Road Trip to Northern West Bank – The Freedom Theatre in Jenin Refugee Camp

The road trip to northern West Bank continued on June 12.  Our third stop was at the Jenin Refugee Camp in Jenin.

First, a small bit of history.  On April 1, 2002, as part of Operation Defensive Shield, the Israeli military entered the Jenin Refugee Camp with infantry, commando forces, assault helicopters and armoured tanks.  They said the camp “served as a launch pad for terrorist attacks on Israeli civilians and Israeli towns and villages in the area.”  Between 52 and 54 Palestinians were killed, along with 23 Israeli soldiers.  The central area of the camp was completely demolished.  (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Zbz-JngG5c&list=TLE-jqEHcJiZg).

We went to The Freedom Theatre to learn about how drama is being used as a form of cultural resistance to the occupation of the West Bank.  Managing Director Jonatan Stanczak, a citizen of Israel, gave us the history and talked about the recent productions.

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The Freedom Theatre emerged from a project, Care and Learning, created by Arna Mer Khamis, a Jewish woman who dedicated her life to helping traumatized children in the Jenin Refugee Camp through art and drama.  Her legacy lived on through her son Juliano Mer Khamis, a film maker, who founded The Freedom Theatre.  He was murdered in 2011 by unknown assailants.

In his following statement, he describes the purpose of The Freedom Theatre:

“You don’t have to heal the children in Jenin. We are not trying to heal their violence. We try to challenge it into more productive ways. And more productive ways are not an alternative to resistance. What we are doing in the theatre is not trying to be a replacement or an alternative to the resistance of the Palestinians in the struggle for liberation, just the opposite. This must be clear. I know it’s not good for fundraising, because I’m not a social worker, I’m not a good Jew going to help the Arabs, and I’m not a philanthropic Palestinian who comes to feed the poor. We are joining, by all means, the struggle for liberation of the Palestinian people, which is our liberation struggle. . . . We’re not healers. We’re not good Christians. We are freedom fighters.” – Juliano Mer Khamis

The plays produced by this company often reflect, comment upon and challenge the realities of contemporary Palestinian society, while exploring various forms of artistic expressions.  They include:  Suicide Note from Palestine, The Island, Stolen Dreams and the Caretaker. For more information click on this link: http://www.thefreedomtheatre.org/productions-productions/ .

Helga, from Norway, is helping with the production of the next play, as Palestinian actors are learning their parts in English.

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This is what you see on your way out of the screening room and coffee shop, with a Polish EA sitting beneath it, of course,

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We stopped for a forgettable lunch on the outskirts of Jenin and then traveled to historic Sabastiya, the last stop on the northern teams’ road trip.

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