The Jenin Freedom Theatre wraps its tour of Athol Fugard’s ‘The Island’ in New York City, bringing Palestinian cultural resistance and prisoner experiences to U.S. audiences.
NEW YORK — You would think the words “Israel,” “Palestine” and “occupation” would have to be spoken during a theatrical production tackling the Palestinian political prisoner experience.
Not so in the Jenin Freedom Theatre’s adaption of South African playwright Athol Fugard’s “The Island,” which just concluded a four-state U.S. tour, the first Freedom Theatre production performed in English to tour abroad.
The reason: the Palestinian experience in Israeli prisons parallels that of black South African prisoners during the apartheid era, said the actors and director during a post-performance Q&A session Friday in New York City, which included American playwright Tony Kushner and Public Theatre artistic director Oskar Eustis.
Most Palestinians have had some experience with an Israeli military prison. Since 1967, approximately 40 percent of the male population of the Occupied Territories has been detained by Israel, according to the Council for European Palestinian Relations.
“Each family, each house has an experience with the prison [in Palestine],” said Freedom Theatre actor Faisal Abu Alhayjaa.
According to B’Tselem, 4,828 Palestinian detainees and prisoners were being held in Israeli prisons, as of July 31. Only 68 percent of them were convicted by a court and serving sentences.
The conviction rate of Palestinians tried in Israeli military courts is nearly 100 percent.
Israel’s Ofer military prison, located in the West Bank and notorious for its harsh conditions, is not too far off from the setting of “The Island,” based on South Africa’s Robben Island, the prison complex where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned.
With its adaptation, the cast and crew said the Freedom Theatre did not have to change the story much.
It opens with two prisoners, John and Winston, working in a quarry, using imagined tools to dig, carry and move imagined earth. They’re forced to run by the unseen guard, Hodoshe, representing the state that has imprisoned them.
Each night, the men rehearse “Antigone” by Sophocles, drawing parallels between Antigone’s plight and theirs. They argue and...Read More