Minister of Culture Atef Abu Saif.
Minister of Culture Atef Abu Saif. Photo: Vibeke Harper

Village life in the West Bank

Travelogue: Palestinian Minister of Culture and award-winning author Atef Abu Saif wants to highlight the rich cultural heritage and bring the art to the people.

Published: 2020-01-02

The afternoon light is soft in Ramallah during autumn; as the sun goes down, the city is packed into golden haze. The season's first rainfall just washed the olive trees clean; the harvest can finally begin. International solidarity activists have already arrived in the West Bank to protect the olive farmers attacks by Israeli settlers.

The annual Palestine Heritage Week will be held just before the harvest starts in full, with village festivals in every nook. This year will be complicated by the celebration of Israel introducing power cuts for the villages, which will have to cope for a whole week without electricity. The Occupation Authority claims that the Palestinian authorities have not paid the electricity bill. The Palestinian Authority (PA) accuses on its side Israel for withholding cash payments to PA from February this year. Palestinians' confidence in their own authorities declines; the Israeli occupation wears off the forces and hopes for change. The festival week with celebration of own cultural heritage is badly needed.

If luck keeps him alive, Saif may end up at the top of the political hierarchy in Palestine.

I'm sitting in the back of the car of PA's relatively fresh Culture Minister Atef Abu Saif (46), along with his adviser Raed Fares, while security officer Mustafa gently drives over slippery roads out of Ramallah. In the presidency, Saif is enthusiastically concerned that the culture belongs to the people. “The field of art is most aimed at the elite. But the vegetable vendors in the souk should also feel at home in the theater, at exhibitions and other cultural events. The culture is glued to every society and must be inclusive, ”he says. The Minister follows up from village to village to attend local festivals all week, and tonight we drive to Bil'in and Kafr Ni'ma, west of Ramallah.

Atef Abu Saif became Minister of Culture in May 2019 and is one of the youngest Palestinian politicians. He holds a doctorate in political science, but is also an award-winning author, and in 2016 he visited the MOT show in Oslo with the book Under the drones. Diary from Gaza. His family was among the more than 750 Palestinians who…

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