The Freedom Theater, the Palestinian community-based theater and cultural center located within the Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank, has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
The iconic theater company—a cultural beacon in the region which aims to generate resistance through art—has been forced to endure a series of extraordinary attacks and privations since its founding in 2006 inside the 24,000-person refugee camp (originally built for Palestinians displaced in 1948). These include a number of devastating air strikes and IDF raids; the murder of its co-founder, Juliano Mer Khamis; and the arrest, detention, and murder of various staff members and students.
On December 13, in the midst of one of the biggest raids on Jenin in decades, the Israeli army ransacked and vandalized the Freedom Theater. The soldiers then went to the homes of Artistic Director Ahmed Tobasi, Producer Mustafa Sheta, and recent graduate of the Freedom Theatre Performing Arts School Jamal Abu Joas, blindfolded and handcuffed them, and took them away. Tobasi was released after 24 hours, and Abu Joas after eight days, but Sheta remains imprisoned—sentenced to six months of “administrative detention” (a classification Israel uses, under martial law, to hold suspects without charge).
In a statement released across various social media platforms earlier today, the company announced the welcome Nobel Prize news, and also paid tribute to the numerous theater members who have been imprisoned and killed by the Israeli army in recent months and years:
We are honored to announce that The Freedom Theater has been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.
The Freedom Theater is an artistic movement made possible through the collective effect of thousands of people, starting from Jenin Refugee Camp in Palestine and rippling across the world.
We continue to be inspired by the vision of our co-founders, Juliano Mer Khamis, murdered in 2011, and Zakaria Zubeidi, currently held in Israeli occupation prison.
Together, they dreamed of a new generation of artists who, from the heart of Jenin Camp, would raise their voices against discrimination, occupation and oppression.
Our movement of children, youth, women and men continues to grow stronger, despite continued invasions in Jenin Camp and attacks on our theater.
Today marks two months since our producer, Mustafa Sheta, was taken by the Israeli Army and imprisoned without trial or charge. Mustafa is one of many in our team who have sacrificed their liberation for the goal of freedom of expression for all.
We continue to demand Mustafa’s release and that of all Palestinian artists and prisoners.
This nomination is a chance to thank every Palestinian child who, from the state of The Freedom Theater, inspires and dares us to keep on dreaming.
We take this moment to remember and celebrate the life of our three child participants, 17-year-old Mahmoud Al-Sadi, 15-year-old Sadeel Naghniyeh and 17-year-old Yamen Mahmoud Nabil Jarrar.
Our stage continues to echo their laughter, hopes and imagination.
We thank every artist, collage and student whose bravery, creativity and magic have built the deep roots from which our family continues to flourish and grow.
We take a moment to remember an celebrate the life of Jehad Naghniyeh and Mohammad Matahen, both killed by the Israeli army in November, as well as Mariam Abu Atyah (Um Mohammed), the mother of our theater, and Rabea Torokman, one of our first students, both of whom have passed away.
Their absences leave a heavy silence, but our memories are filled with their mischief and joy.
We thank every international friendship group, ally and artist who works tirelessly to carry the message of hope from Jenin Camp to the world.
In turn, your message of care, solidarity and determination reflects back, and gives us conviction in our darkest moments.
As daily massacres take place in Gaza, invasions continue in the West Bank, and Palestinians face persecution from the river to the sea, we urge everyone to call for an end to the genocide of Palestinians and to stand up for equality, justice and liberation.
Juliano dreamed that the 3rd Intifada would be a cultural one. We thank everyone who has made that dream today’s reality.
Novelist Isabella Hammad on the revolutionary power of Palestinian theatre.