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A new kind of cultural movement is sweeping rural Palestine

Jerusalem24 – What began as a project to revive the historic center of one town has grown into an ambitious endeavor aiming to revitalize rural Palestine from the north to the south.

Founded in 2008, the Rozana Association is an organization that aims to preserve cultural heritage specifically in rural Palestine. Rozana also encourages more investments to come to the villages and their old, historic center, building on the very first project of the association.

“At first when the organization started, the aim was to regenerate the historic center of Birzeit,” Rozana executive director Mai Abdeen tells Jerusalem24. “Later on, we tried to implement this plan on various villages all around the west bank.”

In Birzeit, a university city just north of Ramallah in the West Bank, the association decided to operate an old building which it renovated through a strategic development plan led by the Riwaq organization and Birzeit Municipality.

“Ramadan Evenings”

Abdeen strongly believes that the residents of these underserved rural areas should be part and parcel of both the planning and implementation of this process, because no one is more aware of their particular needs and priorities.

“It’s not right to take any kind of activity and just impose it on them,” Abdeen says. “This is not the way it works – as if these people, their opinion doesn’t matter.”

With the lack of cultural activities in rural villages, led either by local or outside organizations, Abdeen says their main focus is working with the local community to find out what their priorities are and what approach they wish to take to address their cultural rights.

Rozana runs a total of five of these people-led campaigns throughout the occupied West Bank including East Jerusalem, and Gaza, with one of them – Ramadan Evenings – just concluding.

“The Ramadan Evenings is part of a local campaign led by the local community of Arraba, Burqain, and Sanour, [villages of the] ‘Jenin cluster’,” explains Abdeen. “They decided that the need is to revive the old historic center, and actually have more of a cultural theme during Ramadan.”

Rozana provided entertainment during the activities, and was able to “shed light” on areas of the villages that also have touristic potential.

Ramadan Evenings ran for three consecutive nights. The first stop was Sanour, which previously had “almost vanished” from the cultural map for years and years. “No organization would ever go to Sanour and implement an activity with the people,” says Abdeen.

Many children and young people were in attendance, participating in different activities like the fanous march, singing traditional Ramadan songs, and listening to the storyteller. All of the activities revived the traditions of Ramadan.

“The excitement among the children was very clear,” recalls Abdeen.

Others came to Jenin all the way from Jerusalem and Birzeit in order to participate, she says, anxious to learn about the people of this Jenin cluster. Rozana wants to build on and enable even more of this type of “cultural exchange” in the future.

There is one demographic whose attendance was unfortunately lacking, laments Abdeen.

“Women’s participation is very minimal due to many restrictions and challenges,” she says, despite the fact that in Palestine, women play “a major role” in preserving cultural heritage.

Nevertheless, Abdeen considers the campaign a huge success. “One of the outputs of this campaign for us is this interview: talking with you now means that people actually [got] the message.”

“I believe this is a first step, and more steps are to follow,” says Abdeen. “We are eager to implement more kind of cultural right campaigns in these villages.”

Listen to the full interview on Vibes.

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