The sounds of laughing, ancient songs and traditional instruments, the marching feet of the bagpipers, and the stomping feet of the dabke dancers permeate the streets and alleyways of Birzeit’s Old City for five days every summer. The sights of Palestinian embroideries, glass-making, and ceramics, together with the aromas of fresh-baked “mana’esh” and apples from the Golan complete the sensory explosion that is the Birzeit Heritage Week. The wonders of Palestinian heritage and history are revisited while a trip to the Saadeh Science House connects visitors to the future.
The Heritage Week Festival in Birzeit is unique among festivals in the breadth and diversity of the exhibits, productions, articles for sale, and activities. It is unique in its attempt to weave the fabric of the historic area of Birzeit into a mosaic of activities and events converting it to what might become a bustling tourism and cultural heritage center. There will be cinema, street performances, theater for adults and for children, and dancing and music – much, much music, from jazz to traditional Palestinian folk songs. There will be soloists and big bands, groups from inside and outside the Green line, with songs that may be witty, patriotic, cynical, or hopeful. Art, some from prisoners, will be everywhere – hanging in courtyards and attics, depicting the obstacles of today’s life under Occupation. Other countries join in Birzeit’s festivities at the “International Souq”.
The opening ceremony and a very special highlight is a traditional Palestinian wedding. Visitors to the heritage week will be able to observe millennia-old wedding rituals – women carrying on their heads flower-bedecked trays of henna which will be applied to the bride, the joyous singing and call-and-response chanting of the “al-zaffeh” accompanying the groom, the “al-suffeh” head-dress and tunic decorated with exquisite traditional Palestinian embroidery, a technique that came to Palestine in the 8th century when Damascus produced the fine needles requisite for embroidering intricate designs. The ceremony ends with an exuberant and very traditional “dabka” dance, expressing the joys of new beginnings symbolized by the weddings.
Held under the patronage of the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, the Festival represents a focus central to Rozana’s work in rural tourism: developing networks and partnerships to promote sustainable experiential tourism and improve local economies in the Birzeit area and beyond. Over the years Rozana has established collaborations with multiple local and international organizations — the Birzeit Municipality and University, Birzeit Senior Citizen Center, the Palestinian Circus School, villages in the Birzeit area, Arab connections inside the Green Line, in the Golan Heights, Haifa, the Nazareth community, Ramleh and Lid, Palestinians and organizations in the Palestinian diaspora, and representatives of international organizations. These partnerships are crucial to the success of the Heritage Week Festival and reflect Rozana’s efforts to strengthen the bond of Palestinian culture across the West Bank, Gaza, the land of ’48, and Palestinians in the diaspora. International support for the Festival is exhibited in the “International Souq” where numerous countries have displayed their products. Major and continuing support has come from the European Union with funding for training youth in festival management and leadership skills and for training women in modern marketing.