A silent protest march in memory of The Freedom Theatre co-founder Juliano Mer-Khamis, marked the beginning of the tenth anniversary events of The Freedom Theatre.
Waving Palestinian flags and carrying posters of Mer Khamis, with strains of oud playing in the background, around 50 protesters marched from The Freedom Theatre in Jenin refugee camp to the Governor’s office in Jenin city. Members and friends of The Freedom Theatre made speeches recalling the legacy of Mer Khamis who was murdered outside The Freedom Theatre on April 4, 2011. The protest was a grim reminder that five years have passed since his murder, and to date, the identity of his killer remains unknown. Speakers from The Freedom Theatre reminded the Palestinian Authority of their responsibility in resolving the murder and holding those responsible for it accountable. The statement by The Freedom Theatre handed over to the Governor of Jenin read: “The Palestinian Authority has at its disposal several security agencies that consume over 30 percent of the national budget. Yet very small efforts have been made and to this day the murder has not been resolved. We demand that the Palestinian Authority live up to its responsibility to protect its people and make every effort to resolve the murder of Juliano Mer Khamis. We also demand that the Palestinian Authority recognise the important role of the cultural sector in the national struggle and support and protect Palestinian cultural organisations and artists.”
The protest also included a performance by students of The Freedom Theatre School, ‘Return to Palestine’ in front of a cheering audience.
At the Theatre Festival and Forum opening ceremony at The Freedom Theatre, the objectives of the six-day event were outlined by Mustafa Sheta and Imad Abu Hantash, members of the board of The Freedom Theatre, and Nabeel Al-Raee, artistic director of the theatre. It was emphasised that cultural resistance is not divergent from the national Palestinian struggle, rather the opposite. As a statement by The Freedom Theatre noted: “Our work will always be part and parcel of the Palestinian resistance against the several occupations we face. We follow in the footsteps of the cultural icons of the resistance movement who painted in their various works the most beautiful pictures of patriotism and connection to this land that is entitled to life, as was uttered by Mahmoud Darwish in one of his poems. We shall persevere for our beautiful Palestine, striving for unlimited freedom.”
The anniversary of The Freedom Theatre and of the murder of Juliano also marks the anniversary of the invasion of Jenin refugee camp in 2002, during which camp inmates stood up to the powerful Israeli occupation army for nine days before the central parts of the camp were demolished and many people were killed, including non-combatant women and children. Therefore, the opening of the Theatre Festival and Forum on Cultural Resistance also included a tour of Jenin refugee camp organised by The Freedom Theatre and the Popular Committee for Services in Jenin Camp.
The day ended with a performance of The Freedom Theatre’s acclaimed play The Seige, a powerful account of the siege of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem in 2002. The play was performed to a full house, receiving standing ovations.