Your agenda to a year of Palestinian festivals
From lettuce, apricots and local bear to handicraft, music and contemporary art, Palestine has a festival scene that celebrates life’s more beautiful sides on many occasions throughout the year.
This is a list of the wide range of cultural events that take place in various cities and villages across the Palestinian lands, from spring to winter. While different, they all share the same aim: to expand our mental horizons and provide a relief from daily struggles; to connect people and places currently separated by walls and borders – and invite people to simply have a good time.
Ramallah Contemporary Dance Festival
What: Contemporary dance, workshops
Where: Ramallah, Jerusalem
How much: Around NIS 25 ($6). Some events are free
Organised by Sareyyet Ramallah, established in 1930 as one of the first scout organisations in Palestine, this festival invites a wide range of international contemporary dance troupes to join stage with Palestinian counterparts. Held annually since 2007, it is an event to promote contemporary dance and showcase talent. There are workshops on production, movement and other aspects of dance, as well as film screenings of movies such as Wim Wenders’ Pina. Sareyyet Ramallah has its own dance school aimed at children and the youth.
Palestine Festival of Literature
What: Books, literary workshops
Where: Ramallah, Gaza, Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Haifa, Nablus
How much: Free
This festival is a celebration of literature in a place where the written and spoken word remains at risk of being sidelined by the struggle for survival. Running every year since 2008, Palestine Festival of Literature aims to reaffirm, in the words of Edward Said, “the power of culture over the culture of power”. Participating writers and poets from Palestine, other parts of the Arabic-speaking region and beyond perform public readings of their recent works, while foreign guests are taken on tours around Palestine to learn, first-hand, about the occupied realities. The festival’s Facebook page is a good source of culture-related happenings related to Palestine.
Birzeit Heritage Week
What: Handcraft and local produce market, cultural shows, music performances
How much: Free / NIS 20 ($5) for evening concerts
Home to one of Palestine’s biggest universities, Birzeit is also an ancient town. For several days during summer its old city streets, squares and terraces become a space to showcase Palestine’s cultural heritage, from locally produced honey and olive oil soap to ceramics, glass work, tatreez (embroidery), taboun (stone oven) bread, handmade jewellery and traditional dance. The timing of the 2016 edition could have been better: the heritage week was held at an already busy time, right after Eid al-Fitr and at the height of the wedding season.
Palestine International Festival for Dance & Music
What: Concerts, dance shows
Where: Ramallah, Jenin, Hebron, Jerusalem, Gaza
How much: NIS 10-30 ($2.5-7). Some events are free
Organised by the Popular Art Center since 1993 (suspended between 2000 and 2005 due to the second Intifada), this event aims to break the cultural occupational siege imposed on the people of Palestine, and to help revive and restructure the cultural scene. Among the headliners this year were Souad Massi from Algeria, Ghalia Benali from Tunisia and 47SOUL from Britain, Palestine and Jordan. At the Coral al-Thawra event in Ramallah 2016, senior members of the audience sang along to revolutionary songs of their youth, hiding tears in their eyes; during other nights, people moved away their chairs and danced until the stage had sunk down by some 20 centimetres.
Palestine Choral Festival
What: Choir performances, choral workshops, conductor training, special children’s shows
Where: Gaza, Hebron, Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Ni’lin, Ramallah, Beit Sahour, Nazareth, Beit Jala, Beit Reema, Shefa-‘Amr, Nablus, Taybeh, Deir Ghassane, Aboud, Jenin, Birzeit
How much: Free
This festival brings Palestinian churches, choirs and instrumental ensembles, as well as guest choirs from Australia, Britain and France, on a trip across historic Palestine, visiting churches and cultural halls to promote song as a form of community music-making. Singing, according to the organisers, is “the world’s oldest form of music-making and has been used for celebration, protest, joy and mourning in every part of the world in every generation.” It is also, they say, “the easiest way of making music with other people, and one of the best ways of expressing emotion through sound.”
Bet Lahem Live
What: Music, handcrafts, workshops, theatre, multi-faith, children and community activities
How much: Free
Carrying the positive message of peace and built on the three pillars of faith, culture, and justice, Bet Lahem Live is a street festival organised in and around Bethlehem’s old city, with its restored white stone architecture. Participating artists come from places including Scotland and Japan, as well as Bethlehem and neighbouring Beit Sahour. Workshops range from sustainable community building to achievements of the Right to Movement, which organises the Palestine Marathon. Because the festival aims to be inclusive and serve the people, members and guests from the local community are invited to perform, give talks or exhibit their handcrafts.
Ramallah Summer Festival
What: Handicraft souq, music and dance performances
How much: Free
A week-long event organised by the Ramallah municipality, this festival is attended mostly by families with children. Ramallah, once a sleepy village but today Palestine’s main urban center, used to be the place where well-to-do Palestinians went in the summer. The city’s cooler climate offers an escape from the heat, and its windy evenings are the perfect setting for tea-sipping and conversing in the many stone villa verandas.
