This past week a festival called ‘Bet lahem live’ took place in a square off of Star street in Bethlehem, just outside Jerusalem. Describing its purpose as a ‘life experience connecting the past with the present’ it was primarily made up of music and dance and was able to take place because of partnerships between the Holy Land trust in Palestine and The Amos Trust and Greenbelt festival in the UK. The HLT is a Palestinian organisation established in Bethlehem in 1998 and through a commitment to the principles of nonviolence, aspires to strengthen and empower the people of the Holy Land to engage in spiritual, pragmatic and strategic paths that will end all forms of oppression.
The partnership offered the chance for musicians Garth Hewitt, Beth Rowley, Stu G, myself plus street entertainer Thomas Trilby to play at the festival and engage with the Palestinian people and their story. During the week of the festival we were privileged to visit not only the historic sites of this ancient land but also to see for ourselves the plight of the Palestinian people who continue to live with a beautiful dignity despite the continued injustice and cruelty piled on them on a daily basis. In this sense the festival is a statement of community, peaceful resistance and a celebration of the human spirit and it all works beautifully.
The visual information taken in before my performance on Sunday night was vital. Big life moments and lessons have always been present through years of the privilege of sitting with powerless people and yet its so easy to forget the that ‘gift’ as the world grinds away. There could have been a case for information overload as my senses went from overwhelming sadness to deep anger on an hourly basis as we toured projects of hope, both practical and artistic, and all this on the land that has informed the backbone of how one viewed life for so long. And then of course there is that wall. That concrete obscenity that hems in a nation and its children. Children who are taken into custody at tender ages and whose life prospects are zero compared to those who sleep just six miles away. Children who may never see an ocean. A wall adorned with Banksie’s brilliant visions of hope and less eloquent slogans of a beautiful resistance. And so you take all that to the stage and you play your songs to around a thousand gathered people. People of all ages, families, small gangs of boys and girls, together with the loud hum of a generator and the smell of street food. Your dressing room is an empty concrete room with no light but you have never felt safer. You are among big hearted people with only light and gratitude in their eyes. Gratitude that you have come and so disbelieving that you have songs about them, that you bring them greetings from your country and that you tell them they are not alone and that you will go home and tell their story. And they tell you all that and they give you a gift. The gift of you. Every heart breaking story you hear through the week does the most amazing thing. It gives you your life back. It reminds you of what you have lost and challenges you to re think, to re group and come home to yourself.
Earlier in the week we climbed the Mount of Beatitudes and heard the life affirming words of my personal favorite text from scripture. I’m torn between doubt and belief. I’m suddenly for the first time walking these mythical places that I have known of most of my life. Its almost like I don’t want to be there in case its not true. That perhaps these are just the words of an amazing historical figure with a gift of words and commitment but just a man. Just a man. And the tears that form are there because in that moment I need Him to be more than a man. I need Him to be who he claimed to be. Otherwise I have only small hope in my heart for change for these downtrodden yet radiant souls who gather to listen to music behind a giant malevolent wall, or indeed, those beyond it.