The Children of Ibdaa:
To Create Something Out of Nothing
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The Children of Ibdaa: To Create Something Out of Nothing

When I arrived at Dheisheh refugee camp in January 2002 I had spent time with the Ibdaa dance troupe when they were touring the U.S., so I knew the kids and was familiar with the message of their inspired performance. I intuited that there was a great story surrounding these kids, but I did not know how it would be told.

I had an idea about the hardships of day-to-day life - the lack of water, electricity, and other resources, the challenges of my dietary needs as a vegetarian, and the fears of having Israeli military in the area, though I had never lived under those circumstances.

The kids took me around to their families' homes and made me feel very welcome. I spent most days with them at the Ibdaa Cultural Center, the only public gathering place to which the kids can go.

Part of my intention was to simply live life with the community and capture what it means to live in a refugee camp. It was winter and raining and cold. Most people do not have clothing that offers ample protection against the harsh weather. I heated hot water on the stove for a warm bath and slept in my clothes and coat. Some people have space heaters, but many do not. Even if they do, electricity was cut off for most of the time I was there. I was always waiting for those moments during which I could recharge my camera's batteries. I remember the kids gathering around candles to do their homework and parents telling stories in the dark.

I met people of all ages and heard their family histories and personal dreams. The Ibdaa kids are third generation Palestinian refugees. It was their grandparents who were young kids in 1948 when Israel was created in historical Palestine. Their parents were born in the refugee camps and so were they. Most of them have never left the area around the refugee camp.

Oral tradition is important to the Palestinians. I heard many of the grandparents tell of their journey from village to refugee camp, and the struggles that ensued. One of these moments in captured in the film when Manar visits her grandfather and he tells her of the Palestinian Diaspora.

Regardless of where a Palestinian is born, he or she identifies with the place of their grandparents' village. Most of the Palestinians who were expelled from their villages in 1948 have not been able to return back to visit them, let alone regain their lives. This is what is meant by the 'Right to Return.' It is the collective dream that the Palestinian refugees will return to their homeland.

The activist Shirabe Yamada of the Middle East Children's Alliance was there and had the great idea to take some of the Ibdaa kids to their villages so that they could see their homeland for the first time.

During this time, movement for Palestinians was restricted, but not as severe as it is today. All vehicles had license plates color-coded so that the soldiers could easily identify the car owner when the car approached a checkpoint. Drivers in cars with Palestinian plates were stopped for questioning.

We rented a tourist van in Jerusalem, which had license plates from Israel. Shirabe and I sat in front and piled the kids in back on the floor and out of sight. We were waved through three checkpoints.

Today this could never happen. When I was in the West Bank during the summer of 2002 shooting the follow-up feature, 'Greetings From Palestine', no one was allowed on the streets. Palestinians were under curfew, meaning they couldn't leave their homes.

Last summer when I showed the kids the film, we marveled at how times had changed. We thought the life there was difficult then, but in comparison to the current strains, it was idyllic.

The Children of Ibdaa: To Create Something Out of Nothing is a 30-minute documentary about the members of the Ibdaa dance troupe, the meaning in their performance and their lives as refugees.

Since its completion in March 2002 it has played at over 30 film festivals and dozens of activist and educational events worldwide.