Thursday, January 20, 2011

Making Sense in a Nonsense World

IN a world where food rots while millions starve, where building workers are unemployed while families are denied a roof over their head; where City bank buildings and bonuses soar ever higher, the deeper nations are in debt; and states amass weapons that can destroy the planet thrice and four times over, while scientists tell us we are destroying it anyway, can anything make sense?

In the Land some call Holy, proclaimed a refuge by the UN, which still affects to care for those thus made into refugees, generations after; a land to which I can "Return" by law, though I never lived there, whereas those who did are forcibly kept out; and where a security fence separates farmers from their land, while new settlers claim the Bible's authority to break all Ten Commandments and more besides; is anyone trying to create a space for reason and humanity?

The late Arna Mer-Khamis did. An Israeli woman who had fought in her nation's War of Independence, then married a Palestinian; a communist who looked beyond state boundaries and the obviously "political", a mother who saw children robbed of their childhood by war and occupation. Arna had the vision to found a theatre for children, right in the heart of Jenin refugee camp. An oasis. Where they can find respite, not to forget the surrounding troubles, which would be impossible, but to rise above them, gaining not just entertainment but education and training to express themselves.

Jenin's Freedom Theatre has been trashed by Israeli occupation troops and attacked by other forces, its director, Arna's son Juliano has been threatened by Zionists and abused by self-claimed 'friends' of the Palestinians while campaigning to raise support abroad, but the theatre has won more serious friends in the Palestinian community, and the world outside, as well as the delight and love of youngsters.

The Freedom Theatre has offered not just plays and participation in dance and drama, but training for young Palestinian writers, film makers and artists. This is surely a part of a nation's rising? And just to show how truly human culture and imagination can break through any imposed separation barriers, the Freedom Theatre’s new, most ambitious production yet, due to open on January 23, at 15.00, is Alice in Wonderland .

Here's their introduction:

"This, our largest production to date, is performed by our Acting School students and is not only a theatre performance, but combines dance, music, flying actors, special light effects and magical costumes to present a fantastic and colourful experience for children as well as the rest of the family!

The play is an adaptation of the famous novel Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, written by Lewis Carroll in 1865. It tells the story of a young girl whose curiosity causes her to fall down a rabbit hole, entering a fantasy world populated by peculiar and anthropomorphic creatures. It represents the child's struggle to survive in the confusing world and of adults and their seemingly arbitrary behaviour. To understand this world, Alice has to overcome the open-mindedness that is characteristic for children.

In The Freedom Theatre’s adaptation of the story, which is directed by The Freedom Theatre’s General Director Juliano Mer Khamis, Alice escapes a reality of poverty, oppression and conservatism where she is constrained to doing chores in the home, into a new Wonderland where she meets fantastic characters who reflect and challenge her previous life experiences. Through her encounters Alice reflects upon her own identity as she is continuously forced to question what she considers “right” and “wrong”, “normal” and “abnormal”.

The Freedom Theatre has already been joined by a large number of highly professional international volunteers who are sharing their time and expertise to make the play a memorable experience for the thousands of Palestinian children we hope will be able to see it.

Directed by:
Juliano Merr-Khamis (Palestine)
Zoe Lafferty (United Kingdom)

Bringing Lewis Carrol's creation to Jenin will not free its youngsters from the reality of a boy killed in Gaza when troops opened fire, or of Jawaher Abu Ramah who died from tear gas inhalation at Bil'in on New Years Day. She had been looking after younger family members after her brother was killed on an earlier demonstration. It will not provide shelter for the familes made homeless by house demolitions in occupied esast Jerusalem and in Lydd. Near Jenin itself two men died recently in shooting incidents at an Israeli army roadblock. The struggle continues.

But if it is "better to light a small candle than forever curse the dark", it cannot be wrong to light up hope, imagination and courage in the minds of a new generation, to let them know they are entitled to happiness and to reach out for something more than the world has so far given them. That is not a distraction, it is right at the heart of the freedom struggle.


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