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Sonia Nettnin: To Create Something Out of Nothing

Film-Performance Review- The Children of Ibdaa: To Create Something Out of Nothing

By Sonia Nettnin

A scene from one of IBDAA’s performances illustrates Palestinian life under military occupation (photo courtesy Chicago PalestineFilm Festival).

On stage, they dance the movement of life. When they speak, their voices reveal the meaning behind the burning heart.

THE CHILDREN OF IBDAA: TO CREATE SOMETHING OUT OF NOTHING is a moving documentary about the Palestinian youth of Dheisheh Refugee Camp, West Bank. Directed by S. Smith Patrick, the film explores artistic expression and performance of the Palestinian narrative. The third annual Chicago Palestine Film Festival hosted their first screening of Patrick’s film at the Southwest Youth Collaborative on Saturday.

Ziad Abbas and Khaled Al-Saifi founded the dance troupe in 1993. The young women and men of the troupe expressed their thoughts and feelings during interviews in Dheisheh and in their visits of their native villages. As a result, people gain an understanding of the Palestinian Diaspora from this generation’s perspective and how it affects their lives.

“A part of our lives are marked with a black line,” one boy said. His grandfather was a refugee from the 1948 expulsion. For the first time, the boy visits the remains of their village. “It is as if I am sitting with my grandfather . . . as I look at the land I feel that it is mixed with the sweat of my grandfather’s brow. . .” he said.

Their life accounts represent the fragmented narrative, the disruption of life, which results in painful memories for the millions of exiled Palestinian people. In the remnants of old houses are dark doorways, portals where the mind, heart and soul dance for moments . . . into a dream. One girl discovers a rusted keyhole plate alongside a gutted foundation. The layers of stone withstand the passage of time and remain alive in the Palestinian, collective memory.

While the youths sit on stone blocks, they savor their homeland experiences. The sun is ablaze and the wind carries scents of shrubs, trees and bushes. The children meld with the stillness of the land. Through the camera’s lens, they transform into white anemones.

“There is no place for kids to play, no place for gardens. No place for a person to live like the rest of the world,” one girl said. Dheisheh has a population of 11,000 people, confined to one square km. Aerial views of the camp show a landscape of flat roofs with water tanks on top. Trees are scarce. One boy talked about the lack of water and how the camp is like a prison. Razor-wire fences surround the camp and checkpoints are the entrance. The encroachment of Israeli settlements leaves viewers with feelings of entrapment and of strangulation.

The film alternates between interviews with the children and historical facts explained via narrator. As the film’s backdrop connects with chronological events, it results in an emotive and informative narrative. The transitions between color and black-and-white, archival footage enhance the scope of the film. Patrick’s stunning film renders the Palestinian narrative with humanity and emotion. The film’s comprehensive research makes the documentary understandable for people who do not know anything about the Israel-Palestine conflict.

When a girl visits the ruins of her family’s village, she verbalizes her feelings. “The stones – I feel that they are so filled with tears that when we return they will explode and cry with us so that the flower of freedom will sprout,” she said. Her personification of the ground is not about literary trope . . . she speaks her soul’s desire for Palestine. Her honesty and artistic expression are her being. The emotion in her face is hope - and Smith Patrick captures the feeling so it blazes beyond the film.

“We are not saying we want to expel the Jews like they expelled us. On the contrary, if they want to live with us we will not object,” another girl stated. Even though the youths see settlers live across the street from their families’ ruins, her inspirational statement for peace and unity is the future . . . if allowed fruition.


In July 2003, IBDAA had another U.S. tour. I has the opportunity to see their live performance. IBDAA means “to create something out of nothing.” Their performances are snapshots of life for the Palestinian people. Through song, dance, storytelling, and music, the youth performers portray Palestinian life past and present. They utilize music and oral recitation for performance setting. The interaction between sophisticated footwork (Debkeh) and detailed, hand positions creates a timeless place for audience members. Their graceful, arm movements and strong jumps give the performance an angelic dimension.

Audience members feel the land through these young artists. They use few, performance props. Their facial expressions project the feelings experienced by Palestinians pre-1948 and in present time; linear and cyclical time merge in theatrical artistry. The grit of sand-rock and soil, along with the fruits of village labor, are the people of Palestine. The performance depicts the unity between suntanned hands and sacred land . . . their every breath the life of olive branches.

Throughout the performance, the triplet count weaves its way into the three, dance segments. The dance pieces are Al-Khayma, Al-Waseeya and Al-Matakhal. One of the performances includes a duet of dramatic monolog and song performed acappella. All of the pieces have complex, free flowing movements that are ever changing. Most important is that Palestinian dance is about community. Through leg lifts, leaps and lunges they demonstrate that Palestinian life is about the close-knit, communal group. Social interaction is the crux of existence. The death of a family member affects the village family. Thus, IBDAA’S artistry challenges individualism.

For these teens, challenge is reality. Their artistic expression captures their hardship and their struggle. The performance gives creative exposure to their cause. It is artistic media at its apex. IBDAA reconstructs the bar for dance and theatrical performance through their transcendence. Language barriers for audience members are surpassed because the music of joy and pain is a language understood by humanity; audience members experience the resilience and hope of the Palestinian people. IBDAA is performance transformation. These young artists inspire their audiences as they communicate their need for human rights. Their yearning is for peace and for freedom.

In the film, a girl sings the song “Philistine.” Some of the lines are: “Palestine, don’t despair because of darkness / Because the light of the sword of Truth is coming. / When it comes the hills will turn green and will remain for long.”

Patrick won the Golden Gate Award for best documentary short at San Francisco’s International Film Festival (2002); and this documentary won the Visionary Documentary Award from the Arab Cultural Center in San Francisco (2002). Finally, Patrick’s film received Special Honor at the Tehran International Short Film Festival (2003).


Sonia Nettnin is a freelance writer. Her articles and reviews demonstrate civic journalism, with a focus on international social, economic, humanitarian, gender, and political issues. Media coverage of conflicts from these perspectives develops awareness in public opinion.
Nettnin received her bachelor's degree in English literature and writing. She did master's work in journalism. Moreover, Nettnin approaches her writing from a working woman's perspective, since working began for her at an early age.
She is a poet, a violinist and she studied professional dance. As a writer, the arts are an integral part of her sensibility. Her work has been published in the Palestine Chronicle, Scoop Media and the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs. She lives in Chicago.

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