In self-satire, Palestinians see cultural Intifada

Thu Apr 2, 2009 7:21am EDT
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By Alastair Macdonald

JENIN, West Bank (Reuters) - Braving firebombs from neighbors and risking official wrath, Palestinians in a refugee camp famed for fighting Israeli troops are now battling failings in their own society with political satire on the stage.

In adapting "Animal Farm," George Orwell's allegory for Stalin's corruption of Russian revolutionary ideals, the theater school at Jenin says it is holding up a mirror to leaders of the Palestinian Intifadas or uprisings against Israel by staging another Intifada, this time a cultural one at home.

"The armed revolution is over," said Rabia Turokman, once a fugitive fighter in Jenin and now enrolled in the first class of students at the new Freedom Theater Acting School in the camp.

"I had to look for another revolution," he said after coming off-stage to rowdy applause this week. "Having a theater in Jenin refugee camp is the biggest revolution for Palestine."

It was certainly revolutionary enough to provoke an arson attack last week. Damage was slight. But, though unclaimed, it was a reminder that some take offense at what they see as a challenge to tradition or to their hold over the West Bank.

Artistic director Juliano Mer Khamis faces hostility to the project from some in Palestinian society, where leadership is split between aging revolutionaries in the PLO and the rising Islamists of Hamas. He puts it down to a "ghetto mentality" and "dictatorship of tradition" built up under Israeli occupation.

"The project is a challenge," he says of the opening of the theater school last year and the choice of Orwell's 1945 classic as its first performance. "It's not that we want to challenge but we believe the coming Intifada must be cultural."

"We are not a threat to Palestinian culture," he said, recalling recent denunciations of the theater troupe as "spies" who were "corrupting" the young. "We are Palestinian culture."   Continued...

<p>Palestinian actors perform the play "Animal Farm" at the Freedom Theatre in Jenin refugee camp, near the West Bank city of Jenin March 28, 2009. REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman</p>