Thursday, April 16, 2009

Palestinian Theatre Fighting for Freedom

PALESTINIAN cultural workers are finding themselves in the front line of their people's fight for freedom and progress - both sides of the so-called Green Line (the unmarked pre-1967 border between the State of Israel and the Israeli- Occupied Palestinian Territories).

Samieh Jabbarin, 41-years old, is a citizen of Israel, from Um al Fahm, the Palestinian town on the Israeli side of the border. Samieh is a theatre and film director, who trained in Germany and is currently completing his Masters degree at the Theatre Arts Department of Tel Aviv University. Upon his return to his native country, he settled in Jaffa, which before the 1948 war was a largely Arab city, many of whose residents were driven out and became refugees in the Gaza strip. In more recent times Palestinians who re-established their community in Jaffa faced opposition. Samieh became involved in the struggle against attempts to evict Arab-Palestinian residents.

Samieh is also active in the Abnaa al Balad (Sons of the Village) movement, which arose among young Palestinians, particularly from Um el Fahm, back in the early 1970s, asserting their Palestinian identity and national aspiurations, while using legal and democratic means (such as becoming elected local councillors) to advance their people's needs, much to the chagrin of the Zionist authorities. While challenging the legitimacy of the Zionist state, Abnaa al Balad, as a secular nationalist movement, does not reject co-operation with Jewish Israelis, indeed it accepts them as members if they are willing to be considered Palestinian Jews.

Samieh was one of the organizers of a conference last year in Haifa on the Palestinian Right of Return, and prospects for a secular democratic state. In December he helped organize public mourning rallies and non-violent protests against the Israeli onslaught on Gaza. In other words, he has done no more nor less than other like-minded citizens, both Arab and Jewish.

But Samieh is an Arab. In January he was warned by the Security Services that a way would be found to punish him for his perfectly legal activities. The opportunity presented itself on February 10th, general election day in Israel. A group of extreme rightist fanatics announced their intention to serve as official monitors of the voting process in Um al Fahm, second largest Arab city in Israel. This was a clear provocation by the far Right, who from the days of the late Meir Kahane have more than once tried to march on Um al Fahm.

Samieh joined residents of the town where he was born in a protest demonstration. He was arrested along with a fellow-resident minutes after the event began. The following day detailed charges were presented at the Hadera court against him for supposedly assaulting the Chief of the Northern Border Patrol, Commander Uri Mor-Yossef. All attempts to disprove and deny such outright deception have been in vain. The open 'secret' is that Israeli police video-document all demonstrations and arrests. In this case, however, no evidence was produced beyond the police officer's own statement.

Samieh was held prisoner in Kishon Prison under harsh conditions for seventeen days, and following a legal struggle, was transferred to strict house-arrest at his parents' home in Um al Fahm. Two family members must be with him at all times, and an electronic shackle is attached to his ankle.

Officially, this ruling is in force "until the end of the legal proceedings". These proceedings, however, have come to a strange near-halt. In sharp contrast to the speed with which they charged him, the authorities are in no hurry to show the prosecution's evidence at an open trial. The prosecution "forgot" to summon Samieh and his attorneys to the indictment last month. Consequently, another indictment has been set for April 27. Who knows how many months will elapse until the trial itself ?.

Thus, Samieh Jabbarin is denied access to his creative work, his studies, and his normal living environment. His fate also serves as a blatant warning to intimidate other social and political activists. Many of us, looking at the circumstances which led to Samieh's arrest and charges, will be reminded of events here like the famous Battle of Cable Street, when Jews in London's East End confronted police to prevent a march into their neighbourhood by Mosley's fascists.

An appeal has gone out to all concerned for democratic values, and particularly those working in the arts and cultural field, in education and the law, to raise their voices in support of film and theatre director Samieh Jabbarin. Among those supporting this I see is Professor Avraham Oz, who teaches English and Drama at Haifa University, and has had his own experiences defending Arab students against interference and harassment from the authorities, trying to censor cultural expression.

To sign the petition please go to:

Meanwhile, in Jenin, the Freedom Theatre which originated in the work among Palestinian children by the late Arna Meir-Khamis, has survived the Israeli military's brutal assault on the town and refugee camp, and been restored after it was trashed by Israeli soldiers. Children have thronged enthusiastically to the theatre, and its students reecenly mounted an ambitious production of George Orwell's Animal Farm.

But plainly not everyone is happy with this bold enterprise, as this sad news below (in Arabic and then English) indicates:.

بيان صحفي
Press Release

مسرح الحرية يتعرض للاعتداء

في صباح الخامس عشر من نيسان 2009 تعرض مسرح الحرية الواقع في قلب مخيم جنين لمحاولة إحراق على يد شخص مجهول الهوية. وقد احترق الباب الرئيسي للمسرح بشكل كامل، ولحسن الحظ لم تمتد ألسنة النيران إلى داخل مبنى المسرح، فلم يصبه أي ضرر أو خراب.

كانت تلك هي المحاولة الثانية لإحراق المسرح، ففي نفس الليلة التي أُحرق فيها معهد الكمنجاتي للموسيقى في جنين بشكل تام قبل ثلاثة أسابيع، جرت المحاولة الأولى الفاشلة لإحراق وتدمير مسرح الحرية.

