On Sept. 15, I attended the third annual Palipalooza, a Palestine-centered concert in Chicago, on behalf of Learning for the Empowerment and Advancement of Palestinians. LEAP is an organization I volunteered with this summer that provides Palestinian children living in refugee camps south of Lebanon with a six-week intensive English program to help prepare them for the Brevet, an English-heavy examination all Lebanese students must take to go to high school or vocational schools. Through LEAP, I had the opportunity to connect with people who quickly became my brothers, sisters and best friends. However, not everyone gets to witness what the Israeli occupation means firsthand and see how it affects people they love, which is why events like Palipalooza are so important.
Palipalooza gave Palestine-centered vendors a chance to showcase their music, films and products. Among the vendors was Wear The Peace. Aside from providing great conversation, they also had fashionable products and an inspirational mission. For each item of clothing sold, one was donated, and 100 percent of the money raised from accessories was donated to the Helping Hands for Relief and Development and Palestine Children’s Relief Fund. They sold stylish items, some with Arabic script, including jewelry saying “Love” and clothing with the word “Peace,” and they used their designs to promote resistance through fashion.
Murad Nofal, co-founder of Wear the Peace, described, “Me and Mustafa [Mabruk] wanted to start a movement where we can spread awareness and peace through clothing and at the same time give back to those same causes we're trying to bring attention to.” This is one of the few companies I have encountered where I genuinely knew my money was going to help people in need, and their political clothing items encouraged people to learn more, even if only for the sake of knowing what they are wearing.
Mary Hazboun, a Palestinian folk singer, writer and artist, was showcasing cartoons from her collection “The Art of Weeping” at another table. Hazboun, born in Bethlehem, began doodling as a way to cope with flashbacks and panic attacks that she would experience from her time living under Israeli military occupation and being forced from her home. She now uses her artwork as a platform to share her narrative and resist through her pieces. She translates her pain and experiences into unique and delicate cartoons, often depicting women with symbols of the Palestinian diaspora like the keffiyeh, traditional embroidery and the key of return.
“Events like Palipalooza make me feel like I am back in Palestine, even if it is for a few hours. To be around Palestinians and other people of color activists & artists who use their creative work as a form of resistance is crucial to highlight how our struggles are interconnected,” Hazboun reflected. The emotion that was so prevalent in every single one of her drawings allowed viewers to connect to something raw and personal that none of us had actually experienced.
One of the talents performing was Lakota rapper and producer Frank Waln. Waln made the connection between the apartheid in Palestine and the ethnic cleansing of his Native American ancestors, as well as the erasure of indigenous histories by the colonial settler, both points reminiscent of Mahmoud Darwish’s poem, “Speech of the Red Indian.” My favorite song he performed was “What Makes the Red Man Red?” from the classic Disney cartoon “Peter Pan.” He transformed this racist song and countered the stereotypes that have been produced since America was founded through lyrics like “You made me red when you killed my people” and “We died for the birth of your nation,” both of which I feel apply to the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He also sang a song called “My People Come From the Land,” which fought back against attempts by Americans to erase the natives’ connection to the country, describing the land as open for the settlers to come, occupy and “civilize.” This parallels an argument used by Israelis today. Waln’s final call was to tell the audience not to let what happened to Native Americans happen again to the Palestinians, encouraging us to fight back against injustice and not let history repeat itself. Waln’s music showed viewers you don’t need to be Palestinian to show solidarity in what is unjust because everyone has experience with and can recognize injustice.
When I was asked to drive to Chicago so close to the start of the new school year, I was a little hesitant. However, the opportunity to meet all of these strong and talented people who were so connected to their identities made the trip more than worth it. It was beautiful to see different communities showing up in support of Palestine, and it made me realize you don’t need to have a personal connection to relate to the struggle of a people oppressed. The solidarity and coalition building shown at Palipalooza is something I hope to see reflected more often in the coming school year, and we are already off to an admirable start with the practice of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement shown by Associate Prof. John Cheney-Lippold in declining to write a recommendation letter for a study abroad trip in occupied Palestine. As a student body, we should take after Cheney-Lippold and refuse to be bystanders complicit in the human rights abuses carried out by Israel against Palestinians.