The Theater of Freedom, scene of resistance to the Israeli occupation

His name may seem bold. Even something pretentious. But his geographical location, and also symbolic, justifies it. He Liberty Theater it’s in the Jenin refugee camp, located in the occupied West Bank. After going through the disparate alleys, crowned by a tangle of chaotic cables that accumulate decades of existence, the space opens up to make room for a stage where dreams they rise above the entanglement, beyond the borders. Thousands of colors stain the gray walls with portraits of actors and playwrights, with snapshots of a life resisting through art. Before entering, overlapping posters announce upcoming and past festivals that combine feminist theater or virtual reality experiences. All of them born by I want to tell a story.

“All the people who work here are freedom fighters& rdquor ;, says its director, Mustafa Sheta. “When we talk about freedom, we are not referring only to the Israeli occupation, we include everything that implies the need to preserve our freedom. individual and collective& rdquor ;, he explains to this newspaper from his extensive office. The word freedom hurriya in Arabic, permeates every corner of his office, which even houses a estelada. “We have the right to decide what we want and, to achieve it, it takes a brave heart and one critical voice against all the occupations suffered by the Palestinian people& rdquor ;, adds Sheta. The Liberty Theater exists to fight against all of them.

“We are part of the revolution and the resistance and we lift the title of cultural resistance,” defends its director

Created in the 2006this center uses cultural resistance in its battle for the justicethe equality and the self determination Palestinians. “We, the Palestinians, use all avenues to resist: military action, plans of kidnappingthe confrontations, the rocks, the negotiation, the search for the attention of the international community, but what have we obtained so far?& rdquor;, he wonders. “Nothing”. Therefore, from this space in the middle of what is considered the stronghold of Palestinian armed resistance, Sheta defends all kinds of resistance. His is through art.

Although the economic crisis and the reduction in donations have forced them to reduce their staff of 12 to four employeescontinue to produce more than 14 professional works per year. In addition, they have a three-year course to train young actors who want to enter the incipient Palestinian film market. They are also the playground where dozens of boys and girls have fun. “we bring children together from the refugee camp and the city of Jenin so that they have a space to play and express all that energy that they have & rdquor ;, explains the director of the theater to EL PERIÓDICO. “We need to protect their mental health in this difficult context,” adds Sheta.

Invasions and arrests

And it is that the Jenin refugee camp has been one of the places most affected by the violence of the Israeli Army lately. On January 26, its residents experienced one of the deadliest massacres in recent years, with 10 Palestinians killed in a roundup of Israeli soldiers. Of the 150 Palestinians killed by Israeli forces during 2022, the majority coming from the cities of Nablus and Jenin. At the Liberty Theatre, they know violence up close. This cultural center is the heir to the Stone Theater, created after the First Intifada by the Israeli activist Arna Mer Khamis. During the invasion of Jenin in the Second Intifada, the theater was destroyed by the Israeli Army.

In 2006, it was his son, Juliano Mer Khamis, who created the Theater of Liberty. One fateful day in April 2011, Juliano was murdered at the gates of the center to which he had dedicated his life. It is still unknown who pulled the trigger. The persecution continues to this day. “In September, our president was arrested and has been under administrative detention ever since, a member of the general assembly was also arrested a few days ago, and I have forbidden to travel”, says Sheta. She knows that they are not only uncomfortable for the Israelis, but also annoy a Palestinian Authority accommodating with its occupants.

One of the great challenges of the Liberty Theater is for it to become a place for people for your people. “The relationship between the people and cultural organizations depends on reality, on what happens around them,” says the director. “When people have good jobs, they have money, they live in quiet spaces without any stress, then surely they want to try to find that place for joy and funfor education and culture, but if they don’t have any of that, they can’t think about the theater, because they don’t have nothing to share& rdquor ;, Sheta notes.


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Still, the younger generations They do dare to approach the theater and, in some way, themselves. “The Liberty Theater is the place where I come to Express my feelingsmy rage, in order to transmit to the world what we experienced in Palestine& rdquor ;, says Chantal, 22 years old. This nursing student from Nazareth, in northern Israel, dreams of being actress and dancer. She has been studying at the Teatro de la Libertad for six months, where she practices oriental dance, bachata, contemporary dance and dabkePalestinian folk dance.

From a stage adorned with colorful fabrics, Sheta is convinced of the mission of this temple of freedom. “If you don’t want to come to the theater, the theater will come to you& rdquor;, he proclaims in front of an empty room. But it is not just any theater. Moved by ‘artivism’, which combines art and activism, the Theater of Freedom is one more cog in the machinery that works for the Palestinian liberation. “We are not the opposite of military combatants, we have a mission and they have another, but we have the same interest in self-determination& rdquor ;, insists the director. “Are part of the revolutionwe are part of the resistance and we raise the title of cultural resistance& rdquor ;, he concludes between Palestinian flags.