تم إبلاغ الشرطة الفلسطينية على الفور بمحاولة الإحراق الأولى للمسرح، ولكن حتى اليوم لم تسفر تحقيقات الشرطة عن شيء البتة. تبرهن هذه المحاولة المتكررة بشكل واضح أن مسرح الحرية لا يزال بلا حماية وسوف يكون عرضة لمزيد من محاولات التدمير في المستقبل القريب إن لم تتخذ التدابير اللازمة لحمايته.

إننا نناشدكم اليوم وندعو أصحاب الضمائر الحية وكل من يؤمن أن مستقبل فلسطين يكمن في ثقافتها، أن يرفعوا أصواتهم عاليا وان يقفوا إلى جانب مسرح الحرية في وجه هذه المحاولات الهمجية التي تريد النيل من مستقبل الشعب الفلسطيني برمته.

ونطالب السلطة الوطنية الفلسطينية، أن تقوم بكل ما في وسعها للنيل من أولئك المجرمين وتقديمهم للعدالة وإنقاذ نضال الشعب الفلسطيني من اجل التحرر، من قتامه وسواد أيام مقبلة.
تطور مسرح الحرية وأحرز نجاحات باهرة في منطقة جنين. زار المسرح في العام الماضي أكثر من 16,000 من الفتيان والفتيات والكبار وشاركوا في أنشطتنا، والتي كان آخرها "مزرعة الحيوانات" التي لقت نجاحا باهرا وترحيبا من قبل الجمهور الذي توافد بالآلاف من جميع أنحاء منطقة جنين إلى المسرح.
لا تسمحوا لهم بتدمير مسرح الحرية

The Freedom Theatre Under Attack!
On the morning of April 15, 2009, an unknown individual set fire to The Freedom Theatre in Jenin Refugee Camp, Occupied Palestine. The main door of the theatre was completely burned, but the fire did not spread inside the building and the theatre remains largely unharmed. This was the second attempt to burn the theatre. On the night when Al Kamandjati Music Centre in Jenin was devastatingly set on fire three weeks ago, there was also a first failed attempt to destroy The Freedom Theatre. The Palestinian Police was immediately informed of the initial attempt to burn the theatre, but to date nothing has come out of the police investigation. This renewed attempt confirms that the theatre remains unprotected and a target for more attacks in the near future. We are therefore calling upon all of You, who believe the future of Palestine lies in its culture, to raise your voices and stand beside us to confront these barbaric acts against the future of the Palestinian people. We are calling upon the Palestinian Authority to do whatever in its power to bring these criminals to justice and to save the Palestinian liberation struggle from ever darkening days.
The Freedom Theatre has grown to be very successful in the Jenin area. In the past year more than 16,000 boys, girls and adults visited the theatre and took part in our activities, and the recent theatre production of “Animal Farm” was a great success, bringing thousands of youth from the whole Jenin district to the theatre.
Do not let The Freedom Theatre be destroyed!

The Freedom Theatre Foundation - Ägostigen 5, SPÅNGA, 163 44, Sweden

It would be nice and convenient to think that the only enemies of Palestinian freedom and cultural expression were on the Zionist side. Unfortunately, liberation struggles are seldom that simple. It seems possible that four decades of Occupation have produced, along with brave and enlightened resisters, destructive elements who are deluded into attacking their own people's efforts like the Freedom Theatre, either because they are seen as reflecting Palestinian-Israeli cultural collaboration, or simply because any secular cultural expression which breaks through the misery of oppression is seen as an affront to religious dominance. Or, it could be that some felt the pessimistic parable of 'Animal Farm', where the leaders come to resemble and collaborate with the oppressors, so 'the animals looked from pigs to men, and men to pigs,..', was too close to home for comfort.

We know that Juliano Mer-Khamis, in his efforts to raise awareness and support for the Freedom Theatre his mother started, ran into ill-informed or malignant opposition in some quarters in Europe, from people claiming he was breaking the boycott of Israel. It was also reported recently that the Palestinian Authority had disbanded a Palestinian youth orchestra from Jenin after it had performed at a concert for Holocaust survivors in Israel. I was reluctant to comment on this, suspecting we were not getting the full story from those with a vested interest in telling such tales (for instance how come the Israeli concert goers had not been informed the orchestra was from Jenin?).

We could also understand that after the Israeli military's brutal havoc in Jenin, and so soon after the slaughter in Gaza, many people in Jenin may not have felt happy with sending their children to entertain Israelis, however well-intentioned or otherwise the invitation had been. But the Authority had better show some alacrity in protecting the Freedom Theatre and pursuing the arsonists,if it is to be an authority in more than just name, though admittedly it has yet to protect Palestinians from rampaging Israeli troops and settlers, which would give people more confidence.

Whoever was responsible for the attack on the Freedom Theatre - and it could well be Israeli agents, who don't. want such efforts to succeed, - such actions, regardless of intention, do serve the occupiers, who in Palestine as in Iraq, deliberately target educational and cultural institutions, and harass artists, teachers and scientists, in order to prevent development, demoralise people, and impose backwardness.

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At 2:25 AM, Blogger Ana said...

Have you seen the video about The Freedom Theatre, from

Watch now:


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