Cultural reawakening aims to rebrand Jenin

The West Bank city is remembered for some of the Second Intifada’s worst violence. Fahkri Hamid, the manager of Cinema Jenin, hopes to change its image through theater.

Jenin 311 (photo credit: courtesy)
Jenin 311
(photo credit: courtesy)
JENIN – Fahkri Hamid, project manager of Cinema Jenin, leans forward in his chair one day last week. With the opening of the cinema later this week, there is much work left to do.
In between smoking Gauloises and fielding phone calls, Hamid explains how the West Bank’s newest cultural initiative found its home in the city.
“The creative spirit is not unique to Jenin,” Hamid, 39, says in well-spoken English.
“It’s not about where you live, but how you are thinking about things.”
On the wall next to Hamid, an expanse of white paper is covered with the cinema’s goals. Beyond the main objectives of providing jobs and stimulating the local economy is something more abstract: providing a commonplace experience for the citizens of the historically troubled city. The previous cinema in Jenin closed its doors in 1987 with the onset of the First Intifada.
The new facility will boast two movie theaters – one indoor and one outdoor – as well as a cafeteria, production company and film school, and a digital library with collections of films, music and books. Much of the funding comes from the German government, with material support given by the Goethe Institute.
Donors such as Roger Waters, lead singer of Pink Floyd, provided a state of the art sound system.
Throughout the day, dozens of European volunteers can be seen working inside the complex.
The opening of the Cinema Jenin on Thursday, which will see the start of a threeday program including Palestinian films, discussions and musical performances, is the latest in a series of cultural developments designed to efface the enduring image of Jenin as a central point for some of the worst violence of the second intifada.
In recent years, Jenin has seen the growth of such artistic initiatives, helped by the improvement of security in the city.
“We like to live like everyone in France, in America.
We want to live a usual life in Jenin,” says Eyad Strati, 35, the director of Al-Kamandjati, a non-profit group that provides free musical instruments and instruction to children. The organization started in Ramallah in 2004 and has since expanded to seven venues across the West Bank. The Jenin branch opened in 2007.
Staiti and his staff teach around 100 students, 60 from the city of Jenin and the rest drawn mostly from the refugee camp and surrounding villages. He credits the ability of his students to learn classical music like Haydn to the stability provided by the Palestinian Authority, support offered by the PA Ministry of Culture, and money and instruments given by donors in places like France, Sweden and Switzerland.
Staiti keeps his students active. The Jenin orchestra from Al-Kamandjati has performed in Jerusalem and Ramallah and participated in the numerous festivals springing up around the West Bank, including Music Days, a two-week series of concerts that takes place each June.
Just a year before Al- Kamandjati debuted, the first major cultural establishment of renascent Jenin was created in the form of the Freedom Theater. An acting school, theater and media center, the Freedom Theater is not in the city proper, but just inside the Jenin Refugee Camp.
The theater’s first incarnation, in the 1990s, dissolved after its founder, Arna Mer Khamis, died of cancer.
Five of the original actors died during the Second Intifada, either during the fighting within the camp or as suicide bombers. Another one went to jail.
“Now they’re talking Shakespeare. It’s not just drama therapy, but professional training,” said one administrator.
In addition to a number of activities and festivals held within the camp, the work of the Freedom Theater has yielded three plays, with the latest production, Men in the Sun, debuting last week. The group hopes to perform in New York in 2011.