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Ahmed Tobasi of the Freedom Theatre in Jenin & Bread and Puppet’s Peter Schumann on Art & Liberation

Web ExclusiveDecember 15, 2023
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We continue our conversation with Ahmed Tobasi, the artistic director at the Freedom Theatre in Jenin, and Peter Schumann, the 89-year-old co-founder of the legendary Bread and Puppet Theater based in Vermont. Tobasi was jailed this week after Israel rounded up hundreds of Palestinian men during a massive raid on the Jenin refugee camp in the occupied West Bank. Two of his colleagues remain in detention.

Transcript
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

As the Gaza death toll nears 19,000, the Israeli military is continuing to carry out deadly raids inside the occupied West Bank. We’re continuing our conversation with Ahmed Tobasi, the artistic director at the Freedom Theatre in Jenin, jailed this week after Israel rounded up hundreds of Palestinian men in the West Bank. Two of his colleagues remain in detention, including the general manager of the Jenin theater. We’re also joined by Peter Schumann, the 89-year-old co-founder of the legendary Bread and Puppet Theater. He’s here in New York this week for productions at the Theater for a New City, an ode to Gaza about the Israeli assault on Gaza. And to have two artists here, two people running artistic institutions in two different parts of the world.

I wanted to go first to Ahmed Tobasi in Jenin, sitting in your — in your ravaged theater. We did Part 1, where you described what happened to the theater. And I want to say that in 2011, the co-founder of the theater, Juliano Mer-Khamis, was assassinated. Your theater, Ahmed, has been under attack for years. Can you talk about the idea of art and resistance, and why you even risk being there? This latest detention, you were held for 24 hours, but your colleagues are still in jail? Why do you take this risk?

AHMED TOBASI: Sometimes you do not have choices in your life. And that’s what we try to explain to the world. Palestinian children, Palestinian young people, they do not have anymore any choice. The West, America, Israel has made it very clear for us, as the Palestinians, you cannot — the only destiny is to be a martyr or to be a prisoner or to be a handicap. That’s the only choices that the Israelis want you to go, and for sure by supportive from the West and from America and Europe. That’s clearly.

But we in the Freedom Theatre, with the language that we try to create, we brought another tool, yes, because everything that Israel is doing, it’s to dehumanize Palestinians, show us we are savage, we are animals, and we are not normal human being. But by using theater and art, we again bring the humanity and the right picture with the Palestinians, that we are artists, we are a human being. And that’s what we want to do, theater.

And for sure we want to fight, we want to resist, but we want to resist not in violent way. That’s our choice. We want to say that we also — there is another ways to resist. We cannot just put one way to resist. Everyone has to resist in a way that he — in a way that he like, in the way that he can be creative, in the way that you can bring the story all over the world. And for us in the Freedom Theatre, we choose to resist through art and theater. And for us, the point is not to die. The point is to stay alive as long as you can, and bring your story and reality and the Palestinian reality everywhere in this planet.

And that’s what I mean, because I was in prison for four years, and I lost my all friends. All my friends, they are dead and killed by the Israelis. And for me, I was asking what we can do. And then I find the theater, which made me stay alive until this moment. And then they were calling me terrorist. Now they’re calling me artist. And they buy my tickets and sit in my show and listen to my story, which is a Palestinian story. And when I finish, they clap to me, and they call this is a Palestinian artist. These are a real Palestinian that we see now, and they got it.

So, for us, we have to use any way that we can resist. And for us, theater is the fantastic language, amazing tool that everyone in this world can understand. And for us, this is the way, to resist through theater. For me, it’s a choice. And when you choose what you want to do, this is the strongest point, because the Israelis try always to make us just fight and focus on the fighting them all the time. For years, for 50 years, the Israelis use all their propaganda to change the Palestinian picture all over the world. And now, by this cultural resistance, to make the resistance of culture of resistance all over in each house, then we success to bring the real picture of the Palestinians all over the world and start the world seeing us in the way they should see us, as a human being, as people who love to live, who love to be and having a normal life. And that’s what we want for our children to grow up. So, for us, it’s important to be free and choose the way that you want to resist.

