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September 14, 2012

A hotbed of the Second Intifada, Jenin still carries many marks of the period’s violence.

It is written on posters adorning the streets, bullet holes left in walls and windows and the huge iron horse installed at the main entrance to the refugee camp.

Children stand and sit in a main thoroughfare of the Jenin Refugee Camp in the West Bank. Credit: Tasha Locke

The Jenin refugee camp was one of the main sites of violent resistance during the Second Intifada, producing many suicide bombers during the period.

The Olive Tree Initiative’s first meeting was with Mohammad Sayyed of the Popular Committee of Service for a brief screening of “Jenin, Jenin” a film on conditions in the area during the Second Intifada. About five minutes into the screening, the building’s power went out – a regular occurrence, according to members of the committee.

With power restored and after screening a short portion of the film, Sayyed began to describe Jenin’s current state, years after the Second Intifada.

To this day, Jenin plays host to many residents displaced in 1948 and their descendants. Much of camp’s infrastructure  is supported by the United Nations, who fund three male schools, two female schools and one health center.

Although foreign aid from NGOs and governments has helped rebuild parts of the camp, in many ways the area remains rooted in the violence of the Second Intifada.

Sayyed described Jenin’s life during the Intifada, including the tanks positioned at the town’s entrances, bulldozers used to raise buildings in the camp and the numerous residents killed or taken prisoner during Israeli incursions.

Mohammad Sbiehat, a member of Fatah Higher Council in Jenin also spoke to the group. Sbiehat said life under the Palestinian Authority following the Second Intifada is much improved, although new government still lacks in essential areas.

Children sit beneath an inscription on a wall outside of the Jenin Freedom Theater, which reads “freedom” in both English and Arabic. Credit: Tasha Locke

Sbiehat also outlined problems facing the establishment of a Palestinian state and their use of international courts, focusing on the Palestinian Authority’s bid to join the United Nations.

Long-term reliance on Israel and the international community for aid and the weakness of the current government, Sbiehat said, only serves to harm the Palestinian people, who are unable to gain stable economic independence as a result.

One example of economic dependence he cited were Jenin’s newest buildings – easily discernible from the street by their light beige color – built with funds from the United Arab Emirates in the aftermath of the Second Intifada.

Only a few blocks from the Committee’s offices, the group stopped by the Jenin Women’s Cultural Cooperative, where the head of the group, Ifat, recounted her family’s tragedy during the Intifada.

Ifat’s son, a journalist covering the conflict, was killed by Israeli Defense Forces in Jenin while taking photos of a street protest. Ifat described to the group the late nights she spent with her son as he worked on his latest article and she would sit nearby, working on hand crafts.

Following a short lunch at the cooperative, the group stopped by Jenin’s Freedom Theater.

Students learn about the mission of the Jenin Freedom Theater. Credit: Tasha Locke

The theater, started after the Second Intifada as an expression of peaceful resistance and a space of empowerment for Jenin’s youngest residents. The vision for the Freedom Theater outlined by it’s founder, Juliano Mer Khamis, lies on the premise that successful resistance and repair should begin with cultural expression.

As an extension of this mission, the theater provides classes in theatre, filmmaking and photography and also stages musical and theatrical productions for Jenin’s residents.

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