Palestinian youth learn acrobatic skills but cannot leap across checkpoints. They face movement and access restrictions just as most Palestinians do.
Tamara Khalid Aliya and Nida' Raed are ten-year-old Palestine refugees living in Al Amari camp, Ramallah, hemmed in by the Barrier and military checkpoints.
Like many girls of their age, Tamara and Nida' are energetic, giggly and inquisitive. However, unlike many they can stand on their heads, juggle and fearlessly dangle from high ropes and swinging trapezes – skills they learned at the Palestinian Circus School.
The Palestinian Circus School, brainchild of Shadi Zmorrod, started in 2006 with a travelling show "Circus behind the Wall," referring to the West Bank Barrier. Young Palestinians of all backgrounds participate in these classes, including refugees and non-refugees, from urban areas and from villages.
The Barrier and its associated regime of gates and permits make travel for the Mobile Circus a nightmare. "We are working hard to organise the shows, to see which city they should be in;" Shadi explains. "We look at the map. But when we look at reality, maybe in a normal situation it would only take half an hour, but here it may take 3-4 hours and in the end you may not even arrive."
Shadi said that with its classes and tours, the Circus School aims to traverse and eventually break down barriers of all types, including social barriers within Palestinian society.
In August, the Circus School completed its Mobile Circus ‘08 Tour, which played to crowds all over the occupied West Bank and, for the first time, included a show in the occupied Golan Heights.
The Mobile Circus has to organise permits for the 25 members of the Circus School and its two vehicles. This can be a difficult task. The issue of access and freedom of movement is pertinent in the northern West Bank city of Qalqiliya, which is surrounded on three sides by the Barrier.
On the morning of a show there, the circus troupe was held up at a Qalqiliya checkpoint, one of only two access points to the city.
While the performers waited around for their entry to Qalqiliya to be negotiated, the expectant crowd was also left waiting for one and a half hours under the sun. "The kids got very hot and a bit bored I think, but at least we could do the show– that’s the lucky thing. We were a bit afraid we might not get through," a Circus School coordinator, Jessica, said.
As for the girls from Al Amari, they are definitely enthusiastic. "I love it" said Nida' who has been attending the Circus School for six months. "The trapeze and acrobatics are my favorite parts of the circus," added Tamara.
Both girls said they would like to continue with the Circus School and perform in the shows. When asked where they would like to perform, the resounding answer is "all around Palestine."
If the restrictions and obstacles in the West Bank persist, this aspiration may well involve a lot of hanging around – and not just on the trapeze.