London celebrates its biggest Palestine Festival to date
Harrow in North-West London was host to the Palestine Festival last weekend. Billed as a two-day event, it was the biggest Palestinian cultural event the UK has seen to date with an estimated 3,000 people in attendance.
There were around 30+ stalls, as well as dabke performances and singers taking the stage as well as kids' quizzes. And for those interested in debates and talks about the Palestinian diaspora, there were also conferences in the upstairs room. To encourage as many punters through the door, despite the rain over the two days – it was free entry, although tickets were mandatory.
The family-friendly event was as much entertaining, as it was educational and poignant – no Palestinian gathering can avoid the current plight of the issue of occupation and the Nakbah, with posters, installations, book stalls and charities such as Interpal present, teaching people about the Zionist movement, 1948 Nakbah and 1967 occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.
Fortunately, one positive aspect of Palestine that the country and its people are proud of is its culture. And there was plenty of it across many forms of mediums, such as the various traditional foods for sale such as Knafeh and Falafel.
However, the wider Arab community also set up food stalls, which included the Emirati date firm, Tamrah. Whilst they were present at the festival to create brand awareness and show solidarity with the Palestinians, Issa Al-Rifaee from IF Foods, representing the brand in the UK, spoke to The New Arab about the successes and challenges ahead.
"At the moment we are focusing on the ethnic markets but we are looking to expand," Issa explained.
"So we want everyone to be aware of this product and for it to be available in all supermarkets nationwide. It's available in France, Germany, Netherlands, Italy, Switzerland and Spain as there are large amounts of ethnic shops in these respective countries."
There was also a stage in one part of the hall dedicated to performances on stage. The morning segment was specially dedicated to the kids with a morning concert, followed by a kids quiz about all things Palestine. In the afternoon it was followed by rap performances, a traditional dabke dance from the Fursaan Dabke Group & Yasmeen Al Sham Dabke Group.
On Saturday, there were conferences for both the public and media – in Arabic and English – about there being too much division between the Palestinian diaspora themselves as well as how they are perceived by others.
This was even demonstrated as such by a SWOT Analysis chart, demonstrating their respective Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats going forward.
Another issue within the Palestinian community was the elder generation being accused of not supporting those younger than them at university campuses for a number of reasons, including being seen as powerless and not strong enough against the hugely influential Israeli lobbies.
One such group making a difference with Palestine is Interpal, who were also one of the main sponsors this weekend. Speaking to Sara, the Projects Officer, she explained why they were at the Palestine Festival.
"What we are trying to do is showcase our work and also try to show solidarity with the Palestinian community in Britain and overseas. We're celebrating their vibrant, rich culture.
"Many people here today as well as the wider community are our donors so we just want to be here with them too. The response from people today towards us has been very positive and they've been asking us a lot of questions as well as taking away lots of literature (from our stall). They've been very interested in knowing what we have been doing recently, especially with recent events in Gaza with the Great March of Return."
To finish the evening off, the focal point of the festival was back to the stage area for traditional Palestinian songs sung by Rami El Hindi, interspersed with men from the audience as well as the dabke group from earlier, making it a night to remember.
Yousif Nur is a freelance journalist, with a particular focus on music and culture in the Arab World. His journalism work has been featured in The Guardian, Telegraph, Dazed & Confused, Middle East Eye, Vice amongst many others.
Follow him on Twitter: @yousifnur