TEDxRamallah: Voices from Free Palestine

On Saturday 16th April, TEDxRamallah, a remarkable transnational event will be taking place in Bethlehem, Amman and Beirut, to be streamed on the same day to venues in more than 20 cities across the world, from Cairo to New York. Asserting “the power of culture over the culture of power”,(1) in the words of the late Edward W. Said, the event will offer a stage for a diverse array of Palestinian and international speakers and performers from entrepreneurs, to musicians, to human rights activists. In the words of the organisers:

“TEDxRamallah is a platform that brings forward the realization that Palestine is a topic that goes beyond a country occupied, and beyond a refugee stranded. It is one that starts apprehending the very essence of Palestinians and Palestine, that they are after all, as rich a nation as every other nation. That by narrowing our vocabulary about Palestine to hardship and pity is but to belittle the life, energy, beauty, and passion that too is present in them – or should we say in us – since being Palestinian has no border or nationality.”(2)

Main TEDxRamallah venues, refugee camps and destroyed villages

Main TEDxRamallah venues, refugee camps and destroyed villages (arenaofspeculation.org)

The event offers a novel model for a form of ‘spatial resistance’ with the potential to transcend the fragmented geography that has come to define the experience of Palestinian diaspora. The venues for the event, both within the region and beyond, closely mirror the contours of the Palestinian diaspora. Amman and Beirut are particularly pertinent for their place in Palestinian refugee life, so close and yet so far, for many, from the geographic territory of Palestine. In the words of TEDxRamallah event curator Ramzi Jaber, the cities were chosen specifically to bring “people who cannot be part of the event in Palestine closer to the live experience”.(3)

Yet it would be hard to characterise TEDxRamallah as a purely ‘national’ event, given some of the international names taking to the stage, and the diverse audience expected to attend the satellite events. Indeed, perhaps it is more crucially a model for breaking down other, more deeply ingrained, barriers. Offering a platform where the Palestinian people can engage with the world individually and collectively as equals rather than relying on Israel, or even the global Palestine solidarity movement (however well-meaning), as their interpreters.

Satellite events, highlighting countries with significant Palestinian population

Satellite events, highlighting countries with significant Palestinian population (arenaofspeculation.org)

It is maybe only in Ramallah, often described as a surreal bubble of normality within the everyday abnormality of the Palestinian territories, that an event such as this could be conceived. A city where the spectrum of political possibilities often appears wider than the more brutal manifestations of the Israeli occupation would suggest. Yet the translocation of its namesake event to Bethlehem, by accident rather than by design (the Ramallah Palace of Culture, the originally intended venue, is undergoing refurbishment), somehow challenges the idea that ‘Ramallah Syndrome’ requires such a bubble in order to thrive.

So for one day, Bethlehem, a city almost entirely encircled by the physical barrier of the ‘Wall’, will become the centre of a truly global cultural event. Perhaps such an occasion will offer the possibility to imagine ‘Free Palestine’ as a place that exists in the present – brought into reality by a moment of individual and collective agency – rather than a hollow demand to be realised at an unknown point in the future by some greater power. Today, Free Palestine may not have found a solid geographic form, but it has rediscovered its many voices, and TEDxRamallah will surely become a noteworthy episode of its history in the making.

(Post-event update: Watch the whole event online here. Individual talks coming soon. See below for dynamic map of global venues by Robert Ferry of Studied Impact.)

The main venue, Bethlehem Convention Palace

The main venue, Bethlehem Convention Palace (TEDxRamallah)

As individuals, arenaofspeculation.org contributors Dena Qaddumi and Ahmad Barclay have been active in the organisation of the TEDxRamallah satellite events in Doha and London, and as a collective, arenaofspeculation.org has been working to promote and endorse the event itself.

To find a TEDxRamallah event near you, please visit the official website.


Endnotes

1. This quote is attributed to Said by the Palestine Festival of Literature, which has adopted this phrase as its motto.

2. From the Bethlehem programme of the TEDxRamallah event.

3. From TEDxRamallah press release, dated 17th February, 2011.

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