Theatre, not gun, is the weapon of resistance for these West Bank refugees

  • Abhishek Saha, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Jan 09, 2015 14:21 IST

Thirteen years after their homes were destroyed by Israeli troops during the second intifada, Palestinian actors Faisal Abu Alhayja and Ahmed Rokh are in India to perform with a theatre group that specialises in training youth to creatively express their resistance to injustice.

In 2002, Alhayja and Rokh were only 13 when the second Palestinian uprising against Israel was underway. In April that year, their refugee camp at Jenin in the disputed West Bank was subjected to an intense attack by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).

During the 10-day clash, their homes were among 150 buildings that were destroyed. They are now on their first India tour as representatives of The Freedom Theatre, a group based at the Jenin camp.

The group was hosted by Jana Natya Manch (JANAM) in Delhi and will perform at the International Theatre Festival of Kerala at Thrissur later this month.

(From right to left) Actors Faisal Abu Alhayja and Ahmed Rokh with production stage manager Alan Wright talk with an Indian theatre enthusiast. (Abhishek Saha/HT Photo)

"The Freedom Theatre is a resistance movement against occupation and injustice and we are fighters who believe in the power of our acting and camera, not guns and bombs," Rokh said.

For three generations, the families of Alhayja and Rokh have lived and worked out of the Jenin camp that was established by the UN in 1953. Their childhood, like that of people who have grown up in conflict zones, was marred by violence and its consequences, without any of the finer things in life.

"Growing up in a Palestinian refugee camp is extremely detrimental. Your life is marked so much by intifadas and bombings that you become incapable of having big dreams," said Alhayja.

"Forget films or theatre, we didn't even have a playground. In short, children in such refugee camps do not have a childhood," said Rokh.

Things changed when Juliano Mer-Khamis, a Palestinian-Israeli actor, co-founded The Freedom Theatre in 2006 in the Jenin camp to allow Palestinian youth to creatively expressing their resistance to both the Israeli occupation and restrictions imposed by traditional Palestinian society.

When The Freedom Theatre opened, there were no other theatres in the area and Jenin's only cinema had been closed for 20 years.

Actor Ahmed Rokh. (Abhishek Saha/HT Photo)

Today, the group has 40 odd members, including actors, directors, technicians and students belonging mostly to the Jenin camp. They regularly stage theatre and performing arts productions and offer courses in film, photography and theatre.

Before Mer-Khemis was murdered by an unknown assassin in 2011, he encouraged the youth to talk about women's rights, religious fundamentalism and local corruption through theatre.

"Juliano and his team taught us that, through our art, we could preserve our Palestinian identity as well as effectively oppose the Israeli occupation on our land," said Alhayja.

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