Friday, October 30, 2020

Jenin Freedom Theatre tour Portugal to fight ‘Israeli propaganda machine’

By Matt Matthews - September 05, 2016
Section: [Main News] [Culture]

The Israeli Forces have turned occupation into an “art form”, former general Gadi Shamni has recently claimed. But if occupation can be art, then art can be resistance, and members of the Jenin Freedom Theatre say their month-long tour of Portugal will be a vital part of the Palestinian struggle.

"The Freedom Theatre aims to resist through culture,” actor Mohammed* told the Palestine Monitor. “It’s a less visible side of our fight. The occupation tries to delete our culture and history, or to steal it and say it’s their own."
Kicking off with a performance in Lisbon on September 3, the Freedom Theatre will spend the month showcasing Palestinian history and culture across Portugal. Touring from the capital to the second city, Porto, and a number of smaller towns, the company will return to Palestine after a final show in Tondela on September 25.
One performance, in Vila Nova de Gaia, is taking place in solidarity with Syrian refugees. Money from ticket sales will be donated to the League of Friends of the Health Center Soares dos Reis (LACSSR), supporting refugee families rehoused in the northern city.
The tour features two plays. “The first production, Return to Palestine, came from stories we heard during the Freedom Ride in March 2016,” Mohammed said. Travelling through the West Bank on the Theatre’s 'Freedom Bus’ at the head of an annual convoy of activists, Mohammed and his fellow actors improvised scenes based on stories of the occupation shared by their audiences.
These sketches were later fleshed out in rehearsal, “until by the end of the tour, we had made a play.” On a stage “as small as Palestine”, actors play out scenes from Gaza, West Bank refugee camps and Area C villages.
The oral testimonies in Return are built around the skeleton of a story by Ghassan Kanafani, the Palestinian writer, militant and political thinker who was assassinated by a Mossad car-bomb in Beirut in 1972. 
“The [violence of the] occupation doesn’t distinguish between anyone,” Mohammed said. “Author, artist, fighter, human, child…but it especially targets people who try to raise awareness, like Ghassan.”
Kanafani, a prominent member of the People’s Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), was denounced as a terrorist by the Israeli authorities. 
Images from the Life of Ghassan Kanafani, the Theatre’s other touring production, aims to redress this depiction by bringing audiences to Kanafani’s work for the first time.
To Mohammed, the Theatre is continuing the legacy of 'the founder of the modern Palestinian novel’, who was only 36 when he was killed: “Through theatre, through art, we are showing what Palestinian people are really like. This helps us fight the Israeli propaganda machine, which tries to brand us all as terrorists.”
It is a decade since the Theatre opened, but the belief of its murdered founder Juliano Mer Khamis in the possibility of a “cultural Intifada” still inspires actors like Mohammed. But this ideology - that “art cannot exist without politics” - causes the theatre itself to suffer under “the art of occupation”. 
Leading Theatre members have been imprisoned, and their home in Jenin refugee camp regularly invaded by Israeli forces. Most recently, actors leaving for Portugal ran into difficulties at the Jordanian border, though it looks like the whole company will eventually make it to Europe.
At the crux of Kanafani’s magnum opus Men in the Sun, Palestinian refugees hiding in a water tank bake to death rather than beat on the tank to raise the alarm. 
What the author is asking, according to Mohammed, is “why they didn’t speak out? And this is what we are trying to answer through our art, our lives: to 'bang the tank’, to speak out and to reach people in Europe and all over the world.”
The Jenin Freedom Theatre will be banging the water tank across Portugal until September 25. You can see full details of the tour here.


Trailer of images from the life of Ghassan Kanafani




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