Shepherds Beer Fest
What: Beer and music / Birzeit Brewery’s alternative to the Taybeh Oktoberfest
How much: NIS 20 ($5)
Shepherds is a beer hand-crafted in Birzeit Brewery near Ramallah, named in honour of Palestine’s ancestors, many of whom were farmers and shepherds. The business, run by three brothers from the Sayej family – hence the tagline “Brewed by Brothers for Friends” – started in 2015. Their beer is now available in most bars and alcohol-selling shops in Ramallah and Bethlehem. In August 2016, the brewery organised its first festival, a two-day event that drew crowds to a tree-lined plaza in Birzeit’s old city. While the draft beer didn’t run as smoothly as expected – there was a technical issue with the draft machines – live music, stand-up comedy and DJs from Haifa kept people busy moving to the rhythm.
Palestine Alternative Music Festival (PAM Fest)
Where: Beit Sahour
How much: NIS 70 ($18)
The first PAM fest was organised in 2016, gathering more than a dozen Palestinian bands to perform to old and new fans who had decided to pay the rather hefty entrance fee. In an attempt to unite the musical scene of Haifa and Akka with that of Ramallah and Bethlehem, PAM Fest brought, among others, the regionally famous rap band DAM to the stage. The festival was held in ‘Oush Gurab (“Crow’s nest”), a leisurely area outside Beit Sahour town overlooked by an Israeli army tower; it used to be a military area until it was vacated by the occupying army and reclaimed by the people.
What: Beer and music / Palestine’s version of Münich’s Oktoberfest
When: September 24-25, 2016
How much: NIS 20 ($5)
Taybeh Brewing Company, in the town of Taybeh in Ramallah district, is modern Palestine’s first independent brewery, founded in 1994 by the Khoury family. Despite logistic challenges from both Israeli and Palestinian authorities, as well as conservative attitudes from the larger community, the company has organised a beer festival since 2005 (at that time, one of the brewery’s founders was the town mayor, which might’ve helped). In 2013, the festival was forced to move from Taybeh to a posh hotel in Ramallah, due to conflicts with the new municipality over supposed unruly drunk crowds and questions about whether the community benefited from the event. In 2014, it was cancelled in solidarity with the people of Gaza after Israel’s summer attack. It returned in 2015 and continued in 2016.
What: Contemporary art, exhibitions, panel discussions, artist talks, tours
When: October 5-31, 2016
Where: Haifa, Gaza, London, Beirut, Amman, Jerusalem, Ramallah, Bethlehem
How much: Free
Qalandiya International is a contemporary art event, co-founded by several arts institutions in a collaborative effort to form links across the fragmented geography of Palestine. Organised every two years, with both Palestinian and foreign participating artists, the festival intends to put Palestine back on the global cultural map. A month-long programme packed with artistic and cultural events travels across historic Palestine and – for the first time this year – crosses borders as well, traveling to Beirut, London and Amman. The name, according to the organisers, refers to a meeting place for contradictions: Qalandiya today is a monstrous checkpoint, refugee camp and congested traffic area, whereas only a couple of decades ago it was Jerusalem’s airport and, hundreds of years before that, a sleepy agricultural area.
Palestine Circus Festival
What: Circus shows and workshops
Where: Ramallah, al-Bireh, Birzeit, Nablus, Jenin, al-Fara’a, Jerusalem
How much: Free
Celebrating its 10th birthday, the Palestine Circus School organised an international circus festival in October 2016, across various venues with special programs for children and youth. They hope making it an annual event. The school, which was established in 2006, teaches children acrobatics, trapeze, tissue, theatrical movements and other circus acts. Its wider mission is to help children tackle mental frustrations that arise from their lived environment.
Days of Cinema
What: Films, workshops, panel discussions
When: October 15-21, 2016
Where: Ramallah, Gaza, Jenin, Bethlehem, Jerusalem
How much: Free
This festival has been organised since 2014 by Film Lab: Palestine, a Ramallah-based non-profit aimed at promoting film culture and creating a dynamic film industry in Palestine. It brings a programme with local and international shorts, features and documentaries, mostly screened at cultural centres in different locations. Around 60 films from 25 countries were part of the 2015 edition.
Celebrating the land
What: Different local festivals
When: Throughout the year
Where: In different locations in Palestine
How much: Some free, some around NIS 100 ($25) per person, with lunch and guided tours included
Historically an agricultural place, today’s Palestine has lost much of its land and water resources to the colonial entity. Still, certain villages boast high-quality produce, and organise day-long festivals dedicated to specific fruits or vegetables in their harvest seasons, usually in spring and autumn. However, due to factors like unforeseen closures, village council (in)activity or donor unreliability, these festivals are sometimes sporadic and we advise you check with information centres like Visit Palestine before planning a visit.
Among the most famous vegetable festivals are:
Lettuce in Artas (Bethlehem district)
Aubergine in Battir (Bethlehem)
Faqous in Beit Sahour (Bethlehem)
Apricot in Jifna (Ramallah)
Maftoul/cous cous in Birzeit (Ramallah)
Olives in Burqin (Jenin)
Grapes in Al-Khalil/Hebron