by Nicole Rohrkemper, International Team Deployment Coordinator
A short article to complement MPT’s Fall Theme of Arts and Culture, highlighted in our Fall print edition MPT Newsletter.
Many believe the power of culture, the arts, and progressive media can shift attitudes, resist oppression, and combat human rights abuses. Participants in the Freedom Theatre at Jenin Refugee Camp (West Bank) believe that a third intifada is coming—a nonviolent uprising which will create social change through art and culture.
MPT Teams visited the Freedom Theatre in the Jenin Refugee Camp twice this year as the group debuted groundbreaking productions. Located in the city of Jenin, the Camp is a densely populated area (more than 18,000 people in about a half square mile). By rough estimate, this is three times the population density of Chicago, and ten times the population density of greater Lansing.
In 1988 Arna Mer-Khamis (an Israeli married to a Palestinian) came to Jenin to give acting lessons to Palestinian youth at the Refugee Camp. According to the Freedom Theatre’s website, Arna wanted to give the children a space to work through the trauma they experienced because of the ongoing conflict. She was awarded the Alternative Peace Prize in 1993, and used the money to build a community theatre at the Camp. The original theatre was destroyed during the Second Intifada in 2002, along with half of Jenin Camp’s housing and other buildings. Some of the 65 Camp residents killed during the conflict were former acting students. In 2005 Arna’s son, then-famous Israeli actor Juliano Mer Khamis, returned to Jenin to begin building a second theatre which stands today.
The Freedom complex includes the auditorium, video editing studios, a film darkroom, a library, two classrooms and a computer lab. According to the Theatre, the computer lab was donated by an Israeli man whose daughter received a heart transplant from a Palestinian boy killed by Israeli soldiers in the Camp in 2005.
Last Spring the premiere of Orwell’s Animal Farm at the Theatre was covered by Reuters and Socialist Worker Online, as well as others. According to an article from Reuters (“In Self-Satire, Palestinians See Cultural Intifada,” Reuters.com, April 2, 2009), it was noted that the play held a mirror to Palestinian leaders of previous uprisings, drawing on Orwell’s original message warning against the corruption of a social movement.
“The armed revolution is over,” said actor Rabia Turokman, once a fugitive fighter in Jenin. “I had to look for another revolution,” he said after coming off-stage to rowdy applause. “Having a theatre in Jenin refugee camp is the biggest revolution for Palestine.” For many of the young audience members, the play [Animal Farm, which is] based on Stalin’s corruption of Russian revolutionary ideals, reflects the Palestinian reality… “Ghetto mentality” and “dictatorship of tradition” has created a rift amongst Palestinian leaders under the Israeli occupation.”
According to the young people working there, many involved in the Theatre seek to unite Palestinians behind a coming nonviolent Cultural Intifada. They do not pass judgment on the violent struggles of previous movements, but believe that real change can only come through this new, nonviolent movement.
The Freedom Theatre is featured on B-Listed, a blog created by the international human rights organization Breakthrough to recognize under-appreciated so-called “b-list” arts projects with a message. According to their website, Breakthrough encourages harnessing the power of innovative cultural and media projects to educate, and advance equality, justice and dignity.
ElectronicIntifada.com, an alternative media outlet, is part of the tapestry of arts, culture and media organizations working to effect social change. In a June 23, 2009 article on EI, Dr. Ian Pappe writes about what he calls a critical factor in creating real change in the region: the cultural boycott. In this case, Pappe is referring to the cultural boycott of Israel, led by Palestinians but taken up around the world.
The Theatre offers programs for participants of all ages, from children’s plays to post-secondary education. There are currently 9 post-secondary students (2 women), all in their second year. The Theatre is the only acting school in the northern West Bank. One of its productions, Fragments of Palestine, is scheduled to tour in Europe in the coming months.
For first-hand accounts of MPT Team visits to the theatre click here: http://mptinpalestine.blogspot.com/2009/04/visits-to-refugee-camps.html, and http://mptinpalestine.blogspot.com/2009/08/jenin-from-armed-uprising-to-cultural.html