Return to Palestine. Photo Credit: The Freedom Theatre.
Volume 10

Traversing through the Siege: The Role of movement and memory in performing cultural resistance

The Freedom Theatre, located in the middle of the Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank, Palestine, was started in 2006 with the aim of building cultural resistance against the Zionist occupation of Palestinian land through theatre and arts. The Theatre embodies resistance both in its plays and in its functioning under conditions of occupation. In an interview, the Artistic Director of The Freedom Theatre, Nabil Al Raee, spoke about how The Freedom Theatre itself is a story, a narrative, about making art (particularly political art) under occupation. The narrative of the birth of The Freedom Theatre in the Jenin refugee camp and its survival has many fragmented stages – the experiences of the two intifadas[1] of the people who founded The Freedom Theatre, deaths, killings and imprisonment of its members, massive attacks on the camp and the Theatre, and the survival of The Freedom Theatre and its philosophy of cultural resistance through all of this.

Substantial literature exists about their different plays and the role of The Freedom Theatre in resisting occupation. The Theatre has itself published a critical anthology about the various aspects of its work and its role in generating cultural resistance.[2] As their published work suggests (also felt in the quotidian work of the Theatre) there is a continuous critical debate around what is cultural resistance and how is it being reached through the Theatre’s work. Thinking through similar questions of the meaning(s) of cultural resistance and the question about realities of theatre-making within an occupied area, this paper focuses specifically on movement and memory as two modes of resistance that are deeply embedded in the processes and performances of The Freedom Theatre’s work.

In November 2017 I saw The Freedom Theatre’s theatrical production The Siege in New York University’s Skirball centre. The play is based on the siege of Bethlehem’s Church of Nativity by the Israeli military in 2002 during the second intifada (Palestinian armed resistance) when 200 Palestinians along with 13 armed freedom fighters took refuge inside the church and were trapped there for 39 days with a limited supply of food, water and medical help. The play is a retelling of the stories of six of those freedom fighters, based on their personal narratives about those 39 days under siege, their struggles and debates about the decision to continue their fight for justice or to surrender as a payoff for ending the siege.

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