And that’s for sure the Israelis don’t like this. They don’t want us to think out of the box. They don’t want us to change the propaganda they have been building for 75 years. And when they see us doing theater, it makes them crazy. How these people and, you know, the soldiers — our friends, when they pass the checkpoint, the soldiers ask them, “Where you have been in Jenin? Jenin is very dangerous.” “No,” they tell them, “we have been in the theater.” And the Israeli soldiers get, you know, like [bleep] up in their head. And they don’t believe. “What? In Jenin, there is theater?” “Yes,” we’re telling them. “There is theater. There is a plays. There is festivals.”

And that’s what we’re going to do, celebrating our resistance with art and theater and culture. And that’s what makes Israelis crazy. That’s why they killed Juliano. That’s why they come every time to Freedom Theatre, to destroy it and to try to close it. That’s why they arrest us. That’s why they arrest the members of the Freedom Theatre. That’s why they control our funding. And now we have big problems with funding, because they want us to close. They don’t want to see alive. They don’t want to see a shining place who give possibilities to young people to be artists. They don’t want this kind of things be in the Palestinian reality. But that’s our choice. We know that it’s difficult. We know it’s very dangerous. But we’re still going to do it, and we’re going to still tell them, “We are Palestinians, and we are artists.”

AMY GOODMAN: We’re showing video right now of your theater. I mean, it is ransacked. And it’s not the first time. This is the latest Israeli raid in the Jenin refugee camp. And I do also want to say it was May 11th, 2022, last year, that Shireen Abu Akleh was killed by an Israeli sniper just outside Jenin when she was covering these raids, well-known Al Jazeera journalist. But I wanted to ask you, Ahmed, about how kids transform at your theater, I mean, what it means to have this theater in the midst of this refugee camp that is raided over and over again.

AHMED TOBASI: I’ve been growing up in this place, in this camp. I have been seeing other kids growing up in this camp. My brother now have another three kids, which I see them how mentally, how psychologically, how trauma. Each day, there’s a new trauma. They are scared. They are living trauma every day. And for me, that’s the most important we can do, to have a place like this where they can draw, where they can learn to have a storytelling. And, you know, that’s the problem. Young people cannot say their problems. They cannot talk about themselves. They don’t used to. There is no culture about this. With all these attacks, with all these invasions, shooting, bombing, soldiers the middle of the night, for sure they don’t see. They don’t know what means life, what means to imagine, what means to dream, what means to choose your destiny, to choose your future, to learn. They put them in small boxes, and they make their thinking very limited.

When they come to theater, they start to learn about life, about art, about the world, meeting other people, meeting other cultures. They start to learn how to be a storyteller, how to tell your story. They start to learn how to imagine. In a small black box room, you can be anything. You can be everywhere. You can start to draw your choices. You start to draw your life. You start to choose what you want to be. Not just everyone makes you or tell you what you should be.

So, for sure, to have a place like this for children to play, only to play. In Jenin camp, we are 20,000 people. Most of them are young people and kids. There is no one playground. There is no one place where they can be themselves as children. They don’t grow up as children. You know, when they arrive to 10, to 9, they’re already men. They already want to save their families. They already want to free Palestine. They already want to fight. And most of them get killed, I promise you. The cemetery that opened last year, I was in shock when I visited with some group of my friend. It’s full in two years. At least 400 or 500 of these camp young people being shot, killed. And they are not fighers. They are just children who were running in the streets. And that’s the reality.

They want to make this place, as the Jenin camp and any refugee camp, looks like a disaster place, no choice, very dark. There is no colors for children to play or to be children. The only reality in this camp, it’s like guns, raids and invasions and army shooting in the night. They don’t sleep. They don’t go to schools. And that’s what kind of generation they want. In the theater, we tell them, “No, there’s still chance. There’s still hope. There’s still a place where you can be something different if you want. Here is the place to learn to look at the world from different expect.”

