Michael Riordon

the view from where I live

The show must go on

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Good news, bad news and an appeal from the wonderful Freedom Theatre, under siege in the Jenin refugee camp, West Bank, occupied Palestine.

( The Freedom Theatre, after Israeli military raid.  Photo: Global Times.)

First, the bad news:

“Jenin refugee camp has recently suffered a higher number of arrests than usual.  Over thirty arrests have been made in the past month alone.  Last night (December 20), at least eight new arrests were made during a major Israeli military invasion of the refugee camp.  Among the people arrested were three members of The Freedom Theatre, a cultural centre for children and youth.

One of the arrested was Mohammed Saadi, light and sound technician at The Freedom Theatre.  He describes the experience: ‘At around midnight soldiers broke down the door to my house, they didn’t even knock.  They blindfolded me and my brother and took us up to the mountain behind Jenin camp.  There we were shoved into an army jeep.  During the approximately half-hour drive to the army base we were constantly abused, physically and orally.  The soldiers hit us with their fists and the butts of their machine guns.  In the early morning we were released after having been interrogated throughout the night.’

The reason for these arrests remains unclear.

To bring attention to Israel’s systematic  practice of military rule and arbitrary arrests, the Freedom Theatre will give a street performance on December 21 in Jenin refugee camp.  We will use Playback Theatre* to enact the stories of those who were arrested.  The performance is also a publicity event for The Freedom Bus project.  (See good news, below).”

*Playback Theatre is an interactive theatre approach used in over 50 countries as a tool for community building and community dialogue.  In a Playback Theatre performance, audience members volunteer life experiences and watch as a team of actors and musicians transform these accounts into improvised theater pieces.  Playback Theatre helps to foster community strength through the sharing of experiences that remind us of our common humanity and our capacity for courage, creativity and resilience.”

Then comes a brief report on the street performance:

“On the afternoon of the 21st, The Freedom Theatre held a street performance in Jenin refugee camp, to bring attention to Israel’s systematic practice of military rule and arbitrary arrests.

The performance was attended by children, youth and adults from the camp as well as internationals.  Actors used Playback Theatre to enact the accounts of those who were impacted by recent invasions and harassment.  Stories were told by people recently arrested, tortured and harassed by the Israeli military.  Other residents of Jenin refugee camp also shared their thoughts and feelings about Israeli military violence and the increasing number of arbitrary arrests that have occurred over the past months.

Kamal Abu Awad, who lives in the Jenin refugee camp, is a student in The Freedom Theatre acting school.  He was recently arrested, then released from Israeli prison without charge. ‘Today’s event gave me a chance to tell my story,’ he says.  ‘Having others listen to my experience helped me feel connected to my community.   It also helped to know that my story was being heard by an international audience.’”

Then, more bad news:

That same night, December 21, “the Israeli army invaded Jenin refugee camp again, and arrested an additional three members of The Freedom Theatre: Adnan Naghnaghiye, stage manager, Bilal Saadi, chairperson, and Faisal Abu Alheja, acting instructor and assistant producer, who had participated in the street performance that afternoon. 

In their raids Israeli soldiers break down the doors of houses they enter, and sometimes turn the houses upside-down.  They blindfold and handcuff innocent people that are not suspected or accused of any crime.  They beat, verbally insult and lock them in prison cells.  Reports from those arrested yesterday speak of inhumane treatment that amount to torture.

These systematic attacks by the Israeli army on the Freedom Theatre and its employees seriously damage the theatre’s ability to operate as a safe place for children and youth.

The Freedom Theatre will stage a second event on Wednesday, December 28th at 2pm to protest against the further arrests and nightly raids taking place in Jenin Refugee Camp.”

Amid these brutal assaults, the Freedom Theatre also sends good news – amazing news, really, under the circumstances:

“After a devastating year which included the still unsolved murder of our General Director, friend and co-founder, Juliano Mer Khamis, we are back on our feet and moving forward with projects new and old, continuing the struggle for individual and collective freedom through art.

(Freedom Theatre student performance.  Photo: bo-alternativ.de.)

As the year comes to an end, we say goodbye to the first class of Acting School students [see chapter 2, Our Way to Fight] as they have successfully completed the three year Acting School programme.  While we say goodbye to them as students, we are happy to report that some of them will continue on with the Freedom Theatre in wide-ranging ways, allowing them to move from students to instructors or as participants in one of the theatre’s many projects.  Additionally, our current first year Acting School students, who through the support of people like you have continued to receive educational grants to assist them in their studies, will enter into their second year of training in 2012.

To visualize the experiences of life under oppression we have recently started training several Playback Theatre troupes.  The New Year will prove to be an active one as we move to the streets, involving the residents of Jenin Refugee Camp both in the process of creating and performing a production that will be staged as part of a Street Art Festival.

Moving further afield, you can catch us on the bus – the Freedom Bus that is – as we travel to key sites of oppression and resistance within the West Bank, listening to and enacting the experiences of community members using Playback Theatre techniques.  Supporters from around the world are encouraged to join the ride to learn more about life in Palestine and we hope to see you on board!

The accomplishments of The Freedom Theatre over the past six years are many, and we are confident that we will continue implementing creative projects that change the lives of children and youth in the local community – but we need your assistance.  You can best help us by making a one-time end-of-year donation, or by becoming a long-term partner of The Freedom Theatre by signing up for a monthly donation program.  We hope to get 1000 people from around the world to donate at least 10 USD/EUR or equivalent per month.

Thank you!

The Freedom Theatre

MR:  These people do amazing work.  They need and deserve all the support they can get.  Please send this message on, far and wide.

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.

One thought on “The show must go on

  1. At the hospital for blood tests the other day, I resigned myself to a long wait as there were 30 people ahead of me. Thanks to modern technology I was able to use the time to catch up on your blogs. They all have their heartbreak but none more than those I read in the waiting room surrounded by people chatting cheerfully about Xmas and the coming holidays. The contrast of our lives was so clear. In just over an hour I was done and sent on my way by staff apologizing because it took so long. I imagine it must be difficult for you reading and writing these stories, but I thank you for them. The voices therein are a constant reminder to be grateful for all that we have and to put our anger to good use and do what we can to help those suffering these outrageous injustices on a daily basis. It is helpful to be shown how easy it is for us to support those who are doing such brave work under such difficult circumstances.


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