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Palestinian theatre group uses art to resist Israeli occupation

The Freedom Theatre Jenin refugee camp on 23 May 2011[SAIF DAHLAH/AFP/GettyImages]
The Freedom Theatre at the Jenin refugee camp on 23 May 2011[SAIF DAHLAH/AFP/GettyImages]

A Palestinian community-based drama group in the Jenin refugee camp in the northern part of the West Bank continues to generate cultural resistance against the Israeli occupation, Anadolu News Agency reports.

Set up in 1989, coinciding with the first Intifada and known earlier as the Stone Theatre, the Freedom Theatre evokes memories of its founders – Arna Mer Khamis and her son, Juliano Mer-Khamis, anti-Zionist Jewish activists – who had devoted their lives to support the Palestinian children in the camp.

"The play based on the Little Jellyfish story, written by Ghassan Kanafani, was the first drama staged in the theatre by the group. Many children from the camp acted in the drama," said Mustafa Sheta, the General Director of the theatre.

In 2002, Juliano, who had continued to patronise the group after his mother's death, discovered that children like Alaa Sabagh, Ashraf Abu Alhija and Yousef Sweatat and many others, who had acted in the Little Jellyfish had joined the battle of Jenin to resist the Israeli army which had entered the camp during the second Intifada.

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"He followed the stories of the children, who had become fighters. All of them were killed by the Israeli army, except Zakaria Zubaidi, who is in jail since 2018," Sheta told Anadolu Agency.

Inspired by this turn of events, Juliano directed the film, Aran's Children, in 2004 that tells the story of the Palestinian child artists, who got killed during the military invasion of the camp.

Juliano had been inspired by groups in the US, the UK, France, Sweden and Portugal to support and improve the theatre.

"By these groups, he wanted to build the national cultural identity, so it was a great chance for the volunteers to express their solidarity to the Palestinian cause," Sheta added.

They adopted many international stories similar to the lives in Palestine and discussed the political and social situation like the famous story.

"The work was going very well, until Juliano was assassinated in 2011 in Jenin camp by a masked gunman near the Freedom Theatre," said the General Director of the theatre.

The murder remains unsolved, despite being investigated by four separate authorities: the Israeli police, the Palestinian police, the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF), and Shin Bet.

Despite this setback, the theatre has continued working with actors and launched the moving theatre, called "The Bus of Freedom" that travels annually across the West Bank from 21 to 31 March, to narrate stories of resistance and Palestinians through the medium of art.

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