The geopolitical reality and the weak legitimacy and capacities of the Palestinian Authority have led to an increased fragility of the Palestinian cultural identity. It has also negatively impacted social cohesion between and among the Palestinian population.
4.8 million Palestinians live in three disconnected areas (West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip) as a consequence of Israeli Occupation for more than 50 years. This has been aggravated by the intra-Palestinian divide during the last decade. Furthermore, it has prevented the growth of democratic space, sustainable economic development and the effective delivery of public service. Palestinian culture has been equally challenged by an increased influence of traditional and conservative elements and groups within a fragmented society.
Switzerland is committed to a just and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians based on a negotiated two-state solution. The Swiss Cooperation Strategy for the oPt aims at contributing to the establishment of an independent, viable, contiguous and democratic Palestinian state. Under its engagement in strengthening local governance and effective service delivery, Switzerland has partnered with the Abdel Mohsen Qattan Foundation (AMQF), a well-known cultural Palestinian institution promoting non conflictual interactions, pluralism, transparency, accountability, non-discrimination and participation.
The goal of this collaboration is to enhance social engagement and participation and to promote the role of people as agents of change using culture and artistic creativity (puppets show, radio drama, and murals out of recycled material, short films, exhibitions, theatre plays, writing, music and songs) to enhance democratic debates, promote social inclusion and active participation of youth and women within the community and between the community and the local authorities. Art projects are created by people, with people and about people. Concretely, local teams – which are made up of artists, teachers and community members – define priority issues and decide on actions able to generate adequate response by local authorities. Projects are also created by artists through an open competitive call to produce artworks that are inspired from communities’ needs.
Involving citizens – and in particular youth and women – to participate in public discussions in a constructive manner, supports the overall objective of strengthening social accountability in the occupied Palestinian territory.
Up to now (end 2018), this intervention has been implemented in 15 locations situated in the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip.
- People participating in the project perceive it as a platform and an opportunity through which they can express their aspirations and meet their responsibilities as active players in their communities. The involvement of women in the project is high as they may voice their needs as women.
- The project has also opened new channels of communication with local decision makers: it has empowered citizens to influence local authorities and hold them accountable for their responsibilities and duties.
- Artists see societal value in their artwork that is inspired from people’s needs and with which people can easily relate to, and interact with.
- Concrete examples of involvement of project members include: active participation in the formulation of Strategic Development and Investment Plan in Municipalities, membership in local planning committees, such as the Social Committee or the Committee on Good Governance.
- Examples of project outputs include: creation of a safe place for children to play after school, organization of a functioning municipal garbage collection system following community-led cleaning activities.
- Boys and girls, men and women participate jointly in activities, rather than separately, increasing therefore the cohesion of the community.
- In Qalqiliya Municipality (North West of the West Bank), more than 1’000 citizens participated in the artwork about women’s names, bringing to the forefront the presence of women in the public sphere. The local team organised an art exhibition including 4 artworks of mixed media depicting the issues identified by the community such as second hand markets, and the marginalization of women.
- In the Gaza Strip, a group of women filmmakers produced three films to highlight priority community problems such as flooding caused by rain and sewage water; poor housing conditions of people internally displaced since Summer 2014; and health hazard due to landfill in the central of Gaza City affecting inhabitants.
- In the town of Deir Al Ghusoun in the Northern part of the West Bank, community members advocated against the demolition of old houses, while wishing to transform them into cultural spaces. As a consequence, the Municipality canceled its decision to demolish the historic olive oil press house. In parallel, families in the community offered four old houses to serve as community and cultural spaces. In addition to that, school pupils cleaned the municipal park, which had previously been abandoned and unused: as a response to civic engagement, the Municipality supported the re-activation of the park which now serves several thousand people.
“On a personal level, this project brought me a lot of knowledge. I have had the chance to know my own people in my own city differently, to understand how they think and what their concerns and dreams are. I felt closer to people and their issues, and the trust they gave me made me feel more responsible than ever towards my community and myself…” (a team member, Nadira Moghrabi).
Inspiring examples of community engagement
Qatanna Track/Masar project:
Participants in the project started questioning their relationship towards their town; they plotted all issues and ideas in a paper map on the wall as a Track/ Masar such as youth marginalisation, abandoned old town houses, the garbage landfill and drug dealing.
Afterword, the team decide to move to real action and contribute to change, with the supervision of two artists they decided to work on colouring the walls of Qatanna, decorating the town with benches and flowers, painting graffiti murals, in addition to consolidating damaged walls.
At the beginning of the project, there was very little participation by the community, 6 months through the project, the interaction was unprecedented, people opened their houses and welcomed the project team and allowed them to paint on the walls and inside of their houses, they showed great cooperation especially after they saw an aesthetic change after the wall painting.
One 6-meter wall needed consolidating and plastering before it painted, people showed readiness to fix it, but did not have the needed materials and tools. After talking to the municipality, they agreed to donate the needed materials such as cement and plaster, etc. and the youth voluntarily did the work and got the wall painted.