At the reception desks of hotels in East Jerusalem, and in the few dozen hotels in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the June edition of This Week in Palestine was available. The magazine, similar to others at tourist destinations all over the world, is particularly interesting both because it is published and because of its content. The magazine makes a great effort to communicate business as usual; an image of normal life. This includes evenings of theater, chamber music and dance; art galleries and restaurants.
An Israeli browsing through the magazine is puzzled: He is accustomed only to reports of violence, roadblocks, settlers and operations by the Israel Defense Forces. But through the magazine he is exposed to a society that is sophisticated, up-to-date on advances in technology and graphics - an entirely different picture.
The "empty market square" syndrome, epitomized in the Naomi Shemer song "Jerusalem of Gold (which ignores the existence of a Palestinian civil society and only feels its presence in connection with confrontation and terrorism), contributes to our surprise at discovering that the Palestinians are holding several festivals this summer. A chamber music festival that will include 22 concerts and 50 musicians - most from abroad - will be held in six towns; in July, Bethlehem will host a musical festival for youth; and in Jerusalem, the Jerusalem Festival will include performances by artists from South America, Poland, Spain, Britain and France, in addition to seven local groups. In June, there will be six concerts in Jerusalem, four in Bethlehem, one in Jenin, eight in Ramallah, and also 16 plays, dance performances, children's shows, and even seven new art exhibitions in different venues.
There are more than 100 cultural centers in the territories; the largest concentration is in Ramallah-El Bireh, where 30 such institutions operate. The most active theater is Ishtar which, since April, has hosted the "Theater Season of the Oppressed" festival, with the participation of local and foreign troupes, and with funding from the European Union and other sources. Loyal to its motto, "Building Bridges, Destroying Roadblocks," the theater is holding performances in June in seven villages in the Jenin area. According to statistics from the theater, in recent years it has held 179 performances in villages and refugee camps, and 262 in the cities. Genuine culture for the masses.
The difficult reality of life emerges in nearly every article in the magazine and from every bit of information, in spite of the effort to hide it behind the colorful graphics and the article on the fashion show in Beit Sahur in July.
The magazine is also reporting a new initiative: To encourage tourists to wander around independently in East Jerusalem and Bethlehem to dispel the myth that it is dangerous and that one can easily get lost there." Industrialists and importers are complaining about the difficulties posed by the Israeli authorities in ports and at roadblocks, and about the restrictions on the free movement of businessmen. "Selling," says one businessman, "is a difficult thing, if you cannot physically meet the buyer. So, how is it possible to work when there are so many roadblocks?" Nonetheless, they have announced a large Palestinian food exhibition in Ramallah at the end of the month.
The most poignant expression of the harsh reality is found on the page that offers data from the Palestinian Stock Exchange: the Al Quds Index has dropped some 20 percent from mid-March to mid-May, and the days of trading have dropped from 23 to 18; of the 31 firms traded in the exchange, the stock of 25 has dropped, and only three have shown a rise.
This is not an encouraging picture of the economy, but there are those who point to the mere existence of a stock exchange in Nablus, a city under siege, as an encouraging sign, hinting at the strength of Palestinian society and its ability to carry on conducting a normal life, in so far as that is possible under Israeli oppression.