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Visits to Refugee Camps


On April 8, 2009, MPT visited the most heavily populated Palestinian refugee camp, Balata Refugee Camp in Nablus. The refugees of this camp, which now resembles a small very crowded city (as buildings have expanded and been built one on top of another, ‘streets’ have become so narrow you have to turn sideways to squeeze through!), suffered the same indignities as other internal refugees in Palestine—years, generations even, living in tents with little access to water, sewage disposal, and other basic needs. Israeli army incursions, arrests, and an armed revolt in the Second Intifada (resulting in deaths and jailing of many young people in the camp) added to the pain of the people living here. Now, two or three (or more) generations live in very crowded housing with little space for children to play, a lack of social services and infrastructure, and serious problems with prejudice, lack of acceptance, and fear from people in the local town.

Narrow passages between buildings crowded with people.

The young man who showed us around was gregarious, but gave us little history. [We were aware of some history because MPT presence in the camp in previous years.] Our guide rather expressed his strong frustration with the USA involvement in the Iraq War and its support of the Israeli occupation of Palestine. He also faulted the European countries for supporting the US position. This is difficult to listen but is a frustration growing among young Palestinians.


On April 12, MPT visited an internal refugee camp in Jenin where sixteen thousand people live. In 12 days in 2002 during the Second Intifada, Israeli soldiers put down an armed resistance, destroying 400 houses, arresting 1000 people and killing 65. [Jenin has been occupied by Israel since 1967.] In 2005, the camp was rebuilt with money from the United Arab Emirates.

Crowded conditions

Our guide stated that this crushing of the people in 2002 was a turning point for many of the refugees. They witnessed the devastation to children who had experienced the horrors of the death and destruction in the camp. He felt the young people in the Second Intifada had died for nothing because nothing has changed, and that their lives were snuffed out when they had so much talent that would never be developed. Our guide expressed that Palestine has no military power, but is up against an extremely modern and powerful Israeli army. This young man is choosing nonviolence in response to the oppressive occupation, and believes it will be more effective. He said that he and many others involved in this work look forward to the next uprising, which they believe will be a Cultural Intifada. This third intifada will express to the world resistance in art, drama and dance. He has an unshakable belief that this will come and that it will be effective in countering the occupation, and will result in increased awareness around the world—and ultimately Israel will find itself shunned by the international community.

In 1988, Arna Mer-Khamis, an Israeli socialist activist woman who had been married to a Palestinian from Nazareth, established a theatre center. Arna received an alternative Nobel Prize and is the subject of a documentary film, Arna’s Children. [http://electronicintifada.net/v2/article2255.shtml] Arna’s theatre was successful, but all of this destroyed with the Second Intifada and the death and arrest of so many young people with whom Arna had worked.

In 2005, Arna was ill with terminal cancer, but her son Juliano Mer-Khamis, who had grown up with the Jenin theatre alongside his mother and had become an Israeli actor, return to Jenin and built Freedom Theatre. A theatre group has developed the only theatre and film school in Palestine with university degrees. Our guide said the aim of the Freedom Theatre group is to respond to the oppression with preserving the culture and with nonviolence resistance through theatre. Professionals and nonprofessionals work with young people from the camp who learn to express themselves through therapeutic drama.

Our guide proudly posses

Outside the theatre building

Inside the theatre

The theatre group recently performed Animal Farm, which was rewritten by an Israeli to have a decidedly Palestinian twist. [http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/7968812.stm] ] The Freedom Theatre building with 250 people capacity has had visiting circus and mime groups. All people – Palestinian, Israeli, international are accepted as part of the theatre as long as they hold to its principles (nonviolent action/expression—although the position of the organization is that they respect those who choose armed resistance—and rejecting normalization of the occupation/non-acceptance of the occupation.) Our guide teaches young people filming and directs film workshops. He showed us several superb short clips. Our guide presented a film in Bulgaria and soon a group will go to France, Germany and Austria. They have also presented in Bethlehem. They have hopes to build a new $1.5 million building.

Our guide's film office

Young people practice filming

The theatre is not always well accepted by the camp who are very conservative culturally and very protective of the young women. When our guide tried to make a film about girls being able to ride bikes in the camp, authorities forbid it.

Between the town and the refugee camp, [the physical boundaries are indistinguishable] there has been suspicion and discrimination. Refugees are labeled as uneducated and criminal and town people are labeled as rich and uncaring. Town children do not participate in the theatre. However, there are efforts to bring down the barriers between town and camp.

We watched a short part of the children’s new production, The Magic Flute and we were very impressed with the acting skills of the children

A splendid performance by the youth.

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