Monday, February 16, 2009

Arna's Children/signs beneath the signs

Yesterday, I went to a panel sponsored by Cleveland Peace Action that brought together four women (Sue Wolpert, Lois Romanoff, Ruth Tracy, and Maryann Kerr) who have recently traveled to Israel and Palestine on peacebuilding, human rights, and cultural exchange missions of various sorts. They came back with a lot of stories about small groups with both Israelis and Palestinians, Muslims, Christian and Jews, working toward a common future. These groups were diverse and as various as their members, but are largely working without the media attention, that fawningly follows the power brokers.

One of them visited the Jenin theater group that Arna Mer Khamis founded, and that her son Juliano now runs. Arna, an Israeli Jew who once served in the Palmach, married an Arab and subsequently began a theater group for Palestinian children traumatized by war and military occupation. The film is now available entirely on youtube, and I'll be spreading it out over a couple days, since no one watches anything online for more than a half hour, as far as I can tell. So here are the first three segments, of nine total. (If you're addicted, or want closure, just follow the links).
Background: ARNA'S CHILDREN tells the story of a theatre group that was established by Arna Mer Khamis. Arna comes from a Zionist family and in the 1950s married a Palestinian Arab, Saliba Khamis. On the West Bank, she opened an alternative education system for children whose regular life was disrupted by the Israeli occupation. The theatre group that she started engaged children from Jenin, helping them to express their everyday frustrations, anger, bitterness and fear. Arna's son Juliano, director of this film, was also one of the directors of Jenin's theatre. With his camera, he filmed the children during rehearsal periods from 1989 to 1996. Now, he goes back to see what happened to them. Yussef committed a suicide attack in Hadera in 2001, Ashraf was killed in the battle of Jenin, Alla leads a resistance group. Juliano, who today is one of the leading actors in the region, looks back in time in Jenin, trying to understand the choices made by the children he loved and worked with. Eight years ago, the theatre was closed and life became static and paralysed. Shifting back and forth in time, the film reveals the tragedy and horror of lives trapped by the circumstances of the Israeli occupation.

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