“Circus? In Palestine? Is that really what Palestine needs?” That was the most common question the founders of the Palestinian Circus School faced in the beginning. By now, those familiar with the work of PCS are convinced: Yes! A circus in Palestine!
The effect of the Israeli military occupation has been very difficult for young Palestinians, particularly since the outbreak of the second Intifada in 2000. They witness their homes being unlawfully demolished, experience personal humiliation at checkpoints, suffer physical abuse and arbitrary detention and many carry the grief of having loved ones killed by the Israeli military. Moreover, they face the harsh reality of mounting responsibility in a tough economy with growing unemployment rates. Too many young people end up in the streets, where they struggle to make a few shekels by selling sweets, recycling rubbish or cleaning the windows of cars waiting at the checkpoints.
The Palestinian Circus School (PCS) began as a small circus group in August 2006 thanks to the determination of Shadi Zmorrod and Jessika Devlieghere, who initiated the idea to introduce circus arts from Palestinians for Palestinians.
Through the different components of circus education they wanted to respond to the above mentioned challenges. The substance of the circus pedagogy is to stimulate and develop the physical, mental, artistic, sensitive, social and cognitive abilities. They were convinced that circus would bring many youth a brighter future.
In January 2006, they were given the opportunity by the Belgian circus school ‘Cirkus in Beweging’ to start with a first intensive training course for young people living behind the wall. They offered to come to Palestine for an intensive workshop to train the people who would be involved in creating a permanent circus education structure in Palestine. In July 2006, a week before the beginning of the workshop, the Belgian team had to cancel its trip due to the outbreak of the Israeli war in Lebanon.
The Palestinian team was deeply frustrated and disappointed but continued to train with very little support. Three Palestinian circus students from Jerusalem immediately offered to help us out to work with our first students during the training courses on juggling, acrobatics and trapeze. After an international appeal was launched, people involved in circus that were present in the region, came to visit us in Ramallah and decided to stay. Many more would follow the row of international artists and trainers that helped shape the experience of the PCS.
After three weeks of intensive training with a group of eight young people, the first performance of the school, "Circus Behind the Wall", was presented in August 2006 at Ashtar Theatre in Ramallah. More than 250 people attended the first show and really enjoyed it! More than simply a sign of encouragement, it was a sign that the dream of the Palestinian circus group was very much alive.
Between August 2006 and January 2007, the group continued training without a permanent base. It still succeeded in delivering 7 performances in Ramallah, and one in Bethlehem. In 2007, Mays Hajjaj and Fadi Zmorrod, part of the key group that started in 2006, became the first trainers of the Palestinian Circus School, soon followed by Nayef Abdallah in 2008, to guarantee the continuous training of average 80 children on a weekly basis.
The Palestinian Circus School was born! In 2009, the PCS started to lay its foundations to become a real institution, and engaged its first administrative staff.
Between 2007 and 2011, the PCS has been renting different training halls in Ramallah and Al Bireh to provide for the needs and safety of the students. In 2011, we finally moved to our current premises in the historic center of BirZeit, a village 10 kilometers North of Ramallah.
Thanks to Dr. Hanna Nasir who generously donated his building to our school for a period of 15 years, and the Belgian Federal Government that funded its renovation.