Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Bright Stars of Bethlehem Festival Brings Palestinian Art, Culture to San Francisco

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Bright Stars of Bethlehem Festival Brings Palestinian Art, Culture to San Francisco

Article excerpt

"Why an art festival in San Francisco?" Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb, co-founder and president of Bright Stars of Bethlehem, asked the crowd at San Francisco State University on Sept. 28. "The answer is very easy, because when people think of Palestine, they do not think of art and culture, necessarily-but this is exactly how we are trying to brand Palestine." Reverend Raheb praised the creativity of Palestinian artists, dancers, writers and filmmakers despite the crippling hardships they suffer living under Israel's brutal occupation and in the shadow of the apartheid wall.

This creativity was evident in the paintings and photographs by Palestinian artists on view at the university's Cesar Chavez Student Center during the festival, a three-day celebration of Palestinian art and culture titled "Room for Hope." Films screened included Mahasen Nasser-Eldin's "Restored Pictures," Hassin Rishmawi's "Town Barber," Mohammed Abu Sneneh's "Space of the Alleys," Thaer Al-Azzah's "Heavy Peel of Onion" and the U.S. premier of Yasmine Perni's "The Stones Cry Out." The Diyar Dance Troupe, a co-ed group of dancers from Bethlehem, performed in San Francisco, Sacramento, Walnut Creek, Morgan Hill, Santa Clara University, Stanford University, Los Angeles and Irvine. Committed to the mission of empowering the cultural identity of young Palestinians, the dance troupe serves not only as a cultural ambassador but as a symbol of hope to the youths living under occupation.

"It is really creativity that we are trying to nurture, and this becomes of utmost importance because our goal is not only to survive in Palestine, but our goal is to thrive," Raheb said. "Our people today are standing up. They want to reach for the stars and they want to tell a positive story that comes out of the most difficult situation."

Following the reverend's remarks, guests enjoyed a concert of Spanish and Arabian music performed by violinist Georges Lammam, flamenco guitarist Gabriel Navia, acoustic bass guitarist Miles Jay, percussionist Tareq Rantisi and Ali Amr on the qanun, an ancient 72-tone string instrument which is a staple of classical Arab music.

Poetry Slam

Local poets Deema K. Shehabi and Lorene Zarou-Zouzounis faced offin a "Poetry Slam," one of the many programs presented as part of the Bright Stars of Bethlehem festival.

Inspired by their Palestinian upbringings, the two accomplished writers expressed their feelings through their poetry.

In "Breath," Shehabi conveyed images of Palestine, including "minarets rising smoothly from sky to sky through voices of muezzins and parched pilgrims. You come to me from rows and rows of orange trees, rows and rows of lemon trees, rows and rows of olive trees..."

Wearing a traditional embroidered Palestinian thobe (loose-fitting robe), Zarou-Zouzounis read her poem "Embroidered Memory" to a rapt audience. "Arabic tapestry embroidered into my soul is my memory of home. Red on black pyramids, octagons, lines and vines, each village distinct, Bedouin purple and fuchsia red poppies and tulips..."

Both poems are included in the contemporary anthology The Poetry of Arab Women (available from the AET Book Club).

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