Jenin Refugee Camp and the Freedom Theatre

Trip Start Dec 10, 2007
Trip End Jan 10, 2008

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Flag of Palestinian Territory  ,
Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Aunt Jen met her friends Dinky and Terry in Ramallah and then altogether we went to Jenin Refugee Camp to spend a few days at the Freedom Theatre.
The Freedom Theatre was started after Juliano Mer Khamis made a film called "Arna's Children", which was about what happened to a group of children his mom (Arna) had worked with in a theatre program she had started in Jenin Refugee Camp during the first initifada, in the late 1980's.
After large portions of Jenin Camp was destroyed in a massive Israeli invasion in April 2002, Juliana went back to find out what happened to the kids (now young men) who had been in his mother's theatre program and made the film "Arna's Children" documenting their multiple tragedies.
Juliano decided he couldn't just make the film and walk away, so, with a Swedish-Israeli man named Jonatan, they raised the funds to rebuild a children's theatre in the refugee camp and it's called the Jenin Freedom Theatre.
Aunt Jen and her friends Dinky and Terry are part of a group in New York that try to raise money for the programs at the theatre and they try to visit it once or twice a year.
I had never been in a refugee camp before, so I was eager to see what it looked like. Aunt Jen explained to me how different it was now than the first time she visited Jenin Camp, in May 2002, when rubble extended to the size of football fields in what is now the rebuilt camp.
We took a walk with some of the staff and participants around the camp and came to a tin horse.
"Can I take a picture with that horse?" I thought Alex would like that to add to the picture of me with the camel.
"Sure. You know what the horse is made of?"
"Tin and iron, of course!" I mean, I may be flat, but I have eyes and I can see that!
"Yeah--but it's tin and iron that came from all the cars that were flattened by tanks during the big battle in Jenin camp."
I guess maybe this picture is a little different from my camel ride after all.
We ate dinner that night in the staff's favorite restaurant and I also met Zakaria Zubeideh, a young man who was part of Arna's original theatre group and is one of the only survivors from that group. Zakaria had become the head of a militant group in Jenin who was fighting against the army during their invasions and was, for a time, top on Israel's most wanted list. From the time he was a young kid he always worked with Israelis in the peace camp, and, even while he wa still fighting, would meet and talk always to Israelis and Jews who wanted to work together to end the occupation. He is not fighting now, and instead, talks about starting a new cultural revolution, through theatre and arts, as a new way to challenge and fight the occupation.

On our way back from Jenin Camp, Aunt Jen and I passed through Ramallah again and I got to see Al Manara, the center of Ramallah city. I got to meet Arafat (okay, not really, but his poster is everywhere there!) and even drink coffee at the international coffee chain everyone knows...well...okay....I guess that's not quite exactly true either!
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