Palestinian Circus School

Posted By Jessica Arena, JILP Member, Jan 20, 2012

Palestinian Circus School Jugglers

The Palestinian Circus School started as a small circus group in 2006.

I went in 2010.

 After completing my ten-day birthright trip through Israel I emailed the Palestinian Circus School asking if I could take a tour and possibly offer trapeze workshops to their students. The two founders of P.C.S. promptly responded that I was welcome anytime and gave me their personal phone numbers to call as soon as I arrived in Ramallah. Their initial warmth and hospitality was just a touch of what I would find throughout the West Bank.

I was nervous and excited on the bus ride as we approached the checkpoint at the wall. My apprehensions quieted after a calm, well dressed gentleman struck up a conversation with me. He casually explained that this was the first time in five years the Israeli government had granted him a visa to visit friends and family in Jerusalem. I told him that I was on my way to the Palestinian Circus School in Ramallah.

The bus drove through the checkpoint with ease (a different story when coming back into Israel) and I soon found myself on the other side of the looking glass, or rather, the wall. I saw the same beautiful sunset, the same open rolling hills and pink and purple sky, but everything else was different. The road needed repair and had large potholes. On the previous side the wall stood tall, clean and proud. On this side it had layers of graffiti with rubble heaps smoldering at its base. As we continued, we passed the skeletal remains of what once were apartment units.

Our conversation continued while we drove past a nearly abandoned neighborhood and headed the next 20 miles to Ramallah. I showed my new friend my map of Ramallah and pointed to the hotel I had chosen. “Not to worry,” he said. “I will show you the way.” We arrived just after sunset. He walked me to my hotel, offered me his business card and insisted I call if I needed anything. I thanked him for his kindness and went to bed no longer nervous, but still full of anticipation for the day that lay ahead.

The Palestinian Circus School offered me an opportunity to intimately participate in the lives of children who have been arrested for throwing rocks at tanks, and children whose parents have been imprisoned for most of their lives. Like people everywhere they laugh when clowns walk into each other and they are proud when they learn to juggle. The Palestinian bid for statehood in front of the United Nations is at the very least a symbolic gesture. A gesture to ask the world to recognize that the Palestinian children are entitled to pursue their dreams and aspirations equally under the eyes of the international community.

In January 2006, Shadi Zmorrad and Jessica Devlieghere, the founders of P.S.C. were given the opportunity by a Belgian circus school to start the first intensive circus training course for young people living behind the wall. The circus school wanted to offer an intensive three-week workshop in Ramallah. In July 2006, one 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. Three Palestinian circus students from Jerusalem immediately offered to work with the school’s first students. They trained the small group on juggling, acrobatics, and trapeze. 

After three weeks of 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 Theater in Ramallah. More than 250 people attended the first show. The positive response from the community confirmed that the dream of a Palestinian circus school was very much alive. The Palestinian Circus School was born! 

Since that first performance, P.C.S. has had countless visitors from all over the world come to train, see, share, and take home a little bit of what daily life is like for the young people of Palestine, especially as they build their dreams in an uncertain and sometimes volatile environment.


If you would like more information on the Palestinian Circus School please visit their website or watch this video: