Driving north the hills become greener with small crops of trees here and there. We passed along broken roads and through small villages. Donkeys and horses shared the highway with ancient vehicles over loaded with people and produce. The hills in the North of the West Bank are beautiful dressed with the pink of cherry blossom and dark green of olive. We were heading to Jenin and to work with The Freedom Theatre and a new circus group called Street Circus – 4 days of shows and workshops (Fun with a parachute) – our most extended visit yet.
Jenin is split in two; Jenin city and Jenin camp (dating back to 1953). The theatre is located in the camp – a network of narrow winding lanes navigating around haphazard concrete houses across the hill side. Images of young men (either drawn stylized or photos) holding large guns – martyrs – are all most the only images on the streets. Some are lit up almost as shrines, others are faded posters on shop front shutters. The imagery is pervasive; for it to be normal is as far alien to me as anything else I have ever seen. But yet for the residents normal is what the martyr has become.
On a walk into the city centre the martyr images continue, but the roads become worse not better; the telltale marks of tank tracks break and cover the tarmac. These are the product of an Israeli offensive which turned Jenin into a war zone. Now taxis and pedestrians have to navigate the terrible road conditions made worse by the winter rain and mud.
During our second night in the camp we were woken by the sound of gun firein the distance. After a while it came closer and I started to become concerned, then a grenade exploded and I was now fully awake and damn worried. Gun fire faded into the distance and eventually I fell asleep; my consequent dreams were disturbing. As this kind of Israeli incursion is fairly common one can only imagine the stress caused to the residents and their children.
3 shows and 5 workshops later, it was our last day in Jenin. We were in the city centre buy felafels for lunch when we saw a procession coming towards us. Thankfully it was a joyful (if a little muted) march to celebrate the agreement between Fatah and Hamas in Mecca. At the front of the procession one man was dancing holding a model of the al-Aqsa mosque. Not wanting to get caught up in the march we made a quick get away. Back at the theatre I was checking the internet for news regarding recent developments in Jerusalem and building work near the mosque. Up appears a picture of the mosque on the screen. Over my shoulder a couple of kids recognised it and indicated to me that this building was theirs and how important it was to them. Such is the passions that are being stirred in the Middle East.