People who live here originally came from Haifa, Akka, Yaffa and the villages. In 1948, they were forced out of their own homes and the land by the Israelis.
When people first came to this area, UNRWA gave them tents to live in, assuming their expulsion from the land would be temporary – maybe one or two months before they could return to their homes.
But things took a long time. So people put brick over brick, stone over stone, something to avoid the rain and the sun. It’s been sixty-eight years since then.” Jenin refugee camp resident
The Freedom Theatre operates in Jenin refugee camp, which is among the most severely affected areas by decades of Israeli occupation and internal conflicts. Jenin camp is largely isolated – culturally, economically and politically. This sense of isolation runs deep within the camp and particularly affects the young generation.
Jenin refugee camp is located in a beautiful mountainous area in the north of the occupied West Bank. The camp is home to over 16,000 registered Palestinian refugees, who originate from Haifa and surrounding villages and were forced to flee or were driven out by Zionist forces in the 1948 Nakba, catastrophe, of the Palestinians. Jenin refugee camp was formally established in 1953. The descendants of these refugees still live in the 0.42 square-kilometre camp, which like all other refugee camps in the West Bank is run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).
More than half of the camp’s residents are children and the narrow streets and alleys with their tattered concrete houses are the only home they know. The whitewashed stone houses and fertile lands that once were the homes of their grandparents are no longer there. New residential areas have been built on top of the ruins.
In the refugee camp, the elderly keep their rusty house keys as their most prised possession. Every new person who comes into the world learns that she or he belongs somewhere else, in an abstract past. The children learn that they have the right to return to their original homes just a few miles away but are being denied that right. For over six decades Israel has prevented generations of Palestinian refugees from returning, and for five decades it has implemented a military occupation that violates the basic human rights of the occupied population.
In Jenin refugee camp, children grow up in a reality of army incursions, violence and isolation. Every child in the camp has lost a close relative or has a parent or sibling in Israeli prison. Some have themselves been in prison even though they are below the legal age.
During both the first and the second Palestinian Intifada, Jenin refugee camp was a centre of resistance against the occupation. In April 2002, the camp was the scene of one of the fiercest battles of the second Intifada. During the ten-day Battle of Jenin, residents of the camp managed to hold against a large-scale invasion by the occupation forces, resulting in great losses and large parts of the camp being demolished. More than 400 homes were destroyed in the operation and hundreds more were severely damaged.
The Freedom Theatre plays an important role in strengthening resilience and contravening feelings of apathy and hopelessness among particularly the young. Through our experiences of offering artistic and creative activities over the course of a decade, we know first-hand what immense potential there is in using the arts as a means of enriching not just the individual human spirit but also coming together as a community and mobilising for change.