Interview Palestine Ambassador Rawan Sulaiman
Palestine has been a participant at the Embassy Festival for many years. Something we’re very proud of. Ambassador Rawan Sulaiman has kindly agreed to talk to us about Palestine, their customs, traditions, values, food, the Netherlands and of course the Embassy Festival.
Palestine is a loyal supporter of the Embassy Festival. What do you take away from the festival, what surprised you?
We have been active and a keen participant of the Embassy Festival, as we believe in their mission. We are a big supporter of it, we’re very enthusiastic and will continue to be a part of it as long as it’s there. We look forward to it every year. It’s the biggest international event in The Hague. In fact, as it’s in the summer, I always make sure that my own holiday doesn’t coincide with the festival, so I’m able to be there in person. The festival is very creative and it’s an exciting experience to bring so many people from all those different cultures and countries together. Culture truly united. We’re all so much more similar that we realise. The festival teaches us that too. It’s so powerful. It’s not easy to bring all these people from all around the world together. They truly come together there and show us that culture unites and inspires. There’s so much solidarity between the countries too. It’s really how I feel when I’m there. You never feel alone, you feel that sense of togetherness. Everybody puts their differences aside to create a powerful and inspiring unity.
What do you hope people notice, know and learn about Palestine?
In the media Palestine is often associated with conflict. Portrayed as helpless people with no history and culture. That’s not true! It’s the opposite. Despite everything, we love and celebrate life! We have such a rich culture and heritage. We offer so much when it comes to literature, music, clothes, embroidery (Tatreez). We’re very fond of dancing, painting, filming and we love food. Our history shows our resilience. We want everyone to know that the people in Palestine love life and insist on it. They are very warm and welcoming. A guest will never be hungry or unhappy! People that visit are often overwhelmed by the warmth they receive. We would like to invite the team and visitors of the Embassy Festival to visit Palestine to experience this for themselves.
At the Embassy Festival, we celebrate unique and inspiring traditions and experiences that the participating countries offer. Could you please tell us about some of your customs and traditions people might not be familiar with, something that is typical of your country?
We actually have quite a lot of customs and traditions! Our rich culture is focused on making life enjoyable. October marks the start of the olive harvest season in Palestine. It’s celebrated with a lot of enthusiasm and community effort. The olive oil industry is a vital part of the Palestine culture and identity. Families get together to collect and pick olives from trees. and there’s an overall joyous atmosphere. Folk songs are sung, delicious meals are made, children are free from school, adults can take time off from their job. Then there’s the Taybeh Oktoberfest, too. During this beer festival, the Palestines all flock to Taybeh, the town after which the beer brand is named. It’s a huge festival with a lot of music. Another tradition revolves around weddings. Brides usually have hen nights, however what is quintessential is the custom of the public shaving of the groom on the morning of the wedding. You can expect to see a close friend or a family member doing the shaving. Once the shaving is complete and the groom is ready, the big send off to his bride begins whereby everyone will start making their way from his house to the bride’s house, where there’ll be plenty of singing and Palestinian dancing.
‘Culture truly unites. We’re all so much more similar that we realise.’
Could you tell us a fun fact about your country or a tradition you have that people might not have heard of before?
Christmas is very important to us. So much so, that we celebrate it on three different dates! The first one is on December 25th, following Christian tradition. The second one is on the 26th of December, following Greek-Orthodox tradition. Then on the 18th of January we celebrate it, following Armenian tradition. These are celebrated in a big way. A lot of people make their way to Bethlehem. The official ceremony is always attended by the president.
Cycling, kissing three times on the cheek, break with cheese of hagelslag; these are recognizable as Dutch traditions and customs. What are Palestinian customs and traditions, you would encounter in day-to-day life?
Having a falafel sandwich! Falafel and hummus are an integral part of our food traditions. I would say that it’s our national dish. And olive oil on everything, even on skin and hair. We also use it to make soap, as it keeps the skin soft. 45% of our land is dedicated to the planting of olive trees. It’s very important to Palestine. They are a symbol of peace and prosperity. Knafeh is a very traditional dessert, which we served at the Embassy Festival a couple of years ago. The Palestinian embroidery is also well-known, the women in Palestinian make beautiful pieces and they’re very distinctive.
