The Israeli army tried to bring this Palestinian artist to his knees, and failed

Israel/Palestine
on 25 Comments

Last night in Putnam County, NY, I met the two actors from the Jenin Freedom Theatre who are touring our country. Above is an interview with one of them, Faisal Abu Alheja.

Abu Alheja is only 23. But this actor who grew up in Jenin refugee camp– and who has never been to the sea that is 40 minutes away in Haifa, who has never been to Jerusalem less than 2 hours from his home– speaks with the wisdom of someone two or three times his years. 

Our 21-minute conversation focuses on his arrest in December 2011– when Israeli special forces, their faces blackened as though “in a Hollywood movie,” came into Abu Alheja’s house in the middle of the night to arrest him.

His description of his arrest begins at 4:30. (Before that he speaks of what he is trying to convey to Americans on this trip, and of his late mentor Juliano Mer-Khamis.) I urge you to watch the video from that point on, or skip around through it, to see how this young man has processed his experience. Abu Alheja is not an actor for nothing. Humiliation and pride and anger, weakness and strength, all appear on his face– and so does his commitment to freedom and human dignity.

In the last three minutes of the video, Abu Alheja seeks to translate a traditional Arabic “wisdom” that the Israeli investigator imparted to him at the end of his interrogation. In these moments of explaining a laden and threatening expression, you can see a vast measure of the Palestinian experience in this actor’s beautiful face.

Thanks to Dinky Romilly and Terry Weber for setting up the meeting. I will post a video of fellow actor Ahmad Al-Rokh next. I hope readers will do their part to honor these artists by going to hear them speak about Art as Resistance tomorrow at Columbia University or catching them when they return to our country in September to perform the Athol Fugard play, The Island, in English. We will certainly give you a headsup.

Some of the highlights from the Faisal Abu Alheja interview:

6:00 Why? he asks. Why was he arrested and his arms bound? And his house surrounded by soldiers, as if it were a war?

I ask, how does he answer that question?

7:00 If these people came with this army, to arrest you, that means you are an important person, a dangerous person. That means your art touches.

7:30. Abu Alheja says he must tell me the story “from the beginning.”

He relates how the arrest grew out of a talkback process, in which ordinary people in Jenin would relate an experience and actors would act it out. This talkback soon moved to the streets of the camp. And it involved freed prisoners, relating their experiences. Abu Alheja’s arrest followed.

That night, the soldiers walked him to the place where he had done the street theater, before putting him in the jeep and blindfolding him.

I understand ah, our art it’s working… But we didn’t do anything against them. We just asked people their stories.

So the experience was positive? Not entirely. And here you can see the fear in Abu Alheja’s face:

It makes me stronger, but it also makes me afraid. Maybe they will kill you and nobody will ask, man… Look if they can enter my room. Really I woke up and found them in my room, like a Hollywood movie.

I think Fuck politics… Nobody can do anything for me in this moment.

Maybe you will dead… They have the possibility to kill you.

You feel as a Palestinian, that you are nothing. You are disappear. You are disappearing.

12:20. Why didn’t they call him on the telephone to talk to him? Why did they attack his house, with an army? Yes, why? I ask.

The answer is they want to broken my character as a Palestinian. They want me on my knees. Without thinking. To be afraid from to go to the theater. To be afraid to be doing something political. They did not say that… But this is what I feel.

13:30 As Abu Alheja grows more and more emotional, I ask, Were they successful in getting you to go to your knees? Listen to his answer yourself.

But at 13:50, he relates, that others have been broken.

They succeed with a lot of people. They put a lot of people in the trauma… I know a lot of people who have scared from the voices of bombs or from the army. But you know, I’m lucky, I have the theater.

14:00-15:00

He then describes his four-year-old nephew seeing the army attacking the house in the middle of the night and taking someone; and he wonders how this will affect the boy. This is what he wants the world to understand.

This is not an issue of partition or international politics. “Two countries or three countries.” It is about human rights. People should talk about the occupation and the denial of rights, and “Stop this fucking occupation.”

Abu Alheja relates that at the end of his interrogation, the mood changed. The investigator had run out of questions. He asks him what is his dream?

17:00 My dream to be an actor, to be a famous actor.

And at the very end, the investigator “said a wisdom in Arabic.”

18:00

He spoke Arabic better than me, oh my god…. In nice accent also… ‘Leave the danger and sing for it.’ He said the half of it. He said, ‘Leave the danger.’ And I continue it, ‘And sing for it.’ And he said, ‘One thousand songs.’

18:48: I ask him what is meant by this Arabic expression in that context. “Watch out. We control everything.”

19:28. I ask, Does that mean, Respect the danger?

No. Over the next minute or so, Abu Alheja, motioning at Trout Brook Lake in upstate New York, explains how menacing an expression it is.

About Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is Founder and Co-Editor of Mondoweiss.net.

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25 Responses

  1. giladg
    April 13, 2013, 12:51 pm

    Hey Philip, why did you not ask Faisal how far he would be prepared to go acknowledging that Jews have a long and important history in the region? It’s the devil with his detail thing again? Hey Faisal, the Jews built their Temples in Jerusalem over 2000 years ago. Don’t you think Jerusalem is important for Jews. What, Faisal, you have nothing to say? What is Faisal willing to compromise on? If you want to be a real journalist Philip then you will need to ask these types of questions. They may not like you as much if you do, in fact I know they won’t.

    • justicewillprevail
      April 13, 2013, 2:23 pm

      Well done for completely missing the point, apparently unable to read or understand the article, and then trying to issue some stupid assertions, irrelevant conjecture and false allegations, not to mention patronising platitudes. None of your scattergun hasbara has any relevance to the topic. And you apparently have no knowledge of the rich history of many groups in this region, preferring to play the diversionary fool, instead of addressing the very real Stalinist persecution of Palestinians who offer any hope to their people, especially Palestinians who have a richer and deeper culture than the selfish boorish sadists who oppress them at every opportunity, demonstrating their fear of genuine cultural and human diversity. People like Faisal are giants in comparison to the moral pygmies that you usefully remind us have laid claim to their lives and their land.

    • Mondowise
      April 13, 2013, 2:48 pm

      you can’t be serious. crimes are crimes, PERIOD!, regardless of any history. the izraeli occupation and apartheid are illegal, i.e. CRIMES. by your pathological line of reasoning, if people murder your family, the world can justifiably defend the culprits by claiming the murderers have a history in the area of your house. your comment is insane hasbara at its best, or as you put it, the devil with his detail thing…AGAIN. if you want to be a real human being, then minimally, you will need the following: 1. heart, 2. conscience, 3. eyes that see clearly or a strong pair of glasses, 4. education in international and humanitarian law, and human rights.

    • yourstruly
      April 13, 2013, 3:51 pm

      no matter where

      invariably

      the wrath of the occupier

      damn you

      native child

      my land now

      bow down

      or die

    • kalithea
      April 13, 2013, 5:44 pm

      Why isn’t the issue of Jewish entitlement, one of the racist flaws of Zionism ever addressed? I can’t stand it when immigrants from Eastern bloc countries with no ties to Palestine whatsoever use hubris and entitlement to justify this lousy occupation and land theft.

    • Annie Robbins
      April 13, 2013, 7:44 pm

      Hey Philip, why did you not ask Faisal how far he would be prepared to go acknowledging that Jews have a long and important history in the region? It’s the devil with his detail thing again? Hey Faisal, the Jews built their Temples in Jerusalem over 2000 years ago.

      see, this is the difference between my opinion and whatever way it is comments are allowed on mondoweiss. if this were my little world we could have a place where we wouldn’t have to be exposed to this mindframe constantly. it’s so drilled into us in american society. i’m so not interested in who built a temple 2000 years ago. the idea it can be dragged into a conversation about this completely uncalled for detention and imposition on a palestinian persons life. and for what? it becomes an opportunity to highjack the thread, top comment..he wants “acknowledging that Jews”, everything centers on and around“acknowledging that Jews”. “acknowledging that Jews” justifies all ills and explains away all ills. it just gets so old day after day after day. why do we need it here dominating the discourse surrounding this important video? because it’s mondoweiss with ‘open…both sides’ debate. i used to be all about free speech here, now i wish we had a place free of this demand, this obsession. alas, that will never happen.

      • Daniel Rich
        April 13, 2013, 8:11 pm

        @ Annie Robbins,

        I love you for who you are and admire your tireless search for the truth and facts [as far as you can find them], but this:

        ‘see, this is the difference between my opinion and whatever way it is comments are allowed on mondoweiss. if this were my little world we could have a place where we wouldn’t have to be exposed to this mindframe constantly.’

        puts you on par with any dictator out there [some even elected] that can’t deal with different opinions/thoughts/ideas. All voices have to be heard, not only the ‘selected’ ones. Censorship is like tracers; it works both ways. Moderation isn’t moderate, it’s like the sword of Damocles dangling above my head, about ready to strike, without a moment’s notice.

      • CloakAndDagger
        April 15, 2013, 6:13 am

        puts you on par with any dictator out there [some even elected] that can’t deal with different opinions/thoughts/ideas.

        Hardly.

        It shows that she is human like the rest of us who are frustrated by having to listen to the same crap over and over and over again, and then some more – like the drip-drip of water torture. It is not as if new information is being provided, or even honest information. It is the constant repetition of the same tired and hackneyed hasbara that has been debunked over and over and over again.

        When the intent of diversions and thread-jackings such as these is to stifle debate, it can hardly be pronounced as representing “free speech”. The opposite, in fact.

    • Bumblebye
      April 13, 2013, 7:59 pm

      glib twit
      the Whole Wide World knows Judaism, the faith, originated in the region. That does NOT make it a (or “The”) Jewish “homeland”.
      How much “compromise” do you demand? Until there’s nothing left of Palestine, and no-one who could possibly be described as ‘Arab’ living there? You’ve already stolen over 80% (by now) of this young man’s country, and seem pretty damn determined not to let go of any of the little bit that should be his!!

      • Ellen
        April 14, 2013, 9:20 am

        Right, Bumblebye, if the location of the origins of the first Monotheism (Judaism) gave such land rights to the people who feel connected to early Judaism, it would be in today’s Egypt.

        Not today’s Israel.

        Thank you Phil for the womderful interview.

    • Darcha
      April 14, 2013, 4:14 am

      As pure hatred, this comment does not belong to any serious discussion.

    • Ecru
      April 14, 2013, 7:20 am

      And will YOU acknowledge that Jews of today (such as your self) may well not even be related to the Jews of Second Temple Period Jerusalem but are more likely descendants of Eurasian converts?

      Will YOU acknowledge that the Jews of that period practised a religion so fundamentally different to that practised today that they are in effect completely different faiths with only the names in common – that they are as far apart as modern Druids are from their namesakes back in the Iron Age?

      Will YOU a acknowledge that Palestinians, as has been confirmed by archaeology, history and genetics, are the descendants of the local population of 2000 (and more) years ago and that they have all the rights international law gives native peoples?

      And will YOU acknowledge that the Palestinians have already shown willing to compromise on so many things it’s all but impossible to list – but that the Jews of Israel (and their supporters around the world) have time after time refused to compromise on ANYTHING.

    • pjdude
      April 16, 2013, 2:07 am

      Long yes important not so much. Jews were never more than bit players in the regions hell their is only evidence for maybe a couple hundred years of a sovereign Hebrew state in the region. Most of the important history of the region was due to the major empires squabbling over it.

    • American
      April 16, 2013, 3:12 am

      giladg says:
      April 13, 2013 at 12:51 pm
      + Show content
      Hey Philip, why did you not ask Faisal how far he would be prepared to go acknowledging that Jews have a long and important history in the region?>>>>

      Nope, if you read ‘straight’ history books about the ME….you would see that Jews are barely mentioned, nor any events surrounding them. Your problem is you read–if you do read at all– Jewish books that concentrate on Jews—you dont study real history.
      Persians, Greeks, Arabs, Romans were the ME and created it’s history.

  2. Citizen
    April 13, 2013, 1:09 pm

    I: Leave the danger.
    P: And sing for it.
    I: One thousand songs.

    And they sent into his home their private army, into his deepest privacy, his best shelter, “all this, for me?”

    American tax dollars at work.

    • bintbiba
      April 13, 2013, 4:23 pm

      More exactly: ” turn your back on ‘evil’ ….then sing to it”. ‘sharr’ means evil or bad deed, rather than danger (khatar).

      • bintbiba
        April 13, 2013, 4:28 pm

        “ib3id 3an i sharr, u ghanneelo”

      • Inanna
        April 14, 2013, 12:11 am

        ib3ad means to distance oneself rather than to turn your back which is dir da7r.

        I think that what the Israeli interrogator was telling Faisal was quite profound. He was warning him to distance himself from political activity and just engage in cultural activity. But he was also telling him how Israelis treat Palestinians (and how the interrogator was treating him). Israelis have distanced themselves from Palestinians and they sing songs to them about the peace process, two states, non-violence etc. But it’s all an act, a way that the Israelis distance themselves from the Palestinians and yet keep doing exactly what they want.

  3. Mondowise
    April 13, 2013, 2:54 pm

    thanks for sharing this interview publicly Philip, i’ve already ‘liked’ and left a comment on youtube. Faisal’s art is deeply moving and meaningful, the more it spreads, the more people it will ‘touch’. i’m very relieved, elated, and grateful he’s here in the US reaching americans, they need it most!!

  4. yourstruly
    April 13, 2013, 3:25 pm

    having witnessed the idf’s nocturnal home invasion

    faisal wonders what his 4 year old nephew will think

    become

    whether he’ll leave the danger

    the occupier’s wish

    or, for love of his people

    sing to it one thousand songs

  5. DICKERSON3870
    April 13, 2013, 3:59 pm

    RE: “He [Abu Alheja] relates how the arrest grew out of a talkback process, in which ordinary people in Jenin would relate an experience and actors would act it out. This talkback soon moved to the streets of the camp. And it involved freed prisoners, relating their experiences. Abu Alheja’s arrest followed. That night, the soldiers walked him to the place where he had done the street theater, before putting him in the jeep and blindfolding him.” ~ Weiss

    MY SNARK: So, who ya gonna call? No, not Ghostbusters™. Call that “avid supporter of free speech”, Ambassador Michael Oren! He is so proud of Israel’s “democratic values”!

    SEE: “Israel’s US envoy: ‘Gatekeepers’ hindering PR efforts”, By Yitzhak Benhorin, Ynet News, 3/17/13
    Although he is an avid supporter of free speech, advancement of local film industry, Ambassador Michael Oren believes documentary in which Shin Bet officials slam Israel’s West Bank policy hurting country’s international image

    [EXCERPTS] WASHINGTON – Standing at the forefront of Israeli PR, Israeli Ambassador to the US Michael Oren has felt in recent weeks that he is being undermined from within.
    “The Gatekeepers” – former Shin Bet heads who were interviewed for an Oscar-nominated documentary – are the ones Oren believes are hindering the efforts made by Israel, which is “already in a war of sorts.”
    Oren contemplated for a long time whether or not to make this claim publicly for fear that it will relay a message that he is trying to silence freedom of speech and democratic values of which he is so proud and the amazing cinematic advancement Israel has seen.
    In his youth, the ambassador was an assistant to Orson Welles, so he appreciates a good film. However, Oren disclosed his thoughts on the subject to Ynet, and not just so that former officials would think twice before giving interviews such as those given by the six former Shin Bet directors.
    Appointed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – who himself said he does not intend to watch “The Gatekeepers,” Oren is first and foremost an historian. . .

    ENTIRE ARTICLE – link to ynetnews.com

  6. kalithea
    April 13, 2013, 6:12 pm

    I wish Palestinians inside Israel would also resort to cultural resistance and help their brothers and sisters in the West Bank and Gaza a little more. The Jenin Freedom Theatre needs to branch out and franchise: Tel Aviv to London to Toronto to Manhattan. I love the interactive idea where actors get spontaneous inspiration from real-life stories told by Palestinian audience members subjected to IOF and settler brutality.

    Cultural resistance and boycott really gets on the last nerve of Zionists as it’s catchy and attracts a wide and diverse audience – what could be better? Zionists really fear this growing trend. I love that!

    “But this actor who grew up in Jenin refugee camp– and who has never been to the sea that is 40 minutes away in Haifa…”

    Oh, and notice how those greedy Zionists always keep the beachy areas all to themselves. They did the same thing while they occupied Gaza. It says a whole lot about the kind of people they are grabbing the best for themselves.

    Isn’t it ironic that Jenin that used to get bombed repeatedly like Gaza now uses other forms of resistance including this cultural resistance and now the IOF come at them like thieves in the night breaking down doors to arrest these peaceful resisters? It says a whole lot about who Zionists really are when they resort to the knock on the door, illegal arrest and disappearance in the middle of the night.

    Tell the world!!! Expose the fascist scoundrels!

  7. Annie Robbins
    April 13, 2013, 7:28 pm

    wow, fantastic interview. what an amazing man.

    i thought, leave the danger (or evil) and sing to it was ..a kind of invitation to become a collaborator, 1000 songs he added. or perform to his captors. or something. very freaky. this artists, these young brilliant palestinians ..they are the most dangerous to israel. like Mohammad Al-Azza and Mohammad Saba’aneh. this is all i can think of lately, it how israel targets their talent and steals these peoples youth away. this is how they try to most damage palestinian society. it’s chilling. he is so beautiful.

    • bintbiba
      April 13, 2013, 8:30 pm

      Annie, the way I interpret the “sing to it” part , (or rather ” sing at it”) ..to me the act of singing would be an act of defiance towards the evil one walks away from.
      This is the only way I would want to sing!

      • Annie Robbins
        April 13, 2013, 9:31 pm

        bint, i am just not clear how, in the context of the interrogator saying those words to Faisal, it could have that meaning for the interrogator. Faisal said he got the feeling of ‘we control everything’ so the danger to a palestinian is israel. to leave the ‘danger of israel’ and sing for it (entertain israel, entertain the danger) with a thousand songs…

        i understand it can have dual meanings and Faisal says this also, but from the source it is coming from i hear it as a warning in a threatening nature.

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