Work It!

Ramallah, Palestine

Haneen Mansour is from a Palestinian father and Syrian mother, was born in Libya, lived in Syria and educated in Jordan before finally coming to live with her heritage in Palestine. She graduated from the University of Jordan in the top 10 of her class of Finance and Accounting majors. She had spent 14 years learning traditional Palestinian dancing, and had been very involved in that in her time in Jordan, even dancing through the Ministry of Culture there and training others the traditional dances.

In 2002, she came to live in Palestine and was dancing with a group. She talked about the Second Intifada and nights when she was forced to stay in her home through curfew. She told me about life getting around the West Bank, being stopped at all the checkpoints and stalled by the young guards there who give her extra attention for her good looks, holding her up asking questions about what make-up she uses. Being generally toyed with.

But she also talked about her passion for movement and connection with body through dance and physical activity. These days she is a personal trainer and leads co-ed classes all the time. Both Muslim and Christian come to her classes, women working out in their hijab or their tank tops. She does a lot of personal training, and she works her students hard. She seems like a well sought out trainer, and even received permission from the Israeli government to attend training in Tel Aviv. She is a fiery woman, very passionate about what she does and how she lives her life. WIth all the hardships there, she said you have a choice to be or not to be.

As she talked with me I found myself tearing up a bit. I was really touched by something that I saw in her, and in almost every other Palestinian I had talked to. An intense pride and joy in living in their land. In a place that has had so much sorrow and hardship, in a life that continues to change and to be uncertain. A place where violence and conflict may erupt at any time, they are happy and feel lucky to be fortunate enough to be where they are. I have met so many Palestinians in other countries in the Middle East who are refugees from Palestine. They are not allowed to go to their homeland at all. When I tell them I went they are so jealous that I can pass where they cannot. And they are right, it is a beautiful land. And it is incredibly sad that I, as someone who knew nothing about Palestine and had no stake or interest in it, could go and see their estranged homeland.