the time, I’m not angry, I just don’t often smile, that’s all... But I’ll tell you something : with your group, all this week, I have smiled, yes, quite a lot… You can ask Mazen... There was another group before you : I would just come to the guesthouse in the evening, give them the program for the next day and then leave, saying, if you have questions, you can phone me, if you want information about the centre or about the situation in Palestine, I’ll give it to you, and that was it… But with your group, it is different : I smile, I feel like doing things with you, play cards, go for walks, speak with you because your group is so… I don’t know how to put it… You have understood so quickly what’s happening here...

Here in Aida, we don’t have any weapons. Even the Palestinian police don’t have any weapons… But if you hear what the journalists say, if you watch the news, you will hear :“ Palestinian people killed 10 people in Israel”…“ Palestinian people killed X persons…" But the Palestinians have no guns, no checkpoints ! That’s the difference ! Believe me, the Palestinians are no terrorists They have such a normal life, in which nothing happens : they get up in the morning, go to the centre, or to the wall, or to school to take exams… That is all they have… They don’t build new tanks or new helicopters…That’s the difference !…"

Can you please now tell us about your "Beautiful resistance"?

Ribal 4
IMG/mp3/Ribal_4.mp3

It was a totally new idea in the West bank and in Bethlehem... The primary idea of Al-Rowwad was to have people know about the situation in Palestine via theatre plays. We started this "beautiful resistance" because we believe in the power of music and acting, normal things... Not that of the guns, tanks, planes and helicopters ... And I know that if I go to Austria, France or other countries and tell people about Palestine, they may say they believe me and agree with me, or maybe not, they can still be on Israel’s side. But if we make them feel what the situation is like here acting, singing and dancing for them, maybe they will all manage to understand what is going on in Palestine... The fact is that 10 years ago, many people abroad were taking part in lectures and conferences on Palestine. And people spoke and spoke, but after one week of talks, there came somebody from Israel, who showed them a small film about what happened in Jerusalem, or gave a dance show or a theatre play... Now the Palestinians have understood that talking is not enough and that it is a good idea to develop the "Beautiful resistance", open cultural centres, create many theatre and dance groups to tell about the situation in Palestine.

There is a problem with the Palestinian culture, and with the history of Palestine. All the people outside Palestine say we have none... The Israeli checked the ground under the Al-Aqsa Mosque, in search of historical proves that this land belongs to them and Palestine is supposed to have no history... But now, things are changing : the Palestinians have started speaking about their history, about their culture, through acting and dancing. They are not going to dig the ground under the Al-Aqsa Mosque or check old walls to prove that this is and has always been their home. That’s the difference... This country is that of the Palestinians... And anybody wanting to come and live here is welcome : Jews, Christians, anyone... But without guns... In peace..

Some politicians and leaders are working at trying to create two states, one for the Palestinians, the other one for the Israeli. But why two countries ?… This is Palestine ! The land of the Palestinians !… There are some Palestinian politicians, the President, who agree with this idea of 2 countries. But why, this is the country of the Palestinians !... Occupiers came and now you would like me to let them say to the Palestinians : “Keep a small bit of your country, we are taking over the rest " ?… It’s not a problem for me if the Jews want to stay in this small country, Palestine … One thing you must know and remember is that we, Muslim Palestinians have no problems with the Jews, contrary to what people generally think. When I was in France, a Jewish family put me up and we talked about the situation. The same thing happened when I was in the USA, and these Jews were really adorable… But we have a problem with the Israeli who have settled here.

One day, I was asked to play theatre in front of children in Israel but I refused to. people asked me : why do you refuse? They are only children, they are only nine…. But I answered that when they are 15 or 17, they will join the army to do their compulsory military service and they will have guns and may kill someone, maybe one of my friends… Some people say "you are a terrorist, you refuse to speak with children"... No, I agree to speak with children who support Palestinians, but not to Israeli ones, because in the future, he will have a gun, and maybe kill one of my friends... I’m sure these Israeli children will invite children from Palestine, Lebanon, Jordan and speak about peace with them but who knows if in the future they won’t fight against them ?… That’s the problem… And that’s why we believe in the « Beautiful Resistance », make our culture live rather than throw stones or use guns…

Because, just think of this : who gives Palestine any military support ? Iran ? The Arab countries ?… Nobody anymore. Everybody has gone, while the whole world, Europe, the USA support Israel... You can see it on television everyday : Israeli people have got the tanks, the helicopters, the new guns, the new technology and the laws for them… The only thing we have left is to tell everybody about Palestine, and to carry on our « Beautiful Resistance »… Because if I throw stones, nobody will listen to me. If I have a gun, everybody will call me a terrorist, which would be true, and I’ll be killed or put in jail… Whereas if I do some culture, I have no problem with Israel. Well, for the time being... No doubt there will come a time when they will have seen enough of it. Maybe then they will arrest us and throw us in prison… I don’t know.