Tuesday, December 20, 2011


Palestinian clowns are everywhere
By Sam Bahour


Some Palestinians refuse to just sit still and accept their fate as a permanently, militarily occupied people. One would think by now that Palestinians would have received the message loud and clear – the world couldn’t care less about their fate. But no, these Palestinians just refuse to sit still. They continue to defy their reality and can be seen across the Holy Land – jumping, climbing, swinging, falling, tripping, singing, twirling, juggling, cycling, tight roping, and the like. Their nerve! To think they can attempt to live a normal life when the powers that be are spending billions, literally, to cause a collapse of Palestinian society.

And who is it exactly I speak of? Palestinian clowns. No, I’m not taking a swing at the political leadership, at least not here. I’m talking about the real thing: circus clowns, like in clowns that make you laugh and make you forget that the boot of occupation is pressing on your neck.

I can understand your confusion. Clowns and circus do not usually appear in the same sentence with Palestine. You are probably much more attuned to how Palestinians have been labeled over the years by some Israelis and their marionettes – everything from terrorists, crocodiles, ‘beasts walking on two legs,’ grasshoppers, cockroaches, slaves, ‘a community of woodcutters and waiters,’ the ‘penniless population,’ ‘not worth a Jewish fingernail,’ all the way to the most recent classification of being an ‘invented people.’

As many are bent on dehumanizing Palestinians, systematically and with contempt, others are mending the wounds of a people who have been purposely stripped of their well-being in one of the world’s most unjust chapters of history. One group tending to that process of mending the deep wounds that 44 years of military occupation continue to inflict is the Palestinian Circus School (PCS), based in Birzeit, Palestine.

Yes, you read correctly. There is a Palestinian Circus School in Palestine! However, as I have learned while working closely with this professional team of circus artists, this is not what we all think of when we first think of circus. There are no elephants here, only Palestinian children engaged in a form of art and expression that uses their body to tell a story which can make audiences laugh, cry, or both.

Although the school recently moved from Ramallah to its newly donated headquarters in Birzeit (thanks to Dr. Hanna Nasir), its activities are spread across the West Bank, and Gaza will be added as soon as possible. The School operates local circus clubs and gives performances in various cities, villages and refugee camps.

The Palestinian Circus School is a non-profit, non-governmental organization established in 2006 and registered with the Palestinian Authority since February 2007. You can read more and view some videos of their work at: www.palcircus.ps.

My consulting firm, which mainly serves the private sector, was commissioned by a unique donor, the Drosos Foundation, to assist the Palestinian Circus School in developing a five-year business plan which we successfully completed. Drosos has a rock solid motto of being ‘committed to enabling disadvantaged people to live a life of dignity.’ It is rare I would choose to write about one of my work assignments; however, what I witnessed over several months sparked an interest that I want to share. I also want to appeal to you to support their efforts. Likewise, Palestine is flooded with donor agencies, and most want to drive Palestinians’ development agenda, so when I worked with a funding agency that was sincere about supporting Palestinians by providing resources, but didn’t stand in the way of indigenous planning, I felt this was one of those cases that is the exception and also deserves to be shared.

Contemporary circus (or nouveau cirque as it was originally known in French-speaking countries) is a genre of performing art developed in the late 20th century, in which a story or theme is conveyed through traditional circus skills. It may all look like a game to the untrained eye, but this is serious business. At its heart, this style of circus is a societal change agent. The Circus School teaches young Palestinians the circus pedagogy to stimulate and develop their physical, mental, artistic, emotional, social and cognitive abilities. The circus then employs these skills in bringing smiles to the faces of children throughout Palestine, especially in marginalized areas.

If you spend any time in any part of Palestine, or even in Palestinian refugee communities outside of Palestine, you will quickly notice that the ultimate weight of this conflict is falling on the shoulders of our youngsters—shoulders that should never have to carry the weight of a military occupation! These young minds continue to be systematically damaged, but society is not standing still.

The Palestinian Circus School puts smiles on children’s faces as well as using the platform of circus to link to a global circus arts community. Circus schools and troupes worldwide are acting in solidarity with Palestinians by exchanging trainers, performances and experiences. It’s serious business with serious results. Maybe that’s why, last year, Israeli authorities denied entry to Mr. Ivan Prado, the most famous clown in Spain, who was coming to perform to Palestinian audiences.

Robert Sugarman, author of The Many Worlds of Circus, described the impact of circus best when he wrote, “By turning you upside down, we teach you to stand on your own two feet. By dropping objects we teach you to catch them. By having you walk all over someone, we teach you to take care of them. By having you clown around, we teach you to take yourself seriously.” The children of Palestine have had their lives turned upside down. Help us bring a smile to their faces and build confidence in their futures to make their lives worth living.

So, as you prepare to bring in a new year, I appeal for your generous support to the Palestinian Circus School in any way you can. You will not be disappointed. There are three places donations can be made:

- IndieGoGo Campaign to raise $25,000 to kick off fundraising for erecting a movable training hanger, which will be located adjacent to the newly donated headquarters. This new addition will house the high circus equipment, which are now placed outside in the cold under the open sky. This campaign just started and will run through February 20, 2012 at: http://igg.me/p/52303.

- Alternatively, donations to the Palestinian Circus School in the U.S. can be made through The Middle East Children's Alliance (MECA is a tax-exempt 501(c) 3 organization, so your gift is tax-deductible) www.mecaforpeace.org/partners/palestinian-circus-school.

- Of course, direct donations and/or student scholarships can be made via the School’s website at home.palcircus.ps/en/1/1/3.

Happy Holidays.

- Sam Bahour is a Palestinian-American business development consultant from Youngstown, Ohio living in the Palestinian City of Al-Bireh in the West Bank. He is co-author of  HOMELAND: Oral Histories of Palestine and Palestinians (1994) and may be reached at sbahour@palnet.com. Disclosure: Sam’s firm, www.aim.ps, provides consulting services to PCS.