Jenin’s Freedom Theatre rises from the ashes as soon as once more


The Freedom Theatre (TFT), headquartered within the Jenin Refugee Camp within the northern West Financial institution that was once invaded as soon as once more through the Israel Protection Forces (IDF) remaining week, is not anything if now not a crucible for the Palestinian enjoy. Up in opposition to grinding poverty, career, spiritual extremism, and, extra not too long ago, aerial bombardment, the theater miraculously survives.

A couple of days after the IDF occupied its workplaces and the ceiling of its previous British Mandate-era development cracked from the have an effect on of bombing, body of workers and supporters have been busy cleansing up the rubble and planning for a brand new season. After a display of harmony through quite a lot of Palestinian artists, theater makers, and intellectuals from around the occupied territories who staged a “cultural protest” within the theater’s courtyard — a group amassing position — discussions have been underway for a chain of drama remedy workshops aimed toward traumatized kids (5 have been killed throughout the IDF incursion) and well being care staff (who have been shot at through the IDF as they attempted to achieve the injured). On the time of the assault at the camp, TFT was once making plans a feminist theater pageant and in practice session for a play through Charles Mee referred to as Giant Love, in keeping with Aeschylus’s The Suppliants, about problems with gender politics, love, and home violence.

Many theater body of workers, like the opposite 15,000 occupants of Jenin Refugee Camp, bore the brunt of the unrelenting 48-hour army marketing campaign that killed 12 other folks, injured 143, and displaced masses of households. Certainly, the drama of dwelling in Jenin competitors the plots of lots of the performs that TFT has carried out since its inception in 2006. Those vary from a re-envisioned Alice in Wonderland that instructed the tale of a woman who refuses to marry the person her circle of relatives has selected for her to Athol Fugard’s apartheid-era drama The Island. Within the face of on a regular basis occasions in Palestine, TFT productions grow to be into hyper-real meta-theater.

Workforce and scholars killed, injured, arrested

Simply two weeks after 14-year-old Sadeel Naghniyeh, the niece of TFT’s leader technician Adnan Torkoman and a tender player on the theater, was once killed through the IDF, Torkoman, who lives in a residential complicated that abuts the theater, was once arrested and held for 4 days through the Israeli military. His house was once additionally broken.

As a lot of TFT’s body of workers and scholars are living in Jenin Refugee Camp, some needed to flee the camp because the invasion happened. In keeping with a press unencumber, “Probably the most group have been pressured to stick of their properties and have been used as house shields and others refused to depart in any respect.”

Those incorporated Isra Awartani, TFT’s accountant, who “abruptly created a secure house inside her house to protect her 3 daughters from hurt,” and Rania Wasfi, a previous member of the theater who “frantically attempted to achieve her mom and sister after information that their space was once bombed.”

Ahmed Tobasi, the theater’s creative director, “discovered himself face-to-face with an armored car stationed proper outdoor his space, its barrel aimed toward his window.” His twice-daily video diaries on his Fb web page turned into a riveting cinema verité throughout the 48-hour siege, when the camp was once nearly closed to the outdoor international and reporters making an attempt protection have been shot at through the IDF (who killed famend Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh remaining 12 months whilst she was once masking a raid on Jenin).

On a July 9 “Emergency Zoom” name for the theater’s supporters that drew masses of individuals from around the globe, Tobasi stated, “It was once identical to 2002” — the so-called Combat of Jenin that killed 52 Palestinians — “handiest they come what may controlled to inflict extra harm in two days than they did in two weeks.”

“We have now many demanding situations,” defined Tobasi, who spoke of high-tech army ways and drones getting used to assault the densely populated refugee camp, “the conservative tradition, the spiritual other folks, the Israelis, the political scenario, investment — but if we see this sort of give a boost to, it is helping us to move on and to proceed with Juliano’s legacy.”

Photo courtesy of The Freedom Theatre
Burnt automotive and harm outdoor the theater after the new IDF invasion. Picture courtesy of The Freedom Theatre


The 3rd Intifada might be a cultural one

The mythical Israeli-Palestinian founding father of the theater, who’s referred to through his first title through pals in Jenin, has turn out to be a type of secular saint amongst his supporters. A martyr to the purpose who famously stated, “The 3rd Intifada might be a cultural one,” Juliano Mer Khamis based the theater in 2006 along with Zakaria Zubeidi, a former army chief of the Jenin al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, Jonatan Stanczak, a Swedish-Israeli activist, and Dror Feiler, a Swedish-Israeli artist. Mer Khamis was once murdered in entrance of the theater through a masked Palestinian gunman in 2011. 4 months later, masked Israeli infantrymen attacked TFT in the course of the evening, and a 12 months later Israeli government arrested creative director Nabil al-Raee and co-founder Zubeidi on quite a lot of trumped-up fees, together with terrorism and involvement within the homicide of Mer Khamis. The tale of the actor, director, movie maker, and activist is instructed in a contemporary piece of theater produced through TFT in keeping with exact interviews with Palestinian artists. However his story is as a lot Greek tragedy as verbatim theater.