Following on that question, are there any Dutch customs that you’ve taken on yourself?
I cycle to the office every day, which is very Dutch. I was raised in Jericho, the oldest city in the world, where we used bicycles as transportation. It’s a very different experience compared to the Netherlands though, haha. I had to learn the Dutch rules and road signs.
What music would you recommend people listen, if they’d like to experience Palestinian music?
Dabke music! Palestinians love to dance and practise music. It reflects the Palestinian love for life. I also really like Le Trio Joubran There’s lot of traditional Palestinian folkloric songs such asRosanna, Dal’ouneh and Zarif El toul.Young people love dancing to Dabke music and singing traditional songs. We were also thrilled to have had Faraj Sulaiman play at the Embassy Festival last year.
‘Our history shows our resilience. We want everyone to know that the people in Palestine love life and insist on it.’
One of the best ways to get to know a different culture is through its food. Could you tell us about a signature dish from your country, that you would recommend people try, to get a sense of your country?
I would make Makloubeh. It’s really rather tasty. In English it’s called an ‘upside-down’-dish. It’s part of our identity and culture and very popular. Families get together to eat it and enjoy it together. During the Ramadan, or on a Friday. Friday is a day off. People visit each other on that day. It’s a lot of effort to make, but it’s filled with aroma, spices (especially cinnamon) and love. It’s really delicious. The ingredients differ from village to village. One would make it with cauliflower, another would choose aubergines or carrots. We will be sharing the recipe with you in the Embassy recipe booklet.
What surprised you when you moved to the Netherlands, regarding Dutch culture?
I’d prefer to say impressed! The New Year’s Dive and the significance of it. The way it marks the start of a fresh new year. It’s so significant. I went to the beach to witness it for myself. I didn’t participate, but I was really very impressed. I’m also amazed by how the Dutch celebrate Kings day. The celebrations, but also the recycling of old things. I love seeing children sell their toys and then other children enjoying them. Giving them a new home.
What dish, from another country, would you like to try for yourself?
I’ll be honest. I like food, haha. Food is a reflection of culture. It gets people to connect. It unites. Therefore, I don’t have a preference. I’ll try everything. If you’re open in your thinking, even with this, you’ll be open to other aspects in life. It’s all about understanding and acceptance.
What makes you proud, when you think about Palestine?
I’m very proud to be a Palestinian. Our resilience. With all that we’ve been through, we never lost our humanity and zest for life. The warmth, the generosity and hospitality, all with limited resources. This is such a source of pride for me. I want to give this to my children. I feel it’s my duty to pass that on. My son is 20 and my daughter is 15. Those are important ages, as they’re exposed to so many different cultures.
At the Embassy Festival, my children were part of the Palestinian booth, helping to sell food. They were part of a collective effort. There’s such a joyous atmosphere at the festival. It makes us feel at home and we’re given the chance to promote our country. To understand each other. This festival is such an important occasion. You meet numerous people from different nationalities that you wouldn’t be able to meet anywhere else. I also find it important that other Palestinians are proud that Palestine is a part of this international event and contributing to it. It’s so nice to hear from the Palestinian students that come to the festival. It’s my chance to meet them and they feel connected through the festival. They will often miss home and the festival makes them feel at home. Home isn’t just a country. It’s where you feel humanity. Where you feel that you can share your experience with others, from all sorts of nationalities.
These events create an atmosphere that shows that as humans, we have more to agreements than disagreements. What unites us is more important than what separates us. I’m so very pleased that the Embassy Festival will continue online this year. The Embassy Festival is one of the main events for us. We were all so sad when we thought it wasn’t going to happen at all this year, frustrated even. So I was so pleased when I heard about the alternative plan. This is important work and it lifts spirits in a tremendous way.