Portland musician Amos Libby recently returned from a trip in the West Bank, where he was researching civil rights and social justice issues. In Portland, Libby is an oud player with the band Okbari and co-director of the Bowdoin College Middle Eastern Ensemble.
 
What was your connection to Palestine before your visit?

I have visited Palestine several times for extended periods starting in 2014 to volunteer as an educator in the city of Hebron and to live with a family that has become like an adopted family to me. 

In 2014, Sam Pfeifle wrote a piece in the Phoenix about your work teaching music to students in the West Bank. How did music affect your access and relationships there?

I wasn't teaching music, I was teaching English and making music a component of my classroom experience as well as bringing music to my community there whenever I could, which was almost every day! Music and poetry are central elements of Palestinian culture, and being fluent in Arabic and therefore able to sing and play Arabic music with my students and friends in Palestine immediately opened cultural doors for me that may have otherwise been closed. Sharing traditional music immediately brings people together in the same cultural space and in this case provided a platform for friendships and student connections to grow for me in a beautiful way that has endured since I first visited Palestine. 

What was something that surprised you while you were there?

I think what surprised me the most was the capacity for joy and the incredible perseverance of the Palestinian people while living under an illegal and crippling military occupation that strangles almost every aspect of daily life for them. Palestinians resist their oppression every day in a thousand small ways by building tremendously strong families, excelling academically, persisting in working peacefully for their liberation by refusing to surrender to despair and simply living their lives as normally as possible. I was surprised and inspired at the ability of the Palestinian people to flourish even while enduring conditions that would destroy most people. 

You’ve called the situation there “the preeminent human rights catastrophe of our time.” What sort of engagement are you looking for when you talk to people about it here?

I'm interested in presenting the truth to my community here about what is happening in Palestine as I witnessed it firsthand, so that I can present a counter-narrative to the way in which Palestine is routinely represented in the West. I want to help to humanize Palestinians in the eyes of my community, make folks aware of the extensive violations of human rights and international law that the United States is financially underwriting in occupied Palestine, and finally to present ways in which we can all engage in supporting a just and dignified peace for the Palestinian people. 

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Pearls of Portland is a Phoenix original series that spotlights Mainers doing important art and cultural work. Want to nominate a Pearl of Portland? That is very nice. Email news@portlandphoenix.me

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