‘Room for Hope’ illuminates Palestinian culture

From the Midwest to the Middle East, attendees gathered at SF State Thursday to kick off Room For Hope, a Palestinian cultural festival.

SF State and the General Union of Palestine Students partnered with Bright Stars of Bethlehem  to bring Palestinian entrepreneurs, dancers, poets, filmmakers and artists to San Francisco for the weekend event. In 2012, Chicago hosted the first Room for Hope.

Prominent theologian Rev. Mitri Raheb cited the large Arab and Palestinian population in California — in addition to SF State’s passion for justice in Palestine — as motivation for bringing the festival to San Francisco this year.

Diyar Dance Troupe, comprising co-ed youth from Bethlehem, made their Bay Area debut at McKenna Theater with dances expressing a cultural identity of young Palestinians experiencing occupation.

GUPS president Mohammad Hammad said of the dancers:

“I’ve never seen anything like this performed here. It’s there to tell a story — there is another side to life in Palestine.”

Raheb told SFBay the idea behind the festival — running through Saturday at SF State —  is to emphasize hope through creativity in young people by educating people about life in Palestine.

Culture, Raheb said, isn’t so political, and brings together both the involved and uninvolved.

Raheb told the audience:

“You feel the energy, the hope, the determination of young people growing in the shadow of the world. They refused to be crushed by oppression, and continue to be a symbol of hope.”

So far, Room For Hope has brought guests from Minnesota and Illinois who were involved in the Chicago festival who felt it important to keep the connection. When the troupe gave its finale, they received a standing ovation from the audience.

Dancer Sanad Salameh, 18, told the audience after his performance:

“The media has its own idea about us and we’re here to change that. We’re really glad you came and received our message.”

Friday’s events in McKenna Theater will feature entrepreneurs sharing their stories and filmmakers presenting their work.

Room for Hope ends Saturday with featured artists and poets culminating in a keynote speech by Raheb and an Arab Music performance.