I went to the TEDxRamallah this Saturday not knowing what to expect. And when I went home almost 12 hours later I barely knew what had hit me.
One speaker after the other blew me away with messages of hope for a better future for Palestine. None of the messages were of hate or agression but of creative ways to overcome the obstacles Palestinians meet in their everyday lives.
First published by Palestine Monitor: Ready. Aim. Inspire
The room buzzed with anticipation as the hosts, comedian Jamil Abu Wardeh and International Solidarity Movement co-founder Huwaida Arraf entered the stage to welcome the audience to the first TEDxRamallah this last Saturday in Bethlehem.
The slogan for the event was “Ready. Aim. Inspire.” And so speakers and artists from all over the world – most with Palestinian roots or a experience working in Palestine – came to do just that.
Moviemakers, authors, engineers, singers, architects and others took the stage to spread ideas and inspiration to the people in the audience physically or digitally, watching live via the web.
Among the speakers were: Steve Sosebee, founder of Palestine Children’s Fund, who introduced six-year old cancer survivor Ola who brightens up the room with a “grazie”; architect, writer and Palestinian refugee Suad Amiry celebrated her 60th birthday at TEDx, joking about her dog’s Israeli passport, and how humor can be deployed; the first Palestinian hip hop band DAM had everyone clapping and humming “I fell in love with a Jew”; and with her lively presence and contagious laugh, blind psychosocial counselor Laila Atchan, convincingly passed on the message: “No fence and no wall can stop people from living their lives.”
Addressing apartheid and a one-state-solution
One of event’s most prominent speakers, Alice Walker, the first African American recipient to win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, talked of her conversation with the Israeli soldier who interrogated her at the King Hussein Bridge crossing.
“He was Googling what I’d ever said on the issue about Palestine,” she said, asking the soldier, “Now, my view is that if South Africans could live together, why can’t you live together?”
The room fell silent as Alice Walker continued:
“And like with you, for a moment he was silent. And then the soldier said ´There’s just too much hatred.’ And I was glad to hear his honesty, but this is something that needs to be discussed a lot.”
Just one story can change people’s narrative
Taking about her award-winning documentary film Budrus, Julia Bacha explained how she found out that the events in Budrus weren’t being covered by international media because it didn’t fit into people’s perception of what was going on.
“It has a word,” Bacha said. “Cognitive dissonance.”
“It means that it actually creates pain in the brain when encountered with information that doesn’t fit with our narrative. So we ignore the info or change our narrative,” she said.
And this is why she finds storytelling of major importance.
“We only need one story to significantly change the narrative of what is going on,” she said.
Speaking the new language of the Internet
Though TEDxRamallah was based in Bethlehem, venues in Amman and Beirut had also been set up for speakers who couldn’t come to the West Bank to participate. Audiences in all three places could follow the event live on big screens. And in addition to this, the talks were also streamed to the TEDxRamallah website for people who congregated at 19 different locations around the world as well as those just watching on their computer.
“The new technologies that we have now give us unlimited possibilities to express ourselves in a new language that goes beyond culture and tradition. It’s called the Internet. I call it a language because it’s a way of telling our thoughts,” said Sam Katiela, the Managing and Creatve Director of mamemo productions and the event director of TEDxRamallah.
“The recent events in the Middle East and the rest of the world have shown us the power of the Internet as people organize themselves through this communication tool, this language, whether it’s Facebook, Twitter or other social networks,” he said.
And the followers of TEDxRamallah definitely speak Internet: “TEDxRamallah” trended on Twitter most of the day with tweets such as: “Watching TEDxRamallah from India! Thank God for internet haha.”
Technology and entrepreneurship in Palestine
“The internet has amplified voices. Some are being heard for the first time,” said Gisel Kordestani, the director of New Business Development at Google. “The internet has provided a catalyst that was critical for people to openly express their ideas and discontent.”
Kordestani works with developing technology in Palestine. She helps entrepreneurs build business online with mobile and web-applications, and helps people in the refugee camps make use the Internet to spread ideas.
“I do this because – I’m not a doctor; I don’t know how to save lives or build hospitals – I am an entrepreneur and a technologist. And so I do what I know,” Kordestani said. “And by doing what you know, I believe you can overcome the paralysis when you don’t what to do to make a difference.”
See the speakers: