A small group of children in Gaza sit on a lavender and white blanket around a small tray of beverages, singing “Happy Birthday” to a young girl. Like kids her age around the world, she wears a sweatshirt with prints of Elsa and Anna, characters from “Frozen”; unlike most kids, she’s celebrating against a backdrop of a war that, according to United Nations estimates as of Nov. 10, 2023, has already killed more than 4,500 Palestinian children.
Celebrating anything might seem odd or even inappropriate in the face of so much devastation – and in the middle of what many are calling genocide.
However, in the research of refugees that I’ve conducted with interdisciplinary artist and scholar Devora Neumark, we’ve found that the urge to beautify one’s surroundings is widespread and profoundly beneficial – particularly so in the harrowing circumstances of loss, displacement and danger.
When people find themselves displaced from their homes, finding or creating beauty can be just as vital as food, water and shelter.
Over half crowd into some type of emergency shelter, while others squeeze into relatives’ and neighbors’ homes. Food is scarce and increasingly expensive. According to the U.N., people are getting only 3% of the water they need each day. Much of the water they do have is polluted.