Jenin Jenin (part 2) by Sally Campbell
What is the power of art as resistance? How threatening is the artist to the fearful?
“The Freedom Theatre is a theatre and cultural centre in Jenin refugee camp, occupied Palestine. We stage professional theatre productions, hold theatre workshops in the refugee camp, Jenin town and villages, offer training in acting, pedagogy and photography, and publish books, exhibitions and short films. Since we opened our doors in 2006, we have made theatre and visual art available to every young person in Jenin refugee camp. Our work has made Jenin refugee camp known in Palestine and internationally for innovative, thought-provoking theatre and media productions. We have created a generation of artists and leaders, who one day will be at the forefront of the Palestinian liberation movement.” (The Freedom Theatre website.) This kind of sumud (steadfastness) is indeed very threatening to the State of Israel. You want the populace under your control to be weak and submissive, not empowered and inspired.
Israel’s Minister of Finance, Bezaliel Smotrich, now has basically a free hand in the West Bank, having been recently appointed head of its Civil Administration. He has indicated that the recent violent incursions (June & July) on Jenin refugee camp won’t be the last such type operation. Netanyahu’s ratings went up following the more severe July attack. All this suggests that a new policy is underway, rendering Jenin a target similar to Gaza. There, the military periodically bombs the most densely populated place on Earth, calling it “mowing the grass”. These events, wreaking havoc on Palestinian lives, are contained enough that they generally don’t make mainstream news. Tareq Hajjaj, Gaza Correspondent for Mondoweiss, said that he had trouble reporting after another such onslaught on Gaza 2 months ago, as his 5 month old baby was absolutely inconsolable. The incessant noise of the drones and the bombs falling on tiny Gaza (population over 2 million in a space the size of Texada Island) traumatized this baby. How many such traumatized babies and children live in places like Gaza and Jenin? And please! Someone tell me how does this kind of policy add to Israeli “security”? In the words of the little girl in Mohammed Bakri’s unforgettable 2005 documentary, Jenin, Jenin: “We will not give up. Yes, they destroyed everything, but we will rebuild it.”
As I wrote earlier on False Equivalencies, Western mainstream media tends to paint the crisis in Israel-Palestine as some kind of symmetrical “conflict”. Coverage by NYT writer Isabel Kershner, for instance, speaks of relentless Israeli attacks on the West Bank (this year, the most Palestinians killed in West Bank since the 2nd Intifada in 2002) as “reprisal” events, as if the Israeli military is simply responding to Palestinian terrorism. Canadian coverage is no better. CJPME (Canadians for Justice & Peace in the Middle East) recently filed a complaint with the CBC for its biased reporting of the July attack on Jenin. They cited 13 examples in a 28 hour period referring to Palestinian resistance fighters as “terrorists” or to Jenin itself as a “terror hub”, According to CJPME, “This language, directly adopted from the Israeli military, was presented to Canadian audiences without sufficient skepticism or counter-claims by journalists or others. This terminology was imprecise, misleading, defamatory and dehumanizing.” (www.cjpme.org) CJPME’s complaint goes on to clarify the definition of terrorism: “acts of violence carried out against civilians in order to advance political goals”. (italics mine) “With few exceptions, the militant groups in the Jenin refugee camp are involved in acts of armed resistance against military targets, including Israeli soldiers, military checkpoints and vehicles, and these cannot be considered acts of terrorism”. (CJPME)
On the other hand, most of those injured and killed in Jenin were civilians. Let’s see, who exactly is the real terrorist? (We would never hear the word “terrorism” used in reference to the Ukrainian resistance fighting against the Russian invasion.)
We know that in struggles against Apartheid and settler-colonialism, resistance will not cease until there is justice. The Freedom Theatre is a place of cultural resistance. It is now putting a 3 month recovery program in place for the children of the camp, none of whom is free from the trauma of the recent violence. TFT planned a big ceremony for July 15 in the middle of the camp, with clowns, singing, performance. Workshops, shows and cinema will follow, workshops for women/mothers to process what happened and for First Aid workers who were deliberately targeted by soldiers shooting at them.
The damage to the theatre is being assessed, but their courtyard was destroyed, doors blown off, huge cracks in ceiling. People taking refuge inside the theatre were kicked out so the Israeli military could set up operations there. Then after 2 days of mayhem (12 dead, 150 injured), the military left the camp, claiming its goals were accomplished. As one Freedom Theatre staff member stated: “We all need therapy and treatment…It is not just about structural damage, there is long-term psychological harm and trauma [to the community]”.
(TheFreedomTheatre webinar 9 July, 2023.) See their website for its training programs, productions and accomplishments: www.thefreedomtheatre.org.
(Next week: Part 3)