Breaking Israeli-Palestinian Clichés in Paris

Tucked away in the 20th arrondissement of Paris is the colorful neighborhood of Belleville, a piece of the classic city that has served as a flourishing home to immigrant communities of Paris. Historically, Belleville has been a haven to Jewish communities and more recently Chinese, Sub-Saharan and North African immigrants, specifically the Mezrahim Jews. For Ines Weill-Rochant and Kenza Aloui, Belleville's unique identity made it the perfect location for them to hold the first ever independent Israeli-Palestinian festival in Paris.

"This is not going to be your typical Israeli-Palestinian festival" said Ines, 24 during a recent Skype conversation."Pèlerinage en décalage" translates to "Off the Wall" in English and that is exactly what this two-day pilgrimage is all about--bringing together the unique voices of Israeli and Palestinian society that are over-shadowed by the politics of the region and the clichés attached to them. The event will be held from May 24-25th and it has attracted a number of Palestinians and Israelis actively engaged in using the arts to express their unique opinions. These young and vibrant filmmakers, architects, musicians and artists will put on a series of performances, workshops and interactive exhibitions all with the goal in mind of exposing the participants to a different angle of Israeli and Palestinian culture.

Ines and Kenza met during their undergraduate studies at the Middle Eastern and Mediterranean Studies Campus of the prestigious Sciences-Po of Paris, with both having strong ties to the Middle East. Kenza, also 24, originally hails from Morocco and Ines grew up as French national in Jerusalem with her family. Growing up in Jerusalem had a particularly strong impact on Ines's understanding of the conflict and the broader region, as the majority of her friends were Palestinian. Ines and her childhood friend decided to room together in college and she remarked that they were constantly barraged with questions from their fellow classmates over how it was possible for them to "get along" given their backgrounds.

Kenza on the other hand spent her mandatory year abroad at Tel Aviv University, an unprecedented decision for an Arab student, given the nature of the conflict and the political question of "normalizing" ties with Israel. During her time in Tel Aviv, she took up a full course load dedicated to familiarizing herself with the dynamics of Israel and Palestinian society by studying the Hebrew language, Israeli society and Palestinian poetry. She also spent time working in Israel as an intern with the human rights organization Amnesty International. It was on the streets of Tel Aviv and Jaffa that she became acquainted with some of the eclectic members of the underground artistic scene of Israel, who all had "very specific messages to convey."

The messages that these artists have to share are not the typical narrative one would find in the usual discourse relating to Israel and Palestine. The two friends agreed that it is very difficult for outsiders to develop a complete understanding of what life is like for both Israelis and Palestinians considering that, when tourists come to visit, they are "fed" with competing narratives and extreme one side views of the piece of land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean. What Kenza and Ines are primarily interested in is focusing on how creative individuals from both sides will be able to change people's perspectives of what life is like in Israel and Palestine. At the same time, they are looking to break down clichés and create what their festival brochure calls a "cultural space without borders."

The girls have a bright and positive outlook on the future of their festival and hope to bring it to cities around the world, transforming it into a traveling "nomad" festival. "Every time you take it someplace new, there will be all different kinds interactions because of the different people participating," said Kenza. Approximately 200-500 people are expected to attend the leisurely structured event, which will feature various workshops on differing identities, languages, and documentary screenings as well as lots of opportunity for interactions and lively discussions with inquisitive-minded individuals. The event is completely independent and receives no funding from the Israeli government, the Palestinian authority or the French government, with Kenza and Ines focusing solely on fundraising on their own. Their crowd-funding campaign has taken off to a successful start and they have reached their goal of 5,000 Euros, with only about two weeks left of the fundraising campaign to go. Funds will be used exclusively to pay for transportation and housing for the festival's artists, who are all volunteering their time to participate.

Initiatives like "Pèlerinage en décalage" are inspiring examples of what young people from the region are working towards to encourage more personal interaction between Israelis and Palestinians. Much hope is offered by creative individuals like Kenza and Ines and their approach to use the arts to attempt to achieve a small break in the impasse of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.