A Palestine pavilion will be put up at Edmonton Heritage Festival for the first time this summer, after being rejected for three straight years.
“I’ve been going to the festival since I was a little kid and for the first time I can actually show my kids now, ‘Look, there’s a tent for where daddy came from and from where daddy’s daddy came from.’ So on a personal level, it’s awesome,” said Mousa Qasqas, vice president of Canada Palestine Cultural Association.
Qasqas said the board has wanted Palestine represented at the popular summer festival for years, but for the past three years their applications have been turned down.
“Edmonton Heritage Festival let us know there wasn’t room for us, there wasn’t space for us,” he explained.
There were musings in the city that the organization was turned down because Palestine technically isn’t a country — it’s a state — but the festival’s executive director said that simply isn’t the case.
“That’s absolutely not the case. It’s just a matter of trying to find the best possible solution for everybody and getting in the most groups we can based on the space available,” Jim Gibbon said over the phone Friday.
He said the festival’s goal is to have as many regions represented as possible. For example, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Iceland and Denmark are all represented within the Scandinavian pavilion in the same way Palestine was previously represented in the Arab pavilion.
“If, say, the Icelandic group said, ‘We want to have our own pavilion and tent now’ it would take a while to get that because you have one group that’s already actively involved in the other tent,” Gibbon explained.
“These things don’t happen overnight… sometimes it just doesn’t happen the first year.”
Space and infrastructure are limited in the park and sometimes they have to say no, something Gibbon said the board agonizes over.
“They wish they could say yes to everybody all the time,” he said. “The bigger issue is even though the space on site looks huge, it has very limited power and water capabilities.
“So the bigger issue we’ve had to face is squeezing in more and more groups — especially first-year and second-year groups — a lot of them end up with tents that are not able to provide food in the first year. Instead, they do cultural dance, they do cultural artifacts, they tell their history, they tell their stories.
“We just don’t want people to think there’s some weird background to why we have to say no to some groups. It always comes down to space. It always comes down to space.”
Last year, the Palestinian community held a cultural event at Sir Wilfred Laurier Park at the same time as Heritage Festival. Dozens of people gathered for traditional Palestinian food, dancing and music. The event was planned after Palestine was not granted a pavilion at the festival.
Both Gibbon and Qasqas said the communication between the groups has been very positive.
To have their own tent this year, is a big step for Edmonton’s Palestinian community. Qasqas said there are about 3,000 Palestinian families living in and around Edmonton.
“The Arab tent has had a Palestinian presence in it but we felt like now, we’re at the evolution in our community where we’re ready to stand on our own as our own tent and we’re really happy to have that,” Qasqas said.
“All of the Palestinians in the community, they all deserve to be proud of this and they all in some way contributed. So it’s the Palestinian community as a whole that’s led to this and they should all be proud.”
Gibbon said there are four new groups this year that have not previously had tents at the festival, and the remaining three will be revealed “soon.” He also hinted at another exciting announcement.
“We have one really big surprise of a group we’re working with that we will be letting people know in the next month or so.”
This year’s Edmonton Heritage Festival runs from Aug. 3 – 5 at Hawrelak Park.