The Palestine National Council, in a nightly performance of political speeches and debate, is playing to rapt audiences at this refugee camp south of Bethlehem and all across the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
Through television, the Palestinians of the West Bank have been able to see, most of them for the first time, the deliberations of their "parliament in exile" as it meets less than 100 miles away in Amman, Jordan. Jordan's state-run television network, which is easily received in the West Bank and most of Israel, has been broadcasting portions of the meetings since they began last week.
By all accounts, the proximity of Palestine Liberation Organization leaders such as Yasser Arafat and the sight of them at work in Amman has boosted morale among the West Bank Palestinians and strengthened their support for Arafat against the Syrian-backed PLO dissidents who are boycotting the Amman meeting.
"Before the PNC, people were depressed," said Ali Qadan, a Palestinian journalist. "Nothing was taking place on the Palestinian side. But now, with the appearance of Arafat in Amman, it has given more hope to Palestinians and more support to Arafat."
"They simply are not used to anything like this," said Albert Aghazarian, an official of Bir Zeit University. "They compare the PNC to the Jordanian parliament, which is very serene. People here like this sort of activity, with the delegates standing up making different points. We need it."
In Dheisheh, one of the most attentive viewers has been Ziad Abu Laban, 20, a student at Bethlehem University. A lifelong resident of the refugee camp who says he expects "to die in Dheisheh," he has gathered with friends to watch the broadcasts at 4 every afternoon and again at night.
So, too, he said, has almost everyone else in the camp of about 12,000, who have crammed themselves into small, damp rooms in Dheisheh's jumble of hillside stone houses.
Sitting in a 10-foot square room furnished with two chairs, a table and a large color television set, Abu Laban said he had been struck by the council's freewheeling debate, the sight of "Palestinian democracy" in action.
"I always heard about it, but I never saw it," he said. "I touched this democracy through the television."
Abu Laban and Ismail Afandi laughed when they recalled the scene of Arafat being told to wait his turn to speak by the presiding officer and described it as just.
But Arafat, whom Abu Laban said appeared to be "a clever man," impressed Abu Laban. He noted that the PLO leader moved about the meeting hall, not always sitting in his reserved place in the front, and that when a vote was called, Arafat was the last to raise his hand, presumably so as not to appear to be dictating to his followers.
Abu Laban's mother, Dalal, 62, can neither read nor write. She has lived in the camp since 1948, when the state of Israel was created. In the 1967 Middle East war, the camp and the rest of the West Bank came under Israeli occupation.
"I don't know all of them," she said of the PLO officials on the screen, "but the young leaders who are educated, I see in them a hope and see them speaking well of our cause."
In the mornings, at the markets in Dheisheh, Dalal Abu Laban and other women have discussed what they saw the night before.
The nightly sight of the council meeting seems certain to rekindle political awareness and activity in the West Bank after a long period of depression and disillusionment that followed the PLO's expulsion from southern Lebanon by the 1982 Israeli invasion.
One side effect could be a disruption in the accompanying atmosphere of relative quiet. Last week, for the first time in months, pro-PLO demonstrations in the territory led to the shooting deaths of two Palestinians by Israeli soldiers.
Despite his efforts, Arafat has not resolved the deep split in the PLO, which is reflected in the West Bank. Bir Zeit and other West Bank universities have been closed during the meeting, not on orders from Israeli authorities, but because university officials feared the politically charged atmosphere could lead to clashes among rival PLO factions.
Driven out of Lebanon last year by Syrian-supported PLO rebels, Arafat took his bedraggled guerrilla organization to Amman not because it is the only Arab capital from which his voice could be projected directly to this Israeli-occupied territory. He had no choice.
Arafat sought to hold the meeting in distant Algeria, site of the last meeting. Blocked in this course by Syria, he settled for the Jordanian capital, from which the PLO had been driven by soldiers of King Hussein's army in 1970.
The expulsion from Jordan led to the establishment of the PLO's southern Lebanon bases. When Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982, the last thing it sought was a return of Arafat and his men to Amman, where for almost a week their anti-Israel rhetoric and vows to continue the "armed struggle" against Zionism have been beamed to the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Acknowledging this unintended outcome, Yitzhak Shamir, Israel's foreign minister and vice prime minister, said in a radio interview last week: "I do not think that anyone in Israel views as positive an excessive intimacy between Hussein and Arafat. It brings closer to Jordan, to us, to the Arabs of Judea and Samaria [the biblical names for the West Bank], the voice of the PLO terrorist organization."