The Freedom Theatre
Too few people realize that without the Palestinian struggle for freedom, dignity, justice there would be no Arab Spring… In this struggle, the Jenin Freedom Theatre stands out as one of the most profoundly creative, innovative and hopeful expressions of all these trends. It has not only produced great art and its own martyrs. It has offered a model for the future, one based on the full respect for everyone's most basic human, civil, political and cultural rights that not only stands the best chance of healing Palestine/Israel, but of bringing real democracy and justice to the rest of the Arab world. --Mark LeVine, Professor, UC Irvine, and the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Lund University, Sweden
The Freedom Theatre opened in 2006 in Jenin Refugee Camp for children and youth living under occupation to create and express themselves freely and imagine new realities for their lives.
With its mission of “Culture as Resistance,” The Freedom Theatre has offered professional-quality stage productions (among them, “Animal Farm” in 2009, “Alice in Wonderland” in 2010 and “While Waiting” in 2011) and many programs for youth and children in filmmaking, photography, acting, psychodrama and creative writing, the latter resulting in a youth magazine and e-zine called “Voices.” More than 100,000 Palestinians, Israelis and internationals have participated in the activities and visited The Theatre in the past five years. International volunteers have come and stayed for months at a time, working with the Palestinian staff and contributing their expertise.
The Theatre was founded by Juliano Mer Khamis, Jonatan Stanczak, and Zakaria Zubeidi as a continuation of the work of Juliano’s mother, Arna Mer, whose Stone Theatre was destroyed in the Israeli bombardment of 2002.
On April 4, 2011, Juliano, who had become the main source of inspiration of The Theatre and its creative visionary, was murdered by a still unknown killer in broad daylight for reasons also unknown. No one has been charged with Juliano’s killing. Rather, in the months that followed, the Israeli army attacked The Freedom Theatre, arrested several of its members, and kept them in jail for several weeks. None were charged; all were later released, and the Israeli court said there was no basis for the arrests and harassment.
As stated by Jonatan Stanczak, today the Managing Director of The Freedom Theatre, and the Artistic Director Nabeel Al-Raee, “Against all odds, the staff, board and members managed to keep the Theatre from collapsing and thanks to the support from friends around the world, we got through the storm.”
The Freedom Theatre is rebounding. Currently it continues to operate its Acting School and has relaunched courses in creative writing and photography for young members of the community. Two new after-school drama groups have been formed and a program of open art days and screenings of children’s films are being held weekly for hundreds of children. A Street Theatre project is creating a production that will be performed in the Cultural Capital of Europe, Guimaraes, in Portugal in the summer of 2012.
Playback Theatre – an interactive approach where audience members share experiences and then watch as a team of actors and musicians transform these experiences into improvised theater pieces -- is proving to be a popular program that is continuously expanding its activities to new community groups and villages. A new effort willl take place in September/October 2012, as people from around the world participate in the Freedom Bus, a solidarity ride through the West Bank that will include interactive performances to give voice to personal stories about popular struggle, political imprisonment, home demolitions, the Separation Wall and daily life under Israeli occupation.
The Theatre continues to live by Juliano’s words, “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 violence. 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 fund-raising, 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.”
Please support The Freedom Theatre!
MECA is excited to be working with The Freedom Theatre in Jenin. You can make a secure online donation now that will be used to support innovative programs for youth and children who make “Creation Under Occupation” a living reality.