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to bring into this conversation Peter Schumann and turn to a clip from Vermont. He is founder, co-founder of the legendary Bread and Puppet Theater. This is Peter performing a fiddle rant about Gaza last month in Vermont.

PETER SCHUMANN: What could be worse, a worse violation of our human rights, than bombing hospitals, and then send the murderers to investigate the crime? No water, no food, no electricity, medicine. The publicly declared intention to kill them all.

AMY GOODMAN: And this is more from a recent Bread and Puppet Theater production.

ACTOR: Are we inflammatory enough to stop this most recent genocide? Are we inflammatory enough to stop? Can the apocalypse — can the apocalypse educate us? Can the apocalypse educate us to inflame our falsely educated humanity? Are we inflammatory enough?

ACTORS: Are we inflammatory?

ACTOR: Can the apocalypse educate us to inflame our falsely educated humanity to stop the genocide?

AMY GOODMAN: Those clips filmed by Robbie Leppzer, who’s making a documentary about Bread and Puppet Theater, which is celebrating, by the way, its 60th anniversary. Peter Schumann, who’s now 89 years old, founder and director of the Bread and Puppet Theater, war refugee from Germany, born in 1934 as Nazism was rising in Germany, witnessed war firsthand at age 10 in Hitler’s Germany, has dedicated his life to using his art and theater work as a protest against war. Peter, if you can talk about your performances even this weekend? I went last night to the Theater for the New City in New York, and for Ahmed Tobasi to know that this is being performed in New York and Vermont and around the country. Peter, talk about what inspires you. And if you want to talk directly to Ahmed in Jenin, feel free.

PETER SCHUMANN: Oh my god, Ahmed, what an incredible account of the horror of your — and the courage of your staying on and fighting, even though with words and with papier-mâché swords. But we have to fight them. We are peace and freedom terrorists ourselves, and we want to be so, and we need to fight these horrors. There is no comparison of what they’re doing. And they do it with their suits and ties and in neat little rooms of politeness and stupidity. It’s unbelievable what they’re able to do to you and to the Palestine. Unbelievable what they’re doing.

I’ve been a few times to Palestine to do workshops there. And a woman pointed out the window to me, a member of our street performing company, and said, “Look at this contrast inside, outside the window. This was my grandpa’s olive orchard, a thousand-year-old trees that they utilized. And they ripped out the orchard and put this concrete stuff there. And now not even — we can’t even walk over there.” And this is the reality in Palestine. It’s so devastating.

And we here, what is our impotence? Why can’t we get this horrid system, this fascism to be moved into some kind of decency, of at least to understand what they are doing? But they don’t. We told them. Amy was there at the show. We told them, “Yeah, what you kill is your own moms, is your own grandmas, your own kids. That’s what you do, in eternity. You don’t realize that. What you kill is your own. There is no such thing as just killing somebody else. You kill your own moms. You kill your own babies. That’s what you do.” It’s just so horrible. Do they have children? Could they ever look into eyes of kids again? Could they ever look into their wife’s eyes or their grandma’s? Is that possible? I think they are finished. I think this Western idiocy that calls itself a civilization is finished. It’s done with. It’s totally dishonest in what it pretends to be and what it really does. It doesn’t function anymore.

Please come to — what is it here? On Herald Square on Saturday at 3:00 — no, at 2:00. There’s a big protest there. People, please attend. It’s on Fifth Avenue and 34th Street. That’s what people have to do. We are going to continue at TNC. We also have a bar in that we perform, that invited us to perform on Third Street and Avenue C. And we also do a workshop with — part of the student body is Palestinian at Cooper Union school. That’s going to be tomorrow, as well. So we will do whatever. We won’t discontinue. When we go back to Vermont, snow time, winter time, deep freezes. We are going to cook the bread and continue that and make message for Gaza to declare our solidarity. And we will film everything we do, and send it to our friends on the West Bank. And that process has already started. And we have friends in Lebanon, as well, that are pