Michael Riordon

the view from where I live

41. Israeli army attacks Freedom Theatre

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At about 3:30 this morning, July 27, Special Forces of the Israeli Army attacked the Freedom Theatre in the Jenin refugee camp.

Ahmad Nasser Matahen, a night guard and technician student at the theatre awoke to the thud of stone blocks being hurled at the theatre door.  When he opened the door he found masked and heavily armed Israeli Special Forces surrounding the theatre.

Ahmed says, “They told me to raise my hands and forced me to take my pants down.  I thought my time had come, that they would kill me.  My brother that was with me was handcuffed.”

The location manager of the Freedom Theatre, Adnan Naghnaghiye, was arrested and taken away to an unknown location together with Bilal Saadi, a member of the theatre board.  When general manager Jacob Gough and co-founder Jonatan Stanczak arrived, they were forced to squat next to a family with four small children surrounded by about 50 heavily armed Israeli soldiers.

Jonatan says: “Whenever we tried to tell them that they are attacking a cultural venue and arresting members of the theater we were told to shut up and they threatened to kick us.  I tried to contact the civil administration of the army to clarify the matter but the person in charge hung up on me.”

Attacks like this occur every day throughout occupied Palestine.  In fact, as the international movement for boycott, divestment and sanctions grows, and the Palestinian statehood initiative gathers support, Israeli attacks appear to be escalating.

Still, this one comes as a particular shock, perhaps because the Freedom Theatre is so familiar to me (see Our Way to Fight, chapter 2).

This is the second major blow to the theatre in four months.  On April 4, co-founder Juliano Mer-Khamis was murdered here, by one or more killers who remain at large. (See blog post #15, Live theatre.)

As a popular symbol of non-violent resistance to military occupation, and a haven for free thought and expression, inevitably the Freedom Theatre is a target.

In June, the theatre premiered a new play, Sho Kman (What Else), featuring students of the Freedom Theatre acting school.  Two weeks ago the student actors took their play to six cities in France.

Sho Kman explores how the unrelenting violence of the external military occupation can lead to internal chaos, corroding friendship, family, society and state, a cruel cycle of entrapment and suppression with no end in sight.

For young people in the Jenin refugee camp, the play is another step in the struggle to break free from the many layers of chains that imprison them.

This is why the Freedom Theatre continues to be a target.

Author: Michael Riordon

Canadian writer and documentary-maker Michael Riordon writes/ directs/produces books and articles, audio, video and film documentaries, plays for radio and stage. A primary goal of his work is to recover voices and stories of people who have been silenced or marginalized, written out of the official version: First Nations (aboriginal) youth, Mozambican farmers, inmates in Canadian prisons, traditional healers in Fiji, queer folk across Canada, Guatemalan labour activists. Michael also leads courses, workshops and seminars for community organizations, trade unions, schools, colleges and universities.

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