Cultural resistance in Palestine through the eyes of women

Cultural resistance in Palestine through the eyes of women

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Zoe Lafferty explains how the first Palestinian Feminist Theatre Festival, which opened in Jenin Refugee Camp, is an antidote to Israel’s gendered violence.

As artists and audiences celebrated the opening of the first-ever Palestinian Feminist Theatre Festival in Jenin Refugee Camp, they were unaware that hours later, another mother would mourn the death of her son.

That evening the Israeli army entered Jenin Refugee Camp in a raid that included heavy gunfire, tear gas and concussion grenades. Shooting 17-year-old Dirar al-Kafrayni, the bullet entered through his shoulder, exploding internally and causing his immediate death.

The next day the streets filled with men carrying the child’s body, and the festival was postponed to respect his family’s morning. Kafrayni is one of 20 children killed by Israel in the West Bank and Jerusalem this year.

When the festival opened here were powerful yet optimistic speeches from Fidaa Zidan and Mariam Basha, part of the all-female artistic committee, addressing the urgent need for women’s equal representation in all aspects of society, from the workplace to political parties.

”Taking place on The Freedom Theatre’s stage in Jenin Refugee Camp, it’s impossible to ignore the context this feminist festival takes place in. The camp is under constant military invasion, with boys and men being regularly killed and imprisoned. Families already in precarious economic situations due to 80% unemployment, are put under further strain with the burden falling on women to make ends meet.”

Double oppression

The festival is driven by The Freedom Theatre, including Artistic Director Ahmed Tobasi and Producer Mustafa Sheta. Inspired by the rise of feminism in the sixties and feeling despondent that it has since been put to the back of the agenda, Mustafa said she was determined that “the festival be a space for women to present their vision of equality, re-awakening the call to find answers and take action.”

Those involved in the project are keen to address the double discrimination that women face both from Israeli occupation and within Palestinian society – whilst also highlighting how these are connected and challenging racist Western stereotypes of men in Arab society.

It’s a complex challenge, especially for a theatre that lost 80% of its core funding in 2021 after rejecting conditions that stipulated they must depoliticise their work.

Taking place on The Freedom Theatre’s stage in Jenin Refugee Camp, it’s impossible to ignore the context this feminist festival takes place in. The camp is under constant military invasion, with boys and men being regularly killed and imprisoned. Families already in precarious economic situations due to 80% unemployment, are put under further strain with the burden falling on women to make ends meet.

Furthermore, the relentless brutality experienced across four generations creates an endless cycle of humiliation, disempowerment and trauma, with toxic masculinity becoming a survival mechanism. Violence and oppression sometimes turns inwards, resulting in domestic violence and restrictions on women being able to choose their own futures. “This is why it is just as important for the festival to address not only women’s rights but that of men’s and the racist and Islamophobic stereotypes that allow Israel to go unchallenged by the West”, added Mustafa.

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