April 2002. Spring in Bethlehem. A group of armed men seek sanctuary in one of the world’s holiest sites as the Israeli army closes in with helicopters, tanks and snipers. Along with the fighters are some 200 priests, nuns and civilians. The siege lasts for 39 days, paralysing the center of Bethlehem and keeping tens of thousands under curfew. Inside the Church of Nativity the besieged are hungry and weakening. The smell of unwashed bodies and broken lavatories is mixed with the stench from the suppurating wounds of the injured. Two dead bodies are decomposing in a cave below the church. While the world is watching, the fighters are faced with the question of whether to struggle to the end or to surrender. No matter what they choose, they will have to leave their families and their homeland behind forever.
The Siege is based on the 2002 events in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, that played out parallell to the invasion of Jenin refugee camp and made headlines worldwide. The directors traced the fighters, now exiled across Europe and Gaza, and collected their untold accounts of an event that with time has taken on almost mythical proportions.
The Siege focuses on six fighters and their relationship to one another, to the Israeli army outside and to the clergy inside the church. The play also delves into issues about the possibility of morality in warfare and the consequences of lengthy oppression through military occupation, as each fighter reflects upon his relationship to Palestine and to the struggle. The play is narrated by a tour guide who leads the audience into a reflection on the historical and spiritual importance of the church, interspersed with dramatised scenes and authentic video material of the 2002 siege, cut by present-day interviews with the exiled fighters.
As a result, The Siege treads on territory rarely explored, creating a space in which fighters are seen not only as idealised symbols of resistance or demonised symbols of terrorism, but as individuals who under extreme circumstances take actions that will have far-reaching consequences.
The Siege is performed in Arabic. For English speakers: The Siege Story Breakdown.
The Siege was originally produced in spring 2015 in the West Bank and toured in the UK, receiving exceptional reviews. The tour included ten venues across Britain and twenty sold-out performances. Read more about the 2015-16 performances of The Siege.
The Siege does exactly what great art should: It destabilises and upends the fundamental assumptions that shape our moral and political world. It’s uncomfortable, and it should be.“ The Village Voice
On technical levels, The Siege surpasses many Broadway quality shows.“ Manhattan Digest
It develops into an unexpectedly compelling theatrical experience with a rough and ready energy, and, in the very act of its telling, speaks for the voiceless and forgotten.“ The Guardian
The performance is simple, but thrilling. The actors make the characters come to life in a way that has the audience members grimacing as they witness horrendous suffering in one minute and chuckling as they experience an easy silliness in the next.“ Mondoweiss
One would struggle to find a more authentic piece of theatre, or indeed one that speaks to such a brutally urgent case of injustice.“ The Reviews Hub
The Freedom Theatre have triumphed with The Siege, now touring the UK, a blistering testament to resistance based on real-life events. […] Whoever believes that theatre is a dead art form needs to see The Siege.“ Middle East Eye
It is a heart-wrenching, profound cri de coeur from the heart of the occupation, down to the little things that people hold onto when they are pushed to the edge, when they are hungry and trapped with nothing but their joint commitment not to be crushed by the occupier.“ Morning Star
Words are not enough to express our mixed feelings. The Siege was the most wonderful play we have ever seen. It is a mix of dramatic and tragicomedy scenes. We are so proud to have such professional and outstanding theatrical talents here in Palestine.“ Audience member in Palestine
This play belongs on a national Palestinian stage.“ Audience member in Palestine
Such a great piece of theatre and passionate acting. Rarely see such depth in the UK.“ Audience member in Britain
Uncomfortable, heartbreaking, brilliant!“ Audience member in Britain
Had me in tears at the end. Everyone must see it!“ Audience member in Britain
Powerful, painful, passionate play. Authentic acting beyond the craft. Truth beyond the art.“ Audience member in Britain
Brilliant production, so moving and at the same time plenty of humour. A remarkable performance.“ Audience member in Britain
It is very exciting to welcome the Freedom Theatre’s tour of their new play ‘The Siege’ to Britain. This is real political theatre, performed out of the both terrible and inspiring experience of a struggle for freedom and justice. They are living proof that telling stories and entertaining audiences are powerful acts of resistance to oppression. Do go and see them, they have news for us. This little theatre could change the world.” Howard Brenton, playwright
This is a rare opportunity to see this famous company. This should be not only exciting theatre but give us an insight into the horrific oppression suffered by Palestinians in the territories occupied by Israel. I’m sure the performance will be a hit!” Ken Loach, film director
The Siege 2015 performances were funded by the EU, the British Council, The Roddick Foundation, The Arab British Centre, Steps Beyond – European Cultural Foundation, Arts Council England and The Lipman-Miliband Trust.
The Siege 2016 and 2017 West Bank performances are funded by the Consulate General of Sweden.