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Youths give performance of their lives

The Yafa Centre Dabke Troupe of 11-to 18-year-old Palestinians from the Balata refugee camp outside Nablus on the West Bank are touring a dance drama interpretation of the persecution of Arabs at the hands of the Israelis.

Yafa is a cultural centre which provides creative activities aimed at helping camp residents come to terms with daily deprivation and repression under the Israeli army.

In the drama, entitled A'edoon, the fragile peace of a Palestinian community is shattered as soldiers engage in beatings. A boy is lost and attempts by his distraught sister to find him turn out to be futile as it dawns on her that he has been killed by soldiers.

Such fiction reflects the reality of the performers' lives. The director of the Yafa Centre, Walid Abdelhadi, says the troupe were repeatedly held up at check points on their way out of the West Bank to undertake the UK tour.

One 16-year-old boy was arrested and taken to an Israeli jail.

"Children in the troupe have seen Israeli soldiers enter their homes and beat their fathers," says Mr Abdelhadi. "Many of them have had members of their families arrested and even killed.

"The camp is small and cramped, just 250 acres for 20,000 people. There are no green areas. Food supplies are irregular.

"Every night the soldiers come into the camp and make noises that keep everyone awake. Yet the children have to get up and go to school next day.

Of course they are tired and depressed. At the centre we try to put a smile on their faces."

A'edoon, which alludes to the Palestinians return to their promised land, is not all doom and gloom. A wide range of emotions is expressed, as well as the indomitable strength of the human spirit. Nowhere is this so marked as in the dabke, a dance which intersperses the drama.

With hands on hips, held high or interlocked with other dancers, repetitive foot stamping and leg kicks, it speaks the common impassioned language of folk dance worldwide. Meanwhile youthful musicians and singers provide the accompanying eastern Arabic rhythmical music.

The tour offers the teenagers - none of whom have been outside of Palestine before - an unprecedented chance to highlight the plight of the Palestinians as they engage in cultural exchanges with their hosts in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Dundee, as well as Londonderry and London.

Kay Smith The Yafa Centre Dabke Troupe, at Meadowside St Paul's Church, Dundee, August 16. Contact Julia Droeber, tel 01382 908070e-mail

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