Born to Arna Mer-Khamis, a Jewish former combatant within the Palmach (a Mandate-era Zionist army group) who turned into a Communist after collaborating in operations to pressure Bedouin out of the Negev, and Saliba Khamis, a Palestinian Christian and some of the leaders of the Israeli Communist Birthday party within the Nineteen Fifties, he was once stationed in Jenin as a member of the IDF’s Paratroopers Brigade. He quickly turned into disappointed together with his function when he noticed the violence and humiliation inflicted on a captive inhabitants. As he stated within the 1991 movie Fatal Currents, whilst he known as a Jew in his early life as a result of he was once raised through a free-thinking Jewish mom, when he joined the IDF he learned that, “This wasn’t my mama — it was once fascism!” He was once in the end despatched to jail for punching a commanding officer after refusing an order to frisk an aged Palestinian guy.

After his unencumber he went to theater college and spent a 12 months within the Philippines taking magic mushrooms, later stating, “I misplaced all my identities. I’ve a present, you don’t seem to be handiest consciously un-nationalized, you’re within your self divided. Use it!” Whilst his reaction to the First Intifada was once to accomplish side road theater in Tel Aviv nude and lined in blood, his mom Arna began a kids’s heart in Jenin Refugee Camp and requested her son to show drama remedy.

After the 2d Intifada broke out, and two of his former scholars turned into suicide bombers — one after witnessing the demise of a tender lady killed through IDF bombing — he returned to Jenin a month after the 2002 Combat of Jenin started. Hosted through a former scholar who was once the chief of the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, he met long term theater co-founder Zakaria Zubeidi and later made a movie concerning the enjoy referred to as Arna’s Youngsters, launched in 2004. Even though he stated in an Israeli radio interview in 2009 that, “I’m 100% Palestinian and 100% Jewish,” in fact he treaded on bad terrain, slipping between identities in Jenin and Tel Aviv.

Along with Israeli/Palestinian problems, Jenin was once additionally a hotbed of conflicting pursuits and loyalties to Fatah and Hamas, rife with rumors and realities about corruption and collaboration. His homicide, which happened in a while after he pulled the plug on a manufacturing of “Spring Awakening” that angry native socially conservative sensibilities, has nonetheless now not been solved and each the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli executive had been reluctant to supply solutions. As he as soon as famously stated, “They believe that in the event you substitute the Israeli career with the Arafat career, it’s going to be higher, and I say no, combat either one of them!”

11-year-old Palestinian boy Adam Moustafa who takes music classes at Freedom Theatre poses duringa in Jenin, West Bank on June 19, 2023. The Freedom Theatre has become a cultural resistance for Palestinian youth as they find opportunity to participate in acting, musing and dancing classes since 2006 when it was founded. (Photo by Issam Rimawi/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
Adam Moustafa, an 11-year-old Palestinian boy who takes song categories at The Freedom Theatre, poses in Jenin on June 19, 2023. Picture through Issam Rimawi/Anadolu Company by means of Getty Photographs.


Sieges, poetry, and world excursions

The present creative director, Ahmed Tobasi, has had no much less of a dramatic existence narrative. In reality his tale, of going from armed resistance to appearing and his adventure as a refugee from the West Financial institution to Norway and again once more, is the topic of TFT’s manufacturing Right here I Am. In line with the well-known verse through Mahmoud Darwish — “I’m from there. I’m from right here./It’s not that i am there and It’s not that i am right here/I’ve two names, which meet and phase and I’ve two languages./I put out of your mind which ones I dream in” — the play, written through Hassan Abdulrazzak and directed through long-time TFT affiliate Zoe Lafferty, toured the U.Okay. in addition to Jenin and the West Financial institution.

Even though TFT produces a lot of world performs, its power lies in its portrayal of Palestinian truth. A compelling instance is 2015’s The Siege created through Raee and Lafferty, concerning the 39-day siege of Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity in 2002, which performed out concurrently the siege of Jenin. The drama strikes from side to side between the ancient match and the prevailing, drawing from interviews with surviving fighters who have been exiled in Europe.

Now, as citizens of Jenin recuperate from but any other Israeli siege, one recollects Darwish’s phrases:

“Within the state of siege, time turns into house

Transfixed in its eternity

Within the state of siege, house turns into time

That has ignored its the day before today and its day after today”

Certainly, TFT attracts at the many layers of Palestinian reminiscence and trauma to supply poignant and robust emotional truths in addition to drama remedy for the citizens of Jenin. However it’s the theater’s world productions like Right here I Am and The Siege that serve to “humanize the Palestinians” says Gary M. English, an American theater professor who was once TFT’s creative director from 2012-13.

As he wrote within the 2020 e-book, Theatre within the Center East, “Narratives portraying Palestinians as human, complicated, being concerned, planned, and considerate, or just taking at the job of day by day existence roles, are ceaselessly decried as propaganda. On the subject of any illustration of the Palestinian-Israeli war particularly, theater that takes a humanistic and complicated take a look at Palestinian resistance invokes accusations of anti-Semitism and incessantly deemed bad.”

Interviewed at his house in Connecticut, English relates that TFT performs two key roles. One is that, “It supplies kids and early life of the camp a option to take into consideration who they’re on this planet. It’s an academic selection to the conservatism of the camp, and gives some way for them to consider themselves as one thing as others than martyrs — to take into consideration themselves as ingenious people who assume for themselves.”

“Like Juliano all the time stated,” notes English, “TFT was once about being unbiased of social forces that will outline you — so it’s very a lot about finishing the mental career.”

An similarly essential function, he says, is to provide a counter-narrative within the “rhetorical conflict of adverse stereotypes” thru world excursions, the place “audiences must deal with the humanity of the Palestinian actors on level.”

Past the essential instructional facet for overseas audiences, the power to supply theater concerning the Palestinian enjoy and excursion it, he says, “contradicts the Israeli narrative that Palestinians are ‘barbarians.’”

Paraphrasing bell hooks, he contends that “the act of taking one thing from the margin and placing it into the mainstream is itself an intensive act.”

Palestinian young people take part in a class at Freedom Theatre despite Israeli raids in Jenin, West Bank on June 19, 2023. The Freedom Theatre has become a cultural resistance for Palestinian youth as they find opportunity to participate in acting, musing and dancing classes since 2006 when it was founded. (Photo by Issam Rimawi/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
Palestinian younger other folks participate in a category at The Freedom Theatre on June 19, 2023 in spite of Israeli raids in Jenin. Picture through Issam Rimawi/Anadolu Company by means of Getty Photographs.


Learn how to lend a hand the Theatre

For now, as TFT rises as soon as once more from the ashes, there’s a lot paintings to be completed.

The courtyard house outdoor the theater the place kids used to play was once seriously broken and is plagued by the burnt-out husks of vehicles.

The extent of structural harm to the theater after the bombing that cracked the ceiling remains to be being evaluated. “It can be a easy repair or we may wish to rebuild it totally,” says a theater spokesperson. The IDF additionally raided the Freedom Theatre Guesthouse, shattering home windows and harmful the outside of the development.

So as to add insult to harm, TFT misplaced 80% in their investment from the EU in 2020 after rejecting prerequisites that stipulated they should depoliticize their paintings.

However there are sensible techniques for supporters to lend a hand. Along with a choice for donations, TFT is encouraging allies to program Palestinian performs and flicks, and to accomplish or create an match round their verbatim theater paintings The Revolution’s Promise. Created through TFT and Artists On The Frontline, the undertaking is billed “a number of testimonies from artists throughout Palestine, celebrating cultural resistance and highlighting censorship and assaults on artists.”

“We’re inviting pals, activists, and artists international to sign up for this collaboration through telling those tales in the neighborhood you are living, paintings, or arrange in,” says TFT’s web page.

Sarcastically, the new attack on Jenin Refugee Camp has introduced house what Lafferty describes as “Juliano’s challenge — to convey the tale of Jenin camp to the sector.”

In the end that has transpired, she says, “TFT has completely triumphed in that challenge. Juliano could be proud.”

One can handiest consider that contemporary occasions will as soon as once more to find their approach into TFT productions, as they proceed to spin the straw of Palestinian enjoy into theatrical gold.


Hadani Ditmars is the creator of Dancing within the No-Fly Zone: A Lady’s Adventure Thru Iraq, a previous editor at New Internationalist, and has been reporting from the Center East on tradition, society, and politics for twenty years. Her e-book in growth, Between Two Rivers, is a political travelogue of historic and sacred websites in Iraq. 

Primary picture courtesy of The Freedom Theatre

The Center East Institute (MEI) is an unbiased, non-partisan, non-for-profit, instructional group. It does now not interact in advocacy and its students’ evaluations are their very own. MEI welcomes monetary donations, however keeps sole editorial keep an eye on over its paintings and its publications mirror handiest the authors’ perspectives. For a list of MEI donors, please click on here.



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