Saturday, April 15, 2006

Rekindling vision in Jenin, Arna's Children come to Westminster

The late ARNA MER KHAMIS (holding red flowers) with friends in London, drawing attention to children killed by occupation forces during the first Intifada.

ANYONE worried about how to get youngsters interested in the theatre might be advised to seek tips from the people running a modest theatrical effort in the Palestinian town of Jenin. The Freedom Theatre has only recently reopened, replacing a previous venture that was trashed by Israeli troops, and a fortnight ago the theatre was 'stormed' again - this time by over 1,000 enthusiastic kids who came to see a play performed by a visiting troupe from Haifa.

The Freedom Theatre has been created to provide not only enjoyment but an oasis of peace and hope for children who have seen more than their share of fear and conflict, and whose parents don't know how they can feed them, as the powerful punish their people.

The idea was started by a remarkable Israeli woman, the late Arna Mer-Khamis, and as part of efforts to back her vision, a film called "Arna's Children" is being shown in Britain, started with a screening at the Houses of Parliament on Tuesday, April 18. Before I move on to more details of that, here is an appeal, in English and Arabic, from the team that is working in Jenin:

13 April- 2006

The Freedom Theatre

Today, more then ever the children of Jenin refugee camp need your help.
When the world is cutting its aid to the Palestinian people, when Israel is launching unilateral attacks and killings; starving, imprisoning and besieging a whole nation, your help is crucial. Without hope, hungry and desperate, the children of Jenin are doomed to slow mental and emotional death.

Help us to bring some hope and a bit of a normal life to the children of the camp. They are not to be blamed for the choice of the democratically elected Hamas.

Your donation for The Freedom Theatre very important. Although your moral and spiritual support is important, at this moment your financial support is crucial for our survival, however much you are able to give, we are entirely relying on individual donations such as yours.

Two weeks ago The Freedom Theatre was “stormed” by over 1000 children! When the Palestinian theatre group from Haifa- “Jbeny Theatre” - performed in The Freedom Theatre over 1000 enthusiastic children stormed the theatre. For most of them this was the first time they had ever seen a dramatic work. On stage the children’s play Juha and Bahloul was performed by Shady Facher el Den, Ayman Nahas and Widad Sarhan. The play is a comedy about the fool Bahloul and his neighbour Juha and relates to subjects such as relationship and greed.

We present to you on our web site a small documentary of the historical day, when “Bahloul” visited Jenin refugee camp:

The Freedom Theatre team

بيان صحفي، 13 نيسان 2006

مسرح الحرية

اليوم، أطفال جنين بحاجة إلى مساعدتكم أكثر من أي وقت مضى.

في وقت يقوم فيه العالم بقطع المساعدات عن الشعب الفلسطيني، و إسرائيل من جانبها تقوم بخطوات أحادية الجانب تتمثل بتنفيذ سلسلة من الهجمات على الفلسطينيين، و تتابع سياسية القتل، التجويع، و الحصار، تُعتبر مساعدتكم حاسمة. بدون أمل، بجوع و يأس، حُكم على أطفال مخيم جنين بالموت البطيء، ذهنياً و عاطفياً.

ساعدونا لإعادة الأمل و الحياة الطبيعية لأطفال المخيم. فهم ليسوا الملامين على الخيار الديمقراطي للشعب الفلسطيني بانتخابه حماس.

دعمكم لمسرح الحرية حاسم و مهم جداً. و مع أن دعمكم الأخلاقي و الروحي مهم ، إلا انه و في هذه اللحظات بالذات دعمكم المالي - مهما تكن قيمته- حاسم جداً و يساعد في بقاء المؤسسة.

قبل أسبوعين، غصّ مسرح الحرية بأكثر من ألف طفل!

عندما قدمت فرقة مسرح فلسطينية من حيفا "مسرح جبينة" عرضاً في مسرح الحرية، حضر العرض أكثر من ألف طفل يملؤهم الحماس. بالنسبة للغالبية العظمى منهم، كانت هذه أول مرة يشاهدون فيها عرضاً مسرحياً. كما عُرض أيضا مسرحية الأطفال "جحا و بهلول"، و مثل فيها كل من شادي فخر الدين، أيمن نحّاس و وداد سرحان. و المسرحية كوميدية تروي قصة "بهلول" الساذج و جاره "جحا" و تتناول قضايا عديدة مثل الجشع و العلاقات بين البشر.

نقدم لكم من خلال موقعنا الالكتروني فيلماً قصيراً عن هذا اليوم التاريخي، عندما زار "بهلول" مخيم جنين للاجئين:

فريق عمل مسرح الحرية

Arna's Children screenings

ARNA'S CHILDREN tells the story of a theatre group that was established by Arna Mer Khamis. Arna was born to a Jewish family in Mandate Palestine, and fought in the pre-state Palmach commandos. In the 1950s, seeking a way to peace and a fairer society, she joined the Communist Party, and married a Palestinian Arab, Saliba Khamis.

Arna quit the Party in disgust after witnessing the Warsaw pact invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. But she never wavered from her commitment to the aims of justice and humanity that had led her to join it.

On the West Bank, she opened an alternative education system for children whose regular life was disrupted by the Israeli occupation. The theatre group that she started engaged children from Jenin, helping them to express their everyday frustrations, anger, bitterness and fear. Arna's son Juliano, director of this film, was also one of the directors of Jenin's theatre. With his camera, he filmed the children during rehearsal periods from 1989 to 1996. Now, he goes back to see what happened to them.

Yussef committed a suicide attack in Hadera in 2001, Ashraf was killed in the battle of Jenin, Alla leads a resistance group. Juliano, who today is one of the leading actors in the region, looks back in time in Jenin, trying to understand the choices made by the children he loved and worked with. Eight years ago, the theatre was closed and life became static and paralysed. Shifting back and forth in time, the film reveals the tragedy and horror of lives trapped by the circumstances of the Israeli occupation.

* 18 April at 6.30 p.m. FREE showing at the House of Commons, Portcullis House, Bridge Street, Westminster with Howard Brenton. Advance reservation essential at*

19th April, Cafe Forever, 3 Glengall Grove, Isle of Dogs, London E14 3NE. Doors open 7.00 p.m. Film and talk at 8.00 p.m. Food will be available. Tickets £5 (concs £3.50) Contact Henk on 020 7987 4219*

20th April, Nottingham at 7.30 p.m. at the New Mechanic Institute, 3 North Sherwood St (cr Shakespeare St), NG1 4EZ, E-mail*

25th April, Manchester contact Leonie at Olive Co-op 07835 907781*

26th April, Barbican, London as part of the Palestine Film Festival

Destroyed during the occupation forces' assault on Jenin in 2002, Arna's theatre has been re-oped by determined volunteers in February this year.
It is already offering Jenin’s children workshops for music and painting, the chance to see films, make theatre themselves and engage in therapeutic psychodrama. Plans are afoot for music classes, for projects designed specifically for traumatised children and for a network of children’s theatre projects throughout Palestine. To establish the theatre on a permanent basis in Jenin will require the purchase of land, constructing a building from scratch and the acquisition of theatre equipment. The British Shalom Salaam Trust is fundraising to aid the project.

For further details on how to donate please e-mail
Supporters of the project include many of BSST’s Patrons and Board members of the Jenin Freedom Theatre Juliano Mer Kamis, Noam Chomsky, Howard Brenton, Dror Feiler and Professor Judith Butler.

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