Photo : le théâtre de la liberté bombardé et partiellement démoli par les bulldozers lors de l’attaque de juillet 2023 Source : Freedom Theatre Jenin

Israel’s attack on Freedom Theater in Jenin camp part of cultural genocide

When Mustafa Shetha, father of four and general manager of Freedom Theater, was taken from his home on Wednesday, December 13, blindfolded and incarcerated, beaten and deprived of food and water, it was not a coincidence.

The Israeli soldiers, who were half his age, had asked neighbors where he lived. They had come for this particular portly, middle-aged arts producer.

No one could mistake Shetha, a gentle man with a fatherly demeanor, for a “terrorist”. He was not a military target. They beat him up because he was the general manager of a theater. This is his crime.

But the current Israeli invasion of the Jenin refugee camp is an exercise in torture, with no military objective.

Since dawn last Tuesday, Jenin Brigade fighters exchanged fire with the Israeli army in the neighboring town of Jenin, no armed militants were in the Jenin camp.

The Israeli army took the opportunity to arrest more than half a thousand people inside the camp, including Shetha. Around a hundred people were incarcerated, the majority of them men or young people.

Ahmed Tobasi, artistic director of Freedom Theater, was one of them.

He challenged the soldiers on Wednesday, asking them why they were attacking the theater. They beat him and searched his home, smashing his computer, iPad and plants, before arresting him.

Ahmed Tobasi knows Israeli brutality well. He reports that his first memory is of being kicked by an Israeli soldier as a child, while hiding in the alley next to his humble home. He was also arrested as a youth.

But that’s when Juliano Mer Khamis, who founded the Freedom Theater, now under his direction, took him under his wing and gave him work in the theater.

It was this work that allowed Ahmed Tobasi to travel to Norway, where he lived, worked and obtained Norwegian citizenship.

But it was his courage and sense of cultural pride that brought him back to the Jenin camp and ultimately led to his being attacked by Israeli soldiers and beaten last week, which left him left bruises on his legs and back.

These wounds are a visceral recognition of his ability to inspire hope and dreams in the youth of Jenin.

Fear of Palestinian pride

Jamal Abu Joas was also arrested and detained by soldiers who beat the detainees and called them “sons of bitches” in Arabic. A nice attention.

Abu Joas is one of the youth theater trainers, and he was part of the summer camp teaching team.

He’s not a dangerous guy, unless your fear is the social cohesion of a community under siege, and the transmission of a sense of self, continuity and Palestinian pride.

If that’s what you fear, it makes sense to beat up and incarcerate this now despondent, cigarette-smoking, sensitive, kind young poet to help him deal with what’s now lurking behind his eyes. sad and his shy smile.

“These savage attacks directly target anything that strengthens national and cultural consciousness”

– Haneen Ameen, Palestinian Authority Ministry of Culture

Abu Joas was beaten and his camera and phone were stolen.

“Many houses in the camp, including those belonging to people working in the cultural field, were searched,” said Haneen Ameen, director of the Palestinian Authority Ministry of Culture.

“These savage attacks directly target everything that strengthens national and cultural consciousness, through the creative role played by these institutions and individuals, contributing to the improvement and telling of the Palestinian story, in the voices of its population , and preserving national identity through their arts and culture. »

Electricity, water and internet were cut off a few days ago. The roads were again destroyed by modified Caterpillar bulldozers, known as D9s.

I was in the Jenin camp in July, a few days after the major attacks of July 3 and 4, when a thousand Israeli soldiers invaded the camp and the sky was filled with warplanes, rockets and drones.

Military dogs were sent into refugees’ homes, along with tear gas canisters. The constant clicking of gunshots was all around and sounded like raindrops.

Psychological warfare

For weeks, the roads have been stripped of asphalt, waiting for the Palestinian Authority to repair broken pipes and cables, to resurface which allows children to be taken to school and ambulances to arrive. on time to the hospital.

This is one of the reasons why this is being destroyed once again and everyone’s hearts are breaking.
“We will overcome”: Jenin’s rebellious story told by her elders

There is definitely a practical reason for destroying things: it makes life difficult. Cutting roads means less traffic.

But it’s not just about that. In fact, I would say that it is more about the psychological aspect of war.

It’s about making camp residents feel helpless. It’s about making them abandon and move to Jordan.

And what’s more demoralizing than breaking down the interior walls of a popular theater? Than blindfolding theater staff in front of their families? Than handcuff them? And what about firing live ammunition inside the theater itself? All this while it’s around 16 degrees outside and raining.

Perhaps surprisingly, there is a good answer to this rhetorical question, and it turns out that Israeli forces have found yet other ways to break the Palestinian spirit: playing loud recordings of Hanukkah songs on the Tannoy system at the main mosque in the center of the Jenin refugee camp as soldiers sprayed the Star of David on residents’ homes and hung Israeli flags on their buildings.

“This is the ugliness of the occupation,” laments Momen Sadi, actor and educator at the Freedom Theater school. “The occupation is encroaching on our property, working on westernization and singing disgusting songs. »

Nothing says “colonizer” more than a flag on a pole, especially when associated with those acts of cultural genocide, defined in the Hague Convention, the Roerich Pact and the World Heritage Convention, all blatantly broken and scratched, like the bones and bodies of my colleagues and friends.
A Palestinian walks on March 11, 2010 near a horse sculpture made from the remains of Palestinian cars destroyed by the Israeli army during a large-scale operation in the Jenin refugee camp, in the West Bank (AFP/Saïf Dahlah)
Horse sculpture made from the remains of Palestinian cars destroyed by the Israeli army during a large-scale operation in the Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank, photographed in March 2010 (AFP/Saif Dahlah)

“Mina, this is terrifying,” wrote my friend Wafa, a 26-year-old mother and housewife whose husband is unemployed because of violence, and whose one-year-old child was unable to have access to formula for weeks and is undoubtedly malnourished.

“My children are terrified by the sound of roars and screams. Our neighborhood is full of soldiers. My husband is very nervous, they say (Israeli soldiers) beat them until they fainted. »

Her husband was subsequently arrested by the Israelis.

This is a good time to mention the fate of the much-loved horse sculpture that stood near the camp gate: it was taken hostage by the Israelis – and the giant arched gates framing the entrance on the other side , who have been damaged in this depraved orgy of cultural destruction.

Punish resistance by attacking a monument and taking the horse hostage.

This is what oppression looks like, visually. Like broken pieces of horse statues.

Eradicate a culture

It’s like Lord of the Flies, but the soldiers dropped into this refugee camp only have a general idea of ​​what they should do.

There is a list of people to arrest – Ahmed, Jamal, Mustafa – and a list of buildings to vandalize. But the exact methodology for doing so is left to disturbed, violent teenagers with automatic weapons who wander dark alleys, with no electricity to light them beyond their high-tech military paraphernalia.

It’s about eradicating a culture. But you cannot erase the collective aspirations and shared memories of a people, simply by blowing them up.
It’s A Clockwork Orange, but Jewish.

The arrest of cultural executives in the Jenin camp today does nothing to ensure the safety of Israelis, but is an acknowledgment that a society’s cultural practices are its glue, and that this threatens Israel.

Their targets are non-combatants. They are mothers, fathers, children, elderly people. So why the tear gas, low-flying drones and bulldozers? Why the warplanes dropping air-to-ground missiles, and the Energa anti-tank grenades, with the super loud bangs that haunt my dreams, from the first time I heard them in Jenin, until the last time I heard them heard in Nablus. (They look like the Vogon builder fleet, if you’re familiar with The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy)

It was rumored that this siege would last for another five days, like the siege of the Second Intifada, when the Jenin camp was etched into the pages of history.

In the first 72 hours, at least a dozen men were killed, as well as a young boy, Bachar Hourani, whose voice had not yet changed.

The twelfth death was Freedom Theater student Musa Ibn Malak (16), a cheerful and shy boy whose mother was a dear friend. She stayed with me with Musa’s younger brother and sister during the Israeli invasion of the Jenin camp in September.

As long as Palestinians are on their land, they will continue to make art and culture. The arrest of cultural executives in the Jenin camp today does nothing to ensure the safety of Israelis, but is an acknowledgment that a society’s cultural practices are its glue, and that this threatens Israel.
Palestine: study of a historical and cultural flight

This is a backhanded compliment to the power of theater and the arts in general, and in particular to the power of the Freedom Theater in the Jenin camp, and the Youth Social Center as well, which was burned down.

Freedom Theater is part of the extraordinary network of theaters and cultural organizations in the West Bank and Gaza that promote the emotional, psychological, spiritual and cultural values ​​of Palestine by offering plays, poems, paintings and shows.

This attack shows how simple grassroots organizations scare the fourth most powerful nuclear and military machine in the world, and why Freedom Theater deserves the support of all international theater and arts institutions that believe – to quote Nina Simone – that “the “The duty of an artist… is to reflect his times.”

– Mina Sadi is a writer, composer and designer of SVOD shows. She works with the Freedom Theater in Jenin, as well as the Al-rowwad cultural center in Bethlehem and other cultural organizations in Palestine.

Middle East Eye – AFPS translation