Camping Jenin, 2008
The Freedom Theatre, Jenin Refugee Camp, West Bank, Palestine; Kronika Gallery, Bytom, Poland
The workshop in the Jenin refugee camp, in the West Bank, in Israel-occupied Palestine, ran for about a month. It was April 2008. The workshop took place at the Freedom Theatre, a theatre venue reactivated after the Second Intifada by a group of European activists (among others, Jonathan Stanczak) and Juliano Mer Khamis, the son of Arna Mer Khamis, the founder of the first Jenin theatre, known as The Stone Theatre (more information at http://www.thefreedomtheatre.org).
The workshop took place without any outside institutional support and was part of a programme preparing young people from Jenin for joining a planned school to be affiliated with the theatre. It was a result of the artist’s visit to the theatre in December 2007, her conversations with Jonathan Stanczak, as well a consequence of her earlier public project, Warsaw’s Oxygenator.
The Oxygenator took place in a post-traumatic place, in an area that during WWII was the Jewish ghetto in Warsaw. It was an attempt to create a situation where breathing, sitting, being together is remembering, as well as semi-consciously, deeply physically experiencing, the place and its trauma. The Oxygenator took place without words. People talked little there.
Watching people’s behaviour in the Oxygenator was crucial for Camping Jenin. An attempt to transfer those experiences into the situation of a presently happening trauma was a risky experiment.
The main premise of the workshop was to move away from language – to replace verbal narratives about trauma with bodily positions, gestures, body language, non-articulated sounds. That stemmed from the suspicion that the narratives, repeated a hundred times, had already frozen in linguistic forms, grammatical structures, overused phrases. The ritual of speaking, of telling a story, locks the experience up in the mechanism of speech, of sentence construction, in the inner logic of the language.
The Freedom Theatre workshop took place in the rehearsal room, on stage, and on a nearby hill. The participants were six boys aged 17-24, called the ‘Bad Boys’ by Juliano Mer Khamis because they had been taken directly from the street: Yaseen Al Swety, Rame Al Auny, Qais Al Saady, Kamal Auad, Ahmad Tubassi i Ahmad Al Roch. For all of them the defining experience was the Second Intifada and the re-invasion by the Israeli army of the Jenin refugee camp, where they were born and where they live. In many a case, their brothers and fathers were killed during the Second Intifada, imprisoned, beaten and humiliated. Some, like Kamal, had to take care of their families. Most of the Bad Boys showed symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
The workshop was a lesson for both sides. Its most important conclusion was that you cannot try to recreate, communicate a deep trauma directly, in a straightforward manner. Fear, pain, invasion, the tank, the funeral, loss, wound were all too real, too close. It was necessary instead to create a narrative that generated a sense of distance towards reality, so that it could be seen, recounted, or even laughed at. If the workshop ever referred to trauma, it was never in direct terms. All attempts to get closer to the painful memory directly, physically, either provoked aggression or turned into farce. The only thing that worked was the power of illusion, dream, fiction.
A film was being made during the workshop which will have its premiere in November 2008. It is not a bare account of the workshop, which only reveals the scale of unprocessed trauma. Rather, it is a story about teenagers at the Jenin refugee camp, unable to cope in any way with living in the camp and with the Israeli occupation, which has destroyed their families and deprived them of childhood, about their aggression, sadness and great need of laughter.
workshop co-run by: Nabeel Alraee
camera: Rafał Żurek
editing: Sławek Kalwinek
sound: Sławek Kalwinek
translation: Magda Mughrabi, Abdel Kader Mousleh, Samir Sawan
special thanks to: Nabeel Alraee, Jonatan Stanczak, Juliano Mer Khamis, Adnan Narnariye and Marek Kubicki (www.arabia.pl)
film postproduction: Instytucja Kultury Ars Cameralis Silesiae Superioris, Kronika Gallery, Bytom, Poland