Friday, October 30, 2020

Culture: resisting oppression, connecting struggles

By Patty Diphusa - July 11, 2019
Section: [Main News] [Features]
Tags: [culture] [resistance]

Globalisation entails a flow of information which travels from one place to the other most often ignoring physical borders between different points of the globe. This flow of information, however, supposes a threat to lose one’s particular assets in favour of a hybrid mass of cultural expressions that largely derive from countries and agents with a great quota of power. 

In the case of Palestine, culture not only arises as a form of resistance to the loss of identity in the face of globalisation, but also as a means of rejecting Israeli attempts to erase Palestine as a collective. 

As such, reclaiming and resignifying culture in Palestine is an act of resistance against the growing illegal Israeli occupation of the Palestinian State. 

When discussing how culture can be used as a form to resist, Palestinian Poet Mohammed el-Kurd told Palestine Monitor that the world we live in “craves and forces people into unity and uniformity”. 

This uniformity, el-Kurd explained, leads people to lose a sense of their identity and “uniqueness”. To fight back, “existence and culture can absolutely be forms of resistance to becoming squished into the machine of globalisation, capitalism and in the case of Palestine, of occupation,” el-Kurd said. 

In conversation with Director of the Khalil Sakakini Cultural Centre in Ramallah, Yazan Khalili, he also insisted on the role of culture as resistance to these challenges. Khalili suggested in fact that, “culture is both the tool and the space that make [resistance] possible”. 

The art of balancing culture, power and politics 

Culture should be a forum to address new ways of understanding and organising power. Otherwise, it becomes a medium to consolidate already existing power structures, and therefore losing its transgressive essence.

In this sense, Khalili explained that it is necessary to work to avoid culture becoming “itself a tool for those in power” and that culture as a space means that it has to be the scenario for “proposing new forms of thinking”. 

Specifically what 'culture’ entails, and the role art and politics play in it, is a difficult task to define in rigid terms. In this sense, Director of the National Conservatory of Music in Jerusalem, Mohammad Maragha explained that “arts [and thus, culture] cannot be separated from politics, and that identity is not a fixed concept”. 

Khalili agreed with this argument, emphasising that culture is not a fixed idea, but “a developing and changing body that keeps on moving, involving politics, economy and social engagement”.

Maragha explained how resistance can be carried out from an institution such as the National Conservatory of Music without forcing a specific narrative of what 'culture’ is. 

By exposing people to a variety of different artistic elements, many people begin to not only recognise their own struggles and challenges through art and music but to also express their experiences.

“We teach our children classical music, oriental music, jazz… But they can not isolate themselves of the [Palestinian] context. Thus, they will not compose Western classical music in the traditional sense. They will compose a piece with Western instruments which presents their experience”.

When stating that these children can not isolate themselves of the context, the latter means the complexities of their existence, the challenges they face as individuals and as a collective which they express through music. 

These challenges have multiple layers, some might be shared with a great number of states, societies or groups across the world, but at least one of them is specific to those living in Palestine: the Israeli illegal occupation.

Culture and occupation

Occupation poses a series of challenges for cultural institutions such as the Sakakini Cultural Center in Ramallah. As Director Khalili explained, Israeli impositions determine “who we can invite and bring [to the centre] and economic issues”. 

At the same time, the occupation has in this sense a non-tangible effect: it urges cultural institutions and individuals to ask and reflect about their position and existence. 

Director Khalili explained that Israeli illegal policies pose questions that can not be avoided, such as “what it means living in Ramallah, a city under a pseudo-Government and under real occupation” and the meaning of “occupation as a metaphor of power we have to work against and with which we deal on a daily basis”.

When discussing what occupation means locally, and how it relates to culture in Palestine, poet Mohammed el-Kurd described how occupation and colonisation prosper off the eradication of native cultures. 

“Occupation is really colonisation with another name. Colonisation thrives and exists on the bases of erasure and exclusion and silencing the cultural activities and norms of the people they oppress,” el-Kurd explained.

Such erasure, exclusion and silencing can be most dramatically witnessed in Jerusalem with the ongoing process of Judaisation of the city. As Director of the National Conservatory of Music Maragha explained, Palestinians living in the holy city experience this in everyday life.

Maragha gave a simple example regarding erasure of Palestine within Israeli-controlled education: “as many schools are being opened in Jerusalem, Israel fixes the curricula. These schools are presenting the Israeli narratives.” 

“They teach professors not to mention Palestine in their schools. One of our artists is working in one of these schools and she tried to teach children to draw a Palestinian flag. She got an order from her supervisor telling her to stop that, it's against our policies”. 

Avoiding mono-narratives, connecting struggles

Although occupation is a major element of daily Palestinian resistance, Khalili insisted on keeping in mind that it is not the only context. He stated that “the Neo-liberal economy is a context, the financial crisis is a context, the issue of people wanting to leave this country is a context”.

Focusing solely on the occupation, without denying how it invades every aspect of life in Palestine, is narrow and limiting. El-Kurd described how this reduces Palestinian issues into a singular narrative, devoid of complexities and diversity.

In this sense, el-Kurd explained that Palestinians are always placed in the “angels versus demons perspective in the global community”, and thus influencing how the international community perceives Palestine.


“Palestinians are made one dimensional, their complexity is reduced and they are made into a single story. The more narratives there are, the more stories there are, the more human the Palestinian cause becomes”.  

Following this argument, Khalili stated that what is important when addressing Palestine is how it should be narrated in order to “open it up to connect other struggles and issues around the world”. 

Maragha from the National Conservatory of music continued, reflecting on the connection of the Palestinian struggle to those of other peoples and groups across societies, explaining that all should stand together, for the phenomena of oppression is one. 

Support for oppressed groups in this way becomes more of a human duty and not just a matter of goodwill. As el-Kurd affirmed, “the idea of Palestinians as people who require justification to deserve solidarity is a very Western, very racist concept. It demands somebody be almost perfect in order to gain the international community’s sympathy”.

Ultimately, resistance through culture becomes a matter of identifying places from which alliances between communities can be built. It is about finding common grounds from which struggles of peoples can be connected without losing their uniqueness and individualities. For this purpose, Director Khalili proposed that it is essential to “work beyond the locality through being very local, and as such, connecting different localities around the world”.

Back to Top

Related Articles

Sudan-Israel relations new stab in the back for Palestinians
October 26, 2020

Israel stops renewing visas for UN human rights workers
October 21, 2020

Settlement expansion announced in West Bank, first since Gulf deals
October 15, 2020

Most Popular Articles

Israels puppet war unmasks apartheid regime
The El-Hakawati theatre was colorfully adorned to host its annual International

Rushdi Tamimi becomes second victim of Israeli army in Nabi Saleh
On Tuesday November 21st, the body of 31 year old Rushdi Tamimi was

Israel Avoids Hard-Right Shift: No Benefit for Palestinians
With many commentators predicting big wins for the settler movement in

Designed & Developed by: Pixel Co