Tuesday, November 24, 2020

The Theatre of Detention: West Bank teenagers act out their ordeals

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By Jordan Woodgate - February 29, 2016
Section: [Main News] [Culture] [Behind Bars]
Tags: [Hebron] [culture] [child arrests]

Photos by Jordan Woodgate.
Raed calls ahead to Biah - a 17-year-old from the theatre group - to warn him that the entrances to Al-Arroub refugee camp are closed.


Access restrictions have been frequently used as a punitive measure, due to the recent attacks in Gush Etzion settlement, but Biah knows a different way into the town.


Boys from the theatre group meet Raed at the entrance and direct him along a one lane dirt track which winds through the camp’s cemetery on the side of the hill, snaking past crumbling concrete graves and ending up in the centre of Al-Arroub.

Another of the theatre group’s young members points his gun-shaped toy at Raed's car, shouting, and motioning for the car to stop - imitating an Israeli soldier. The boys laugh and follow the car to the youth centre.

Raed is a drama teacher from Yes Theatre, a Palestinian NGO, who has been meeting with the teenagers every day after school to reenact their stories of detention through a theatre performance which will eventually be performed to the residents of the camp.

Biah, 17, explains that his roles in the play are a prison guard and also a prisoner, “My role is the same role as when I was in prison.”

The stage represents the detainee’s house for the raid and arrest, the interrogation room where the actor is intimidated and threatened, and the detention centre with bunk beds where the line of children portray their daily routine and humiliation with believability and zeal. In turn, they narrate the passage of the story.  

After entering Biah’s house in the early hours of the morning “[The soldiers] put me in the jeep. All the way they hit me, from the house to the camp.” he says, “Hands, legs, smacking, with the guns, everything.”

Once at Kfar Etzion, “for three hours they left me under the sun. It was hot. I said I want to sit on the floor but they said no. I became dizzy and fell. The soldiers said, 'are you making fun of me, pretending you’re dizzy?’ and he hit me again.”

Biah was taken inside and was refused water; “No, when you confess I give you water. When you say I throw stones I give you water,” soldiers told him. I said “I don’t want water,” and he hit my head on the door of the room."

Biah didn’t confess and he stayed for five days and was able to leave after a 1000 shekel bail.

In a study of 292 ex-detainee children by Save the Children in 2012, 90 percent were taken from their family homes in a home invasion scenario, often in the middle of the night, which, “was a significant memory and trigger for the children’s psychological aftermath.”

Israel’s controversial administrative detention law allows the state to hold suspects without charge for six months, a period which can be renewed indefinitely. Youths are generally accused of throwing stones, potentially resulting in a maximum sentence of 10 to 20 years depending on the child’s age.

According to the prisoners’ support NGO Addameer, there were 450 children in administrative detention in January 2016.

Biah was arrested a second time in Hebron. After being questioned, Isreali soldiers, took him “to a container, in the middle of ten soldiers and they all hit me.” Biah says, “After that, they removed the blindfold. I looked, and there were soldiers and settlers.”

Biah stood outside the container, “Settlers were passing. Each one either throws a stone, spits on me, curses or shouts. Then my uncles came.” The israeli forces took 2000 shekels from them and let Biah go. “I’m sure they took it for their pockets. [There was] no receipt.”

Samir, 17, recounts his story. One afternoon, the Israeli forces knocked down the door of his family’s house and carried him to a jeep which drove to Kfar Etzion.

In the interrogation room Samir was told that someone had informed the Israeli forces about him.

Samir was brought a paper which was only in Hebrew, “They didn’t say what it was. I thought it was a paper which allows me to go home. I didn’t know what it was I signed.

“What is this?”

“Just sign, don’t be afraid!” they told me.”

Samir was not told the paper had been a statement of confession and was imprisoned for three months. “I missed the two feasts of Eid and my brother’s wedding,” Samir said.

According to Defence for Children, Palestine, Israeli military court judges, “rarely exclude evidence obtained by coercion or torture, including confessions drafted in Hebrew, a language most Palestinian children do not understand. In 23 percent of cases in 2013, children were either shown, or made to sign, documentation written in Hebrew.”

Sixty percent of child detainees are transferred from the West Bank or Gaza to prisons inside Israel, says DCI Palestine, in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, meaning that family members often cannot visit due to freedom of movement restrictions.

Detainees suffered from physical harm, according to a Save the Children study, 98 percent were subjected to violence by the Israeli army, health problems, social stunting, a lack of employment opportunities and educational problems, in addition to being at risk of developing PTSD.

The report showed that children, “suffered from nightmares, sleeping and eating disorders, bedwetting, and feared rearrest or acquired unhealthy habits such as smoking.”

The use of arts as psychosocial intervention have been proven to keep children in school, motivate them, and understand the world in which they live. Yes Theatre uses theatre and drama (which is in its infancy in Palestine) as a form of recreation and self-expression among youths who have been disturbed by the ordeal of detention, helping to create confident and responsible young citizens.

However, putting on the play has been hindered by further arrests. After the Palestine Monitor visited Al-Arroub, the actor Anan was arrested, Noor was arrested in the middle of rehearsals and Dya’a was detained shortly after.

Biah exalts the benefits of the theatre group, saying, “I met new people and friends and I learned not to be afraid of people. Sometimes it’s dangerous to trust people you don’t know, because there are many many spies inside camps like this. So I learned to trust myself and not to be afraid to deal with other people, whoever they are.”

A key objective of the play is to spread the message, “It's an experience of something I really experienced,” says Samir, "and I want this to be transferred to the audience.” 

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