Bil’in – As the sun set and call to prayer rang out, a mixed group of Palestinian and international actors presented a scenario in which a family is forced to choose between paying $600 for their grandfather’s surgery or to release their daughter from an Israeli prison.
After it concluded, the audience was invited to discuss what interested them in the play, and what problems they had with the production, employing a style known as “Forum Theatre.”
“The play does not resolve the problem, it asks a question and presents a crisis,” Hector Aristizabal, director of Imaginaction, a non-profit theatre outreach company based in Los Angeles, told Al Jazeera. “It’s not about finding an answer which doesn’t exist, it’s about creating an aesthetic dialogue where people from the community try to deal with their own questions and conflicts.”
Aristizabal and others are in the West Bank village of Bil’in, famous for its weekly protests against the Israeli separation wall, for an artistic residency that runs from October 9-22.
Artists and activists from as near as neighbouring village Kufer Ni’meh and as far as South America are in attendance.
“This is the first time anyone has attempted this in Bil’in,” Fidaa Ataya, one of the event organisers, said in an interview. “It’s a huge responsibility, but we have an opportunity to help the villagers of Bil’in use creative ideas for their struggle,” she continued.
The projects include theatre, murals and puppet making, all with input and encouragement from locals. This week, the group marched through Bil’in towards the site of the weekly protests in a parade celebrating the positive aspects of culture and resistance, as well as the importance of the olive harvest occurring across the occupied West Bank.
Francisco Letelier, a Chilean muralist, who began his career as a young man during the presidency of Salvador Allende, oversees the painting of murals on the main road of Bil’in.
“What we’re trying to do is recapture a feeling of ownership of the physical environment and empowering people to know that they can affect their surroundings,” the muralist told Al Jazeera.
He went on to say that he was attempting to engage the villagers “in a process that asks ‘What’s important to you? Who are you?’ For many people, this was the first time that their ideas were being considered in a serious way. So it’s already a success.”
Participants were invited to draw their own designs for the walls lining the street. Hamza Badran, 21, was responsible for one such mural. A month earlier, Badran decided to switch from a jeweller apprenticeship to study at Ramallah’s International Academy of Art.
Palestine. Not in a hotel, but with the people.”]
“Now here I am, a month later, making my first mural,” Badran said while putting the finishing touches on his first exhibition.
Land is one of the most important driving forces behind Bil’in’s weekly protests, which entered their tenth year last March. The Israeli separation wall that lines much of the occupied West Bank threatened to separate the village from a huge portion of farmland on which the olive trees harvested this week sit.
After protests and legal action, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that the wall be re-routed, which took place in 2011. Approximately 700,000 square metres were saved for the villagers.
That same year, “5 Broken Cameras“, a documentary about the village’s Friday protests, was released to international acclaim. Its director, Emad Burnat, would be the first Palestinian nominated for the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. After these victories, some suggest that the weekly protests are losing steam.
“When the wall moved, for sure, people thought ‘We won something, we’ve got back our land,'” Ataya said. According to her, people began to focus more on their personal lives. “This is logical, human beings also need to live.”
As one of the organisers, she stressed that these victories were not enough, and that people still had a hunger to protest for their rights.
Ken Sdrjak, the puppetista who guided the creation of cardboard olive trees and a “teargas monster” used in the parade, agreed with Ataya.
“After plugging away at their resistance for so many years, it’s exciting to know that they’re inspired for keeping up innovative tactics,” he said while searching Bil’in for plastic tubing to be used to create the teargas monster.
|Participants were invited to draw their own designs for the walls lining the street [Creede Newton]|
Sdrjak also helped create a sun and moon on which residents placed images of the village’s two martyrs: Bassem and Jawahar Abu Rahman. Bassem was shot in the chest with a high-velocity teargas canister at close range on April 17, 2009, and Jawahar died from tear gas inhalation on December 31, 2010. They were siblings.
On October 19, the group prepared for the protest. They dressed in olive tree costumes, hoisted the puppets, and marched towards Israeli forces already waiting for them.
In an improvised move, activists also placed the image of Bahaa Badr, a 13-year-old boy shot and killed by Israeli forces the night before the parade, alongside the members of the Abu Rahmah family.
The parade marched past two Israeli jeeps and through billowing tear gas to the separation wall. Aside from two protestors who were shot in the leg with tear gas canisters, there were no major injuries.
The following day, the group returned to their projects.
Reflecting on the decades old occupation, Aristizabal said that “whatever is going to change this conflict is already here. We need to imagine what it is that will allow these two peoples to live in this land”.
Ataya was pleased with the imaginative efforts of the group. “Without creative ideas, without teaching the people to do something else, nothing new will happen.”
In the coming days, the artists will take their play to the villages of Nabi Saleh, Nil’in and Budrus. Ataya hopes that it will resonate with both the neighbouring communities and the world at large. “We tried in this gathering here in Bil’in to show them something different. I want to tell everyone to come and [visit] Palestine. Not in a hotel, but with the people.”