For four days during last week, the echoes of ancient instruments, traditional songs, dancing feet and celebration chants were heard through the streets and alleys of Birzeit’s Old City.
The 10th Heritage Week that took place between 17-20 July represents a manifestation of culture and a tool for exposure, development and empowerment of the national identity in Palestine.
Birzeit Heritage Week has become an icon among Palestine’s summer events and a major representation between annual festivals.
The festival was initiated on Wednesday 17 July with a traditional Palestinian wedding (Zaffa), as women sang traditional songs and men played their instruments, hundreds of people followed the procession around the streets.
Traditional celebrations together with Palestinian artists, bands, theatrical performances, dance groups and art exhibitions marked Birzeit Heritage nights, also there were daily entertainment activities for children.
The “Flower of the countryside” competition is another icon of the Heritage Week, Palestinian villages send young women as representatives, dressed in their village traditional clothing to be judged on their knowledge of the culture within their village that is passed from one generation to another.
Held annually since 2007, the festival is organised by Rozana Association for the Development of Architectural Heritage, this year in partnership with the Ministry of Tourism & Antiquities, Bank of Palestine, the European Union and the Ministry of Culture.
Rozana Association chairman, Raed Saadeh, told Palestine Monitor that the Rozana Association focuses on trying to increase development processes in rural Palestine based on cultural community tourism and resources management, especially targeting marginalised areas.
Regarding the Heritage Week, Saadeh said that “it is a platform that can bring along all the communities that have been building their development aspects, it provides a space for rural people, craftsmen and women to expose their own productions, to expand their business, putting this together with the traditional demonstrations, the festival becomes an epicentre of Palestinian economic, cultural and social celebration.”
“By protecting heritage means that you maintain your identity, by maintaining identity we emphasise our expression of existence and existence for us means resistance,” Saadeh added.
To allow business owners to display their products, dozens of kiosks decorated the Old City selling artworks, ceramics, embroidered clothing and accessories, glass, carving on wood, sweets, literature, handicrafts, gastronomy and more local products.
Rihan Smaneh, who is from Nablus and works at Star Mountain Rehabilitation Center, an institution that provides distinctive rehabilitation and training services to persons with intellectual disability, was at the festival selling goods made by their members.
She said that personally, the festival is important to meet new customers and make contacts, but looking at the bigger picture, she sees it as a critical event, especially in this time, as Palestinians need more exposure to their culture and a chance of development.
“Palestinians are always pictured around the world as victims like there is nothing beautiful left here but there is so much culture, so much beauty, this event helps to bring us all together, to celebrate our history, to show them we are still alive,” Smaneh explained.
The festival is also designed to make connections and exchanges with the International community.
This year, displays including crafts, food and promotional materials were presented by countries such as Brazil, Turkey, India, Britain, which sponsored by the British Council held an exhibit of photos and videos from its Cultural Protection Fund in the occupied Palestinian territory and South Africa.
South Africa commemorated the 10th year of Mandela Day during the festival on 18 July, with a special exhibition commemorating Mandela’s life and legacy to make the world a better place.
After a speech in the main stage where he was warmly greeted by Rozana chairman Mr Raed Saadeh, the South Africa Ambassador and Representative to Palestine, Mr A.Y. Suliman, told Palestine Monitor that South Africa and Palestine have a very close and deep history.
“In our darkest of times, the PLO and the Palestinian people were with us and we will never forget that. We will always assist the Palestinians in any way we can in their struggle to attain self-determination and independence,” Suliman said.
Terry Boullata, one of Rozana‘s long-time volunteers and organiser of the event, told Palestine Monitor that the event is critical because it builds on national unity to promote a more in-depth comprehension of the diversity of Palestinian cultural heritage, also promoting the development of the rural activities they have been working on to generate more income to those communities.
“After 52 years of occupation and all the matrix of control Israel has put in place, the connection between us Palestinians has become very difficult, this event is crucial because it works as an internal and unifying meeting point for Palestinians,” Boulatta said.
“Culture goes beyond political borders, we are one people, one nationality, one history and hopefully, one future,” Boulatta concluded.