Suicide Note from Palestine: New play opens at The Freedom Theatre on April 4

Juliano Mer Khamis’ Freedom Theatre is still alive : it’s founders sadly are not.

Tales of a City by the Sea

One day before her final exams, Amal has a concerning nightmare: she is Palestine and she has decided to die.

Amal’s nightmare drafts between confusion, torture and despair – notions set as strange characters that symbolise some of the key players in world politics that shape the land, history, politics and the occupation of her country. Interrogated and manipulated, Amal is forced into a comatose state and can barely speak.

– This play is important because it’s pointing at the place of the pain inside the Palestinian people’s minds and hearts, says the Director, Nabil Al-Raee.

Suicide Note from Palestine is a window into the younger generation of Palestine; a generation just as hopeless about their present as they are about the future. The play provides a rare glimpse on the general depression, confusion and concerns of a people regarding its land.

Suicide Note from Palestine is a physical video/visual…

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Extract from my diary (3) : Arna’s Children

18/02/13

One evening after work our team leader, Zara, arranged for us to watch a documentary called Arna’s Children. It was a harrowing and powerful piece about an Israeli woman, Arna, who lived and worked as a human rights activist in the Palestinian town of Jenin. In her youth she was a member of the notorious Israeli Defence Force, yet in her retirement she set up a theatre school for Palestinian children with her actor and activist son, Jude.

Arna’s Children traces the lives of a group of children from Jenin refugee camp for over a decade and is shot primarily on Jude’s handheld camera. The children are mostly refugees who are encouraged by Arna to join the theatre in an attempt to bring about some sanctuary after their homes are destroyed during a period of intense conflict.

It is particularly upsetting because Arna herself suffers from an aggressive cancer, which leads to her untimely death early into the film. She had worked with the children directly, teaching them how to express themselves as their characters and as individuals. She encouraged them to share their stories and let out their pain and anger about losing their homes and members of their families.

The children loved her as they loved their own mothers. They comment after her death on how she nurtured them and took them under her wing, despite being an Israeli; a Jew; a citizen of the society who had contributed to their misery in the first place.

Without mother Arna, the lives of the children begin to crumble one by one. They become tangled in the arms of the conflict; many being killed in the Battle of Jenin when, during the second intifada, the IDF stormed the camp with infantry, commando forces and assault helicopters. Two of the children are martyred after carrying out a suicide attack in Tel Aviv. At the end of the film, Jude, who leaves Jenin to pursue his acting career, revisits the theatre. Only two of Arna’s children are alive and free from jail. One is married with a small child. One leads a resistance group.

When the film finished, Zara told us that Jude, aged 52, had been assassinated in his car outside of the theatre. He was shot by a masked militant and left behind a daughter, step-daughter, young son and wife Jenny – who was expecting twins.

You can watch the film by following this link to Youtube:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cQZiHgbBBcI

You can read Juliano Mer Khamis (Jude)’s obituary on the Guardian here:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/stage/2011/apr/11/juliano-mer-khamis-obituary

Extract from my diary (2) : the ancient city of Jericho (PHOTOBLOG)

19/01/13

This post is unashamedly touristy and is really just an opportunity to show off my photos from beautiful Jericho, the oldest city in the world…

We started here, at the foot of the Mount of Temptation, the spot where the devil is said to have tempted Jesus to make a loaf of bread out of stone during a 40-day fast.

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We climbed the mountain with the warm sun on our backs (Jericho is always warmer than the surrounding areas because it is so low, the lowest city on Earth in fact). The hike took about an hour and wasn’t too demanding, however I can imagine in the occasional 55c heat of Jericho’s summer it would be unbearable.

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When we got to the top we reached the Monastery of the Qurantul, here I think the picture speaks for itself.

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We were lucky enough to be able to go inside the monastery before it closed, the view from the balcony was incredible.

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After sipping some well needed pomegranate juice which was deliciously in-season, we walked back down to the city of Jericho. Here we ventured to the Tree of Zacchaeus, a sycamore tree famous because of its mention in the Bible, and Hisham’s Palace, an ancient site of archaeological ruins.

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Extract from my diary (1) : Notorious Qalandia checkpoint

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14/01/2013

Today I experienced going through Qalandia checkpoint for the first time. To get into holy Jerusalem from the West Bank you must go through an airport style security check (unless you are important enough to go through one of the special checkpoints for diplomats). It is manned by Israeli border police and Israeli Defence Force soldiers, known for their brutality towards Arabs.

The journey from Ramallah to Jerusalem used to be a mere 15 minutes in a service before the Barrier was built (shared taxi). Now it can take up to 2.5 hours to get into the ancient city because of the deeply congested traffic and the scrutinising security regime.

As well as being tediously slow to get through, Qalandia is also one of the most notorious checkpoints for volatility. On the Palestinian side it is common to see burning tires and stones being thrown towards the wall, particularly on a Friday after prayers. It is just as common to hear the sound of rubber bullets and tear gas being fired by the IDF back at the protesters. This time we were lucky, we got through without witnessing any violence.

We sat in the slowly moving, very noisy traffic inching towards the checkpoint for around 30 minutes. The graffiti on the Barrier, impossible to miss, highlighted the faces of famous Palestinians accused of terror crimes against the State of Israel. When we got to the checkpoint we were ushered out of the car and into the wall to floor caged queue lines; one terminal for Israeli ID holders, one of Palestinians and another few unsigned which we guessed were for foreigners. We guessed wrong and were shouted at loudly in Hebrew before moving to the back of the Palestinian queue. Again we waited. Four at a time through the first turnstile, through the second turnstile, bags and coats in the baggage machine, body through the body scanner, show your passport, show your visa, collect your bags, through the final turnstile.

For me, as a British person, and, significantly, a white British person with a British name and British heritage, no real delay. However, for my British friends with ethnic heritage, the procedure was more trying – Take off your shoes, your jacket, your jewellery, put your bag through again, show me the photo page in your passport. For Palestinians, it is 100 times worse. Most cannot go through at all, of those who hold permits, many choose not to because of the time it takes and the treatment they receive there. For those who work on the other side of the Barrier, those with no choice but to cross, they face hours of waiting in metal cages in the 30c+ summer heat. They face arriving at 5am, or sleeping in front of the checkpoint, to get to work or school on time in the morning. They face torment from the guards and regular refusal without reason.

Today, Ranaa was the last of our party to come through. After showing her passport and reaching for her bag she was told to wait, it had gotten ‘stuck’ in the machine. Everyone else was already on the bus to leave at this point. The driver wanted to go and so we had no choice but to leave her there to catch the next one. Of course, Ranaa, is an Arab name.

Safe and Sound.

A few days ago my travel diary arrived safe and sound – I had to send it via mail as I couldn’t take it through the airport with me (Israeli airport security couldn’t know what we were doing in the West Bank or we would have been deemed a threat to the state and banned from returning!)

I really want to continue publishing stories, photos and articles about some of the things I have seen and heard during my time in Palestine. I feel that there is so much which could and should be shared, and now I have some time I can sit in a little coffee shop with my laptop and a cup of tea and reminisce about the best three months of my life.

The arrival of my diary means that I can flick back through the past three months and copy some of what I have written onto my blog to share with you all. Over the next few weeks I endeavour to update Palestinian Diary as much as possible. Following all the humility and warmth I received from the people I met, the least I can do for them is to share their stories.

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Children in Taybeh practising their dance routine for Mother’s Day (March 2013)