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Gabriel matthew Schivone
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Art Of Palestinian Refugee Children
A children's program at Al-Jana, The Arab Resource Center for the Popular Arts in Beirut—photo from www.al-jana.org
How do Palestinians in Lebanon counteract the trauma of war and displacement? Mirene Ghossein discovered one of the ways when she visited Al-Jana, the Arab Resource Center for Popular Arts (al-jana.org) in West Beirut last year. "Their flower paintings are tiny miracles," says Ghossein, "because there are no flowers at the refugee camps I visited.
Ghossein, who was born in Beirut and came to the U.S. as a 22-year-old bride, returned to her Westchester, New York home with 26 paintings created at Al-Jana. Ghossein's collaboration with Al-Jana is her most recent effort on behalf of Palestinian refugees. She works mainly with two New York organizations—WESPAC Foundation and Adalah-NY—and insists her political advocacy comes naturally to the daughter of a judge. "You can't turn your back on suffering," she says, "if you've heard about the need for justice from childhood on."
Amy Trabka, who teaches at Al-Jana, introduced Ghossein to the children's art. She relocated to Beirut seven years ago from the U.S. when her husband took a job at the American University of Beirut. She was invited to conduct workshops at Al-Jana in drawing and design with children from refugee camps and low-income neighborhoods.
Pictures of the children's artwork were taken by Andrew Courtney. All 26 of the children's paintings are available to view and purchase at wespac.org/pcraa. They are touring the country until November 2009 when they will be sold at an online auction
For Trabka's first art classes in 2002, children came from Burj Al-Barajneh, Shatila, and Mar Elias camps in and near Beirut and communities near Ain Al-Helwaeh, Sidon, and Tyre in South Lebanon. As violence increased and transportation became more difficult, children from the Kola, the Beirut neighborhood where Al Jana offices are located, filled empty seats. Most workshop participants are grandchildren of refugees expelled from Palestine in 1948.
They have grown up under military occupation, but these exiled children have heard stories about another life in another land from their grandparents, some of whom have keys to houses in villages that no longer exist. The dream of returning to Palestine as free citizens survives in the children—and in their art—which allows them a measure of personal if not political, freedom.
The wars of 1948 and 1967 were catastrophes for the indigenous Palestinians, displacing their population into refugee camps in the West Bank, Gaza, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon. Since their right of return has been denied by Israel, there are now four generations living in these camps. "Ask any of the refugees of any age," says Ghossein, "'where do you come from?' and the answer will always be a town or village in historic Palestine, now Israel."
The political and economic future for this new generation of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon is bleaker than that which confronted their parents and grandparents. Unlike their elders, they lack traditional social and cultural resources to draw upon to make sense of their displacement and harsh treatment by Israel. Elder community members have been repositories of folklore, transmitters of collective memory, and links to the Palestinian past—but as they die, an inheritance is lost.
Al-Jana, founded in 1990, is one of a handful of institutions organized to cope with this deepening human crisis. At the core of the center's classes and workshops in film, plays, journalism, and graphic design is an appreciation of the unique cultural and historical circumstances these children share.
In their book Art Therapy and Political Violence (Routledge, 2005), Debra Kalmanowitz and Bobby Lloyd argue that artistic expression can nurture dignity and self-respect when individuals feel powerless to control their political circumstances. The art practiced at Al-Jana and other nonprofit communities creates a kind of safe haven in a dangerous, unpredictable world.
In the world of creative freedom at Al-Jana, Trabka describes the teaching experience as communal. "We learn together as a group, through seeing and doing, and invent as we go," she explains. "Because there are so many obstacles these children will face in their lives—exercising their civil rights, getting an education and employment—we try to focus on what they cando as artists and individuals: express their feelings and tell their stories."
The children love to tell their stories and have produced puppet shows, exhibits, postcards, newspaper and magazine articles, and a book, Drawing and Design: Friday Mornings at Al-Jana. Many of them have worked with Trabka at Al-Jana for five or six years. Judging from their autobiographies, they like what most children like—ice cream, cartoons, swimming, and going to the mall on Sundays with their families. The boys love football, basketball, and wrestling. Mona wants to be a doctor, even though being a medical doctor is one of many skilled professions that Palestinians in Lebanon cannot practice.
Asked to describe himself, Abeer Aidi writes that he has "big, black eyes. When you see them, you will drown in them." And a big heart, "so big people can live in it." Aidi likes to sing, to write poetry "especially to my country, Palestine, that I wish to see."
Underlying the children's self portraits is the loss of their country, the suffering of their parents and grandparents. Mahmoud Zaher writes: "I'm 15 years old. I'm a Palestinian, but I live here. Here in Lebanon. Palestine is the important thing I care about because it is my country. I feel it. And I will give my eyes to the one who will help me to go to Palestine."
Z Magazine Archive
HUMAN RIGHTS - The U.S. Human Rights Network will celebrate its 10th anniversary with the Advancing Human Rights 2013 Conference, December 6-8, in Atlanta, GA.
Contact: 250 Georgia Avenue SE, Suite 330, Atlanta, GA 30312; email@example.com; http:// www.ushrnetwork.org/.
AFRICAN/SOCIALIST - The Sixth Congress of the African People’s Socialist Party USA will be held December 7-11, in St. Petersburg, FL.
Contact: 1245 18th Avenue South, St. Petersburg, FL 33705; 727- 821-6620; info@aps puhuru.org; http://asiuhuru.org/.
SCHOOLS - The Dignity in Schools Campaign (DSC) will host a workshop on the DSC “Model Code on Education and Dignity: Presenting A Human Rights Framework for Schools” at the Mid-Hudson Region NY State Leadership Summit on School Justice Partnerships, December 11 in White Plains, NY.
Contact: http://www.dignityin schools.org/.
ANARCHIST/BOOKFAIR - The Humboldt Anarchist Book Fair will be held December 14, in Eureka, CA.
Contact: humboldtgrassroots @riseup.net; http://humbold tanarchist bookfair.wordpress. com/.
CLIMATE - The World Symposium on Sustainable Development at Universities is hosting a follow-up event to the 2012 Rio de Janeiro symposium. The gathering will be held in Qatar on January 28-30, 2014.
Contact: http://environment.tufts. edu/.
LABOR - The United Association for Labor Education (UALE) will host Organizing for Power: A New Labor Movement for the New Working Class in Los Angeles, March 26-29. Proposals are due December 15.
Contact: LAWCHA, 226 Carr Building (East Campus), Box 90719, Duke University, Durham, NC 27708-0719;lawcha @duke. edu; http://lawcha.org/.
MEDIA FELLOWSHIP - The Media Mobilizing Project is seeking applicants for the first annual Movement Media Fellowship Program. The Fellow will work with MMP to produce the spring season of Media Mobilizing Project TV. MMPTV is a news and talk show that tells the stories of local communities organizing to win human rights and build a movement to end poverty.
Contact: 4233 Chestnut St., Philadelphia, PA 19104; 215-821- 9632; milena@media mobilizing.org; http://www.media mobilizing.org/.
RACE - The 7th Facing Race: A National Conference will be held in Dallas, TX November 13-15, 2014. Organizers, educators, artists, funders and everyone interested in racial equity is invited to exchange best practices and learn about innovative models and successful organizing initiatives. Proposals must be submitted by January 24, 2014.
Contact: Race Forward, 32 Broadway, Suite 1801, New York, NY 10004; 212-513-7925; media @raceforward.org; http://race forward.org/.
VETERANS - They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return from America’s Wars - The Untold Story, by Ann Jones, is about the journey of veterans from the moment of being wounded in rural Afghanistan to their return home.
Contact: Haymarket Books, PO Box 180165, Chicago, IL 60618; 773-583-7884; http://www.haymarketbooks.org/.
LIBYA - Destroying Libya and World Order: The Three-Decade U.S. Campaign to Terminate the Qaddafi Revolution, by Francis A. Boyle, is a history and critique of American foreign policy from Reagan to Obama.
Contact: Clarity Press, Inc., Ste. 469, 3277 Roswell Rd. NE, Atlanta, GE 30305; 404-647-6501; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www. claritypress.com/.
CHILDREN - Fannie and Freddie by Becky Z. Dernbach is about two bumbling villains who gamble away the savings of the people of Homeville.
Contact: fannieandfreddiebook @gmail.com; http://fannieand freddie.org/.
PROTEST/COMIC - Fight the Power!: A Visual History of Protest Among English Speaking Peoples, by Sean Michael Wilson and Benjamin Dickson is a graphic narrative that explains how people have fought against oppression.
Contact: Seven Stories Press, 140 Watts Street, New York, NY 10013; 212-226-8760; info@ sevenstories.com; http://www. sevenstories.com.
CHILDREN - Brave Girl by Michelle Markel and illustrated by Melissa Sweet is the true story of Clara Lemlich, a young Ukrainian immigrant who led the largest strike of women workers in U.S. history.
Contact: http://www.harpercollins childrens.com/Kids/.
FESTIVAL - The 2014 Queer Women of Color Film Festival will be held June 13-15 in San Francisco. The festival is currently accepting submissions until December 31.
Contact: QWOCMAP, 59 Cook Street, San Francisco, CA 94118-3310; 415-752-0868; email@example.com; http://www.qwocmap.org/.
IRAQ/REFUGEES - Ten years after the U.S.-led war in Iraq, thousands of displaced Iraqi refugees are still facing a crisis in the United States. The Lost Dream follows Nazar and Salam who had to flee Iraq in order to avoid threats by Al- Qaeda-affiliated groups and Iraqi insurgents that consider them “traitors” for supporting U.S. forces in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Contact: Typecast Films, 888- 591-3456; info@type castfilms. com; http://type castfilms.com/.
HUMAN RIGHTS - Lyrical Revolt! III will be held December 4 in Syracuse, NY. The event will feature hip-hop musician Anhel whose album Young, Gifted, and Brown was just released. The event is sponsored by ANSWER Syracuse, Liberation News, and SyracuseHip Hop.com. Performers and artists are encouraged to send submissions.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.answercoalition.org/syracuse/.
FOLK - Musician Painless Parker has released his album Music for miscreants, malcontents and misanthropes featuring “Fuck Yeah, the Working Class.”
Contact: email@example.com; http://painlessparkermusic.com/.
COMEDY - Political comedian Lee Camp’s new album Pepper Spray the Tears Away has been released.