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“Martyr Palestine,” A new play in an old Israeli prison

The first of its kind: Palestinians prepare art demonstration in old Israeli prison
by Jameel al-Husni, 4 April 2007

Defying the traditional Palestinian method of denying expressions of the occupation, Wasfi Tayeh, the leader of a local theatre group in al-Far’a refugee camp in the northern West Bank, is preparing a new show. The show, in which a group of young men are going to perform inside rooms that used to be dungeons in an old Israeli prison, will be the first of its kind.

The play, called “Martyr Palestine,” will be shown without the use of lights, since it is going to be performed during the daytime. In the place, the cells, torture seats and rooms of interrogation are still as they used to be, while the walls of cells are filled with nationalist writings of Palestinian prisoners during their imprisonment period.

Directed and written by Tayeh, the play is going to be performed in an aisle lying between two rows of cells, capable of hosting 300 people.

“This is going to be the first performance of its kind in a place like this,” Tayeh said, pointing at the cement stage where prisoners were tied for torture. Tayeh leads an amateur group working with minimal supplies on the local level. The crew is going to prepare a real prison atmosphere that shocks the visitors once they step in.

There will be checkpoints, army tents, insults by the actors from the very beginning of the script. Wasfi said that this is going to be part of the show, meaning there will be moans of prisoners under torture inside their cells in one of the side shows of the play.

This exhibition is organized by the Palestinian Prisoners Club in celebration of the Prisoners’ Day, coinciding with the 17th of April. Club manager Mahmoud Issa said that this demonstration reflects what the prisoners used to live inside these dungeons, left as is after the Israelis left.

The dungeons were built during the era of the British mandate and used then as stables for horses before being used as a prison. After the Palestinian Authority (PA) was transformed into “Young Leaders preparation center” called Salah Khalaf Center, named after one of the prominent leaders of the Palestinian revolution.

Center manager Marwan Wishahi said that the project is compatible with the educational and modern mission of the center, which aims to maintain the history of this place as a witness to acts of killing and torture.

“This initself is a connection between the place and what used to happen in it, and the history,” he said.

The current works are clear proof of the Palestinian people’s will, transforming detainment camps into symbols of freedom. “Part of our plan to rehabilitate the center involves transforming the dungeons into a museum for the prisoners’ movement. We have great ambition to gather the verbal history of this place,” he added.

The organizers of this event said that the show will be directed to an audience from the United Kingdom, who is visiting the Palestinian territories next April.