A life in Jaffa, shared through dance

For Nur Garabli, dance is a way to untangle her identity and shake up the political power imbalance of being a Palestinian citizen of Israel

Nur Garabli in ‘The Occupiers’

Natalie Alz writes in +972:

Sixteen years after Nur Garabli attended her first dance class, she was getting ready to go on stage to perform her own show — an opportunity she had worked tirelessly for. The act explores the complexity of her identity as a Palestinian citizen of Israel living in Jaffa, and particularly the gap in the lived realities between Arab-Palestinians and Jewish-Israelis.

“I know everything about Israeli culture, about the customs and holidays, but the other side knows nothing about me,” she said.

To reflect this disparity in the performance, Garabli would say a word in Arabic — mainly curses, the extent of many Jewish Israelis’ engagement with the language — and ask the audience to repeat it. She describes it as an Arabic lesson: she is the teacher, and the audience her students.

“People express themselves in many ways,” said Garabli, a 25-year-old dancer, choreographer, and dance teacher combining contemporary dance with traditional Palestinian styles like dabke. “I do so through dance. My movements tell a story, my story.”

Garabli’s act is titled “HaKovshim,” Hebrew for “The Conquerors” or “The Occupiers.” The inspiration for the name came to her when she passed a street of the same name on her way to college in Tel Aviv. “I could not believe my eyes,” she exclaimed. “There is actually a street with this name.”  Her performance was part of the Akko International Fringe Theater Festival, which took place in late September. Neta Meidan and Shaked Shneller produced and directed the show, with music by Omer Boulanger Cohen.

Though Garabli tackles the political weight of her identity in her work, she does not see her participation in Israeli institutions as a problem. She has previously been involved with projects at the Suzanne Dellal Center, a leading cultural center in Tel Aviv; following her success with “The Occupiers” in Acre, Tmu-na, a community theater in Tel Aviv, invited Garabli to perform on its stage. “I pay taxes like everyone else, and so I deserve to enjoy budgets as every artist does,” she said.

Garabli grew up in the Ajami neighborhood of Jaffa. The city made headlines this year after residents organized mass demonstrations to protest increasing gentrification, which has taken on an ethnic dimension as Jewish buyers displace Palestinian families who can no longer afford the rent on the homes they’ve been living in for generations.

“I used to be able to see the sea from my home,” Garabli said. But today, with high-rise apartment buildings in the area, “it is impossible.”  As a child, she used to witness drug deals taking place in the open in the neighborhood. Now, it’s different, she admitted: “I’m not sure if it’s because I got used to it, or because there’s really a change.”

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When Garabli’s mother enrolled her in a dance class at the local community center as a child, it was out of concern for her health. “Our family has a predisposition to obesity, and mother really wanted us to learn how to be disciplined,” said Garabli. “That was very important to her.”  In Jaffa, dance lessons were a privilege that not everyone could afford, she noted. There was also a social imbalance to the classes: the teachers were Jewish Israelis who did not speak Arabic or understand local norms, whereas most of the students were Palestinian citizens.

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