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The streets were coloured with red, black, white and green; the air was filled with the scent of Mediterranean cuisine; traditional Arab music blasted its way out of the sound system; children ran around playing; kites flew in the air; the hum & buzz of excited conversation enveloped the square; and roars of laughter and delight completed the picture of a joyous weekend as the sun shone down on the remarkable Celebrate Palestine festival in central London.

It was a festival months in the making but the fruits were there for all the hundreds upon hundreds of people who came to take part to see. The festival brought together a diverse range of activities designed to promote the beauty and harmony of Palestinian culture- a culture that detractors of the Palestinian right to self-determination and national liberation would prefer to see forgotten, consigned to the dustbins of history.

It started on Friday evening with a concert tribute to the late Sheikh Imam, a revolutionary poet whose verses were bellowed out at Tahrir Square during the course of the Egyptian revolution. It was followed by performances from UK hip-hop artists such as Lowkey and Poetic Pilgrimage, helping to blend traditional poetry with contemporary revolutionary vigour.

Saturday saw the official festival opening with Lowkey being joined by the Palestinian Oxford academic Karma Nabulsi. There was huge excitement as hundreds of people, old and young, packed out the JCR to listen. The agenda would then split into several simultaneous workshops, allowing the diverse audience to pursue the activity that most enticed them – from film screenings and a discussion of underground Palestinian music to a workshop on kite-making. Kites have a precious historical position in Palestinian society, used across the West Bank and Gaza strip as a form of political resistance and expression of Palestinian identity. The kites flown from SOAS's gardens were a show of solidarity with the people in Palestine, longing to be as free as the kites themselves.

The highlight of the day was Zaytouna's dabke performance- a traditional Palestinian dance. It was remarkable to see so many people go along with the flow and the rhythm of the dance troupe and immerse themselves into such an aesthetically pleasing and empowering culture. There were also several discussions, carving out a discursive space where people could exchange ideas and explore different narratives.

The atmosphere was certainly festive, aided by the face-painting, henna, graffiti murals and artwork on display throughout. Both days ended up with concert performances, though of differing dispositions. Saturday ended with a night of Palestinian hip-hop, a treat served up by DAM, Gaza Team, Crazy Haze and others. Sunday hosted a more melodic, soothing classical concert of Palestinian music with Habib Shehadeh Hana featuring Rhana Khoury.

All in all, it was a remarkable weekend which fused the experience of knowledge with joy of discovery. Everyone learnt a bit more about Palestinian culture and why it is so important to keep fighting for it. Perhaps the most pleasing thing about the festival was the amount of young people present and taking part in a variety of ways. Although they are young today, they won't be young forever; one day, they will be in charge- and things will change.

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Photos courtesy of Celine Smith www.celinesmith.com/
Hosted by SOAS Palestine Society

SOAS Palestine Society
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