Rehearsing for Freedom: In West Bank Refugee Camps and in Gaza, Theatre Helps Children Channel Their Chronic Fears and Traumas
Solomon, Alisa, American Theatre
When AbdelFattah Abu-Srour was a young boy in the early 1970s, he used to make up little plays with his friends. From their home in Aida refugee camp--near Bethlehem in the Israeli-occupied West Bank--they'd run down to a dusty field and create sketches about their lives and fantasies, just like kids all over the world. Two decades later, when Abu-Srour returned to this home after spending nine years studying for his Ph.D. in France, he was disturbed to find that local children could no longer go to that field--it had been claimed by Israel as a security area.
Meanwhile, the few playgrounds and open spaces that had existed amid Aida camp's maze of narrow streets had disappeared: As the population of the camp continued to grow, its boundaries remained fixed, and every available patch of land was snatched up for housing. Today, nearly 5,000 people live crammed into 16 acres in Aida, one of the makeshift camps established by the United Nations for Palestinians who lost their homes and livelihoods fleeing the 1948 war over the establishment of the state of Israel. Over the past 60 years, the camps have solidified into closed-in, overcrowded hothouses of deprivation and squalor. (There are 27 such camps amid the cities and villages of Palestine--19 in the West Bank and 8 in the Gaza Strip--and others in Lebanon, Syria and Jordan.)
A soft-spoken man with a gentle manner and an easy laugh, Abu-Srour says that he couldn't stand to see children so stifled, both physically and psychologically. Because Aida camp sits close to the tomb of the biblical matriarch Rachel--a site holy to Jews--and is nearly adjacent to the Jewish settlement of Gilo, it is surrounded by Israeli military outposts. Abu-Srour says confrontations between soldiers and kids from Aida throwing stones take place "almost daily." Military incursions and raids, along with Israeli-imposed curfews, often restrict children to their homes--and traumatize them. He wanted to give young people a safe place to play, express themselves and unleash their imaginations. For him, there was one obvious answer: Make theatre.
Though Abu-Srour had earned his doctorate in biological and medical engineering, he hadn't abandoned his love of writing, directing and acting. While he was studying science at Paris-Nord University, he also formed a theatre company that created its own …
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Publication information: Article title: Rehearsing for Freedom: In West Bank Refugee Camps and in Gaza, Theatre Helps Children Channel Their Chronic Fears and Traumas. Contributors: Solomon, Alisa - Author. Magazine title: American Theatre. Volume: 25. Issue: 5 Publication date: May-June 2008. Page number: 38+. © 1999 Theatre Communications Group. COPYRIGHT 2008 Gale Group.
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