The Freedom Theatre – a theatre and cultural centre in Jenin Refugee Camp – is developing the only professional venue for theatre and multimedia in the north of the West Bank in Occupied Palestine. Since it opened its doors in 2006, the organisation continues to grow, develop and expand, enabling the young generation in the area to develop new and important skills which will allow them to build a better future for themselves and for their society.
Empowering Children and Youth
Having grown up amidst a violent military occupation, the young generation in the Jenin area struggle with ongoing fears, depression and trauma. At the same time, few opportunities exist for these youngsters to find positive and creative outlets for their emotions which can allow them to develop a healthy and meaningful sense of themselves and their surroundings.
The Freedom Theatre therefore offers children, youth and young adults in the Jenin area a safe space in which they are free to express themselves, to explore their creativity and emotions through culture and arts. It provides them with opportunities to develop the skills, self-knowledge and confidence which can empower them to challenge present realities and to speak out in their own society and beyond.
The benefits of cultural activities nevertheless go far beyond the individual. Having endured the hardships of an ongoing, violent military occupation, Palestine today is a shattered society and the population struggles with increasing isolation, fragmentation and disillusion. Countering these trends, The Freedom Theatre believes that theatre and the arts have a crucial role to play in building up a free and healthy society.
By encouraging freedom of expression and respect for individual rights, cultural activities break taboos, stimulate cooperation and enhance understanding of the other. Both for artist and audience, the creative process consists of imagining alternatives, rearranging reality and accepting new ways of life. In societies that reward obedience over initiative and following rules over experiementation, this is radical. In theatre it can also be magical.
Care and Learning
The vision of The Freedom Theatre builds upon a unique project, Care and Learning, run by Arna Mer Khamis in Jenin Camp during the First Intifada. Her work was documented in the film Arna’s Children, directed by Juliano Mer Khamis – Arna’s son.
Arna’s project focused on using theatre and arts to address children’s immediate trauma, chronic fears and depression – all results of a violent Occupation. At the same time, the fierce and energetic humanity of this woman, who was born to a Jewish family and who had chosen to live and work among the Palestinians, challenged the children with possibilities for an alternative reality. The Stone Theatre, which was built as part of Arna’s project, was destroyed in the Israeli invasion of the camp in 2002.