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The cultural intifada

THE JENIN THEATRE / Recently many Palestinians were killed in Jenin. What does Palestinian resistance to the Israeli occupation entail in today's desperate situation? For The Freedom Theater in Jenin, the answer is still a cultural intifada. A performance is now being shown at the Human festival in Oslo.


"To create is resistance, resistance is to create", thus concluded Stéphane Hessel the battle script Get angry! (Be indignant!). The pamphlet by this world-renowned French-Jewish resistance man, diplomat and human rights defender, who had survived the Nazi camps, had so much to say for the social movements after its publication in 2011 that the Spanish movement was named after the book. The then 93-year-old ringed fox reminds us that Israel's illegal occupation of Palestine is the core issue we must never lose sight of and must never get used to accepting.

The cultural intifada

It's the documentary Arna's Children from 2004 which reminds me of the quote. It was filmed in the period 1987-2003, which includes the first and second intifadas, in the refugee camp in jenin on the West Bank. Arna Wed-Thursday, an Israeli-Jewish former elite soldier who abandoned Zionism and married a Palestinian communist leader. In the film, we see her in the refugee camp. The over 2003-year-old Arna in 70 "brings some paper and some crayons: A barefoot blonde woman in a big white dress reminiscent of pajamas from a mental hospital" (see The Freedom Theatre, https://www.therevolutionpromise. com/). The work with a school for the children in the camp and for the children in the Israeli prisons earned her The Right Livelihood Award in 1993.

The film follows the children's perspective – from theater play at school until the Israeli army invades the camp during the second intifada. The same children, who in 2002 are young guerrilla fighters, end up in the grave. This perspective makes the film one of the strongest films about resistance filmed in Palestine. Camera and direction was by Arna's son Juliano Mer-Khamis. He has chosen to become an actor after the life crisis that followed his deployment as an Israeli paratrooper in Jenin. The mother drags him into the work of teaching the children theater. But after the mother's death, the Israeli invasion comes and leaves the camp in ruins.

From the theater in 2014 (Photo: Truls Lie)

In the film, we also follow a young Zakaria Zubeidi. He is the only one of the boys from the theater school to survive the Battle of Jenin. Zubeidi becomes the very symbol of the Palestinian resistance and leader of the al-Aqsa Brigade (see below). Later, in 2007, in one of the few moments of his life not in prison, he returns to the camp with his former teacher, Mer-Khamis. They establish The Freedom Theatre. Zubeidi is quoted as saying: “I never wanted to be an armed resistance fighter, but that was the life fate gave me. I wanted to be an actor, to be the Romeo of Palestine. Now with The Freedom Theatre, others can have that opportunity.” Zakaria Zubeidi and Juliano Mer-Khamis then declared that “the third intifada will be the cultural intifada».

Juliano Mer-Khamis was executed outside the theater by an unknown assailant.

Since that time, the theater has represented a constant problem for the Israeli occupation, which has non-stop terrorized and arrested the theater's students and staff – without formal charges or legal processes, they have committed vandalism and carried out raids. And in 2011 it was Juliano Wed-Thurs executed outside the theater by an unknown perpetrator.

The Revolution’s Promise

With obvious danger to his own life he swore The Freedom Theatre that they would not let themselves be stopped in their work for the cultural intifada. The theater has continued to distinguish itself as one of the spearheads for the non-violent and internationalized turn in the resistance to the occupation. In 2014 I had the privilege (along with Marius Kolbenstvedt and MODERN TIMES Truls Lie ) of participating as an international observer in The Freedom Ride through West Bank. The project was inspired by the American civil rights movement's freedom buses. The international observers guaranteed some safety for the theater's actors on a journey through "closed military zones" to the most oppressed parts of the Oslo Agreement's fatal Area C. The exceptionally successful artistic project combined playback theatre, where the actors stage the local people's own stories, with a campaign for both internal and international solidarity. Cultural resistance was the common starting point. Despite constant surveillance, harassment and controls from the Israeli occupation authorities, as well as a military attack with rubber bullets and tear gas when we visited the resistance center Nabi Saleh, the project was carried out as planned.

Later, during the global covid-19 lockdown, they continued the business. On the tenth anniversary of the murder of Juliano Mer-Khamis, the theater launched the ambitious theater project The Revolution’s Promise. The work is constructed as a genealogy of it Palestiniane cultural resistance. At a time when touring was impossible, they chose to put the play and the material for the staging freely online and encouraged theaters, universities and solidarity groups all over the world to stage the play in their local environment.

In the work we meet several of the most important voices in the cultural intifada. They face the same challenges as all other Palestinians in their attempt to make a life for themselves and run their business. But they Israelske the attacks on the cultural intifada are systematic.

Just refusing to move, not giving up, continuing to love, to give birth, to cook, to get water, to move into a cave or a tent.

The examples are many: the poet Dareen Tatour is imprisoned without law or judgment after publishing a poem on Facebook. Simply creating a library of Palestinian music, running an art center, or "choreographing dance with political content" can lead to longer prison terms and torture. Souhail Khoury, the head of the Palestinian Conservatory of Music, survived the torture in prison by mentally composing music, which he launched only ten years later. IN Gaza the manager of a cultural center is informed that the theater is to be bombed: After nine bombs have hit the building, the performances are staged in the ruins. The choreographer Omar Barghouti, who is a co-initiator of the Palestinian popular action for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel, is put under house arrest with the designation 'non-violent terrorist' while the security minister threatens with 'civilian execution'.

But the common thread that runs through the stories is a fundamental will not to let oneself be broken and to continue the cultural resistance, whatever the cost. It creates a whole which, rather than the usual narrative of misery and injustice, conveys a Palestinian version of Hessel's words "to create is resistance, resistance is to create".

Steadfastness and root stability

My journey with The Freedom Theater in 2014 left an indelible impression of this resistance: "To exist is to resist», I could read on a half-demolished building where we spent the night in a "closed military zone" in Area C. I Oslo Accordss forgotten marginal zones are simply refusing to move, not to give up, to continue to love, to give birth, to cook, to get water, to move into a cave or a tent, in short: Just living and retain his humanity becomes an act of resistance.

The ability to maintain the Palestinian way of life is the core and strength of what we can call the cultural intifada. And both the Palestinians and the occupying power are aware of this: On the one hand, the occupying authority is systematically trying to break down cultural ties and the possibility of living "a Palestinian life" and creating Palestinian culture. On the other side, for the Palestinians, it is about continuing what in Arabic is often called 'sumud'a mixture of steadfastness and rootedness.

The cultural resistance is resistance that cannot lose.

It is a resistance that has always existed, against Israel as against all previous colonizers. To resist the slow ethnic cleansing of occupied Palestine, to keep the roots, perhaps not even with the hope of a better future for oneself, but only with what the author and friend of Palestine John Berger called "an undefeated desperation". Because the cultural resistance is a resistance that cannot lose. And no occupation lasts forever.

Today's situation

At the time of writing, the Israeli attacks on the refugee camp in Jenin are the most powerful since the second intifadaone, when the camp was laid in ruins. On 26 January, ten residents of the camp were killed by the Israeli military. The escalation heralds an escalation of the spiral of violence from an increasingly extreme Israeli government. Last year, more than 170 Palestinians were killed in such attacks – the highest number since the second intifada. In January alone, the number was up to 29 killed. At the same time, The Freedom Theatre's administrative manager and one of the board members are in so-called administrative detention – without formal charges or any form of legal process. An 18-year-old boy who worked for the theater was recently shot and killed in the open street by Israeli forces. His name is added to the list of the 22 children who have been killed in Jenin alone in 2022.

Zubeidi remains in prison after the news that he and five fellow prisoners managed to dig a tunnel with a spoon and escape from one of Israel's high-security prisons went triumphantly around the world.

See also ours reportage from Jenin av
Frances Borri.

The Revolution’s Promise will be displayed below Human International Film Festival
on Vega stage in Oslo 11.-12. March.

Through art and culture

THEATER: "They will always provoke us to think about fighting, and trap us in a spiral of violence that they use against us," says Ahmed Tobasi, artistic director of The Freedom Theatre, to MODERN TIMES.

- The Revolution's Promise shows the great difficulties the cultural intifada faces. How do you view the continuation of the intifada against the Israeli occupation?

"The political parties and factions have lost their moral authority. I therefore believe that the cultural and artistic intifada is today the leading force in the Palestinian resistance. When Juliano Mer-Khamis was killed in 2011, it was very clear that the Israeli occupying power felt threatened. They will always provoke us to think about fighting, and trap us in a spiral of violence that they use against us. We express ourselves through art and culture, through new ways of communicating with the world, and through new relationships internally and externally – with actors in international civil society who connect with our movement – this is what Israel does not want us to continue with .”

- How do you experience this task now that the international attention has overwhelmingly been directed at covid-19 and Ukraine?

"Israel is making it increasingly difficult for the cultural intifada, and the Western media are turning all their attention to a solution for Ukraine against Russia. But at the same time we are experiencing that this is raising awareness, and that people are returning to the question of why a solution has still not been found for Palestine and the Palestinians."

- You have a past as a political refugee and theater student in Norway, how do you see Norway's role with regard to the work?

"I love Norway, but not the government. With the Oslo agreement, you left us, sorry for the expression, in the shit. You have a responsibility and every opportunity to do something good, support art and culture in Palestine, but now you choose to give in to the EU and give us guidelines – which no Palestinian can accept – in order to receive support. We at The Freedom Theater have recently lost 80 percent of our support. But we stand by our promise to never give up.”



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