“The Cultural Occupation is Stronger”

Today Floss and I went on a roadtrip to Jenin.  Here there is a theater called the Freedom Theatre that was re-founded in 2006 by a half-Palestinian, half-Jewish man named Juliano Khamis.  You may have heard about his murder this last summer on the news.  I wanted to see the theater since hearing this news and seeing the documentary “Arna’s Children.”  Essentially, an old Jewish woman from an old village in current Israel came to Jenin to set up arts education and the Stone Theatre.  The original Stone Theatre was destroyed in 2002 during the second intifada and most of its actors were killed during the fight.  The Freedom Theatre is the new location and school.  Juliano was Arna’s son.

We arrived unannounced hoping for the best that the theatre would be open despite the acting school being on tour in the US and Germany.   Turns out the acting school coordinator, Rawand, was there with several others running the place and she was kind enough to tell us about the theatre and show us around.  She even showed us clips from some of their performances.  The theatre itself is a typical blackbox which they make into spectacular sets with funds from international arts organizations and the acting classes they offer are completely free.  Students study for three years, earn a certificate, and one of the classes is performing “While Waiting” (an adaptation of Waiting for Godot) in New York right now in honor of Juliano.

She told us that the Israeli army, during their “investigation” of Juliano’s murder, arrested several people from the theatre and invaded it.  A more detailed account is here:   http://www.thefreedomtheatre.org/news.php?id=187.  The more I thought about it and I saw how empowered theatre made these students and the community in Jenin, the more I realized it was probably an Israeli who shot him.  The actual murderer, of course, has not been caught and this is just speculation.  But I don’t believe anyone in Jenin did it, and I am certain no one in the theatre did.  Rawand was visibly still affected deeply by his loss and it was very present in her mind when she talked to us.  I held back tears a couple of times.  One of the clips she showed us showed one of the students saying “There is military occupation, and there is cultural occupation.  And cultural occupation is stronger.  They don’t want us to be educated.  Perhaps if we become great actors, the Israelis will feel they are destroyed.”

This statement was so powerful to me.  I think what they are doing here is truly beautiful; using theatre as non-violent resistance.  They are quickly becoming world known and recently performed an adaptation of “Alice in Wonderland,” which was the biggest theatre performance in the West Bank.  They invited students from all over Palestine to see it.  I hope I can volunteer or work for this theatre someday.  Maybe even just promoting it in Chicago for support.  The theatre really spoke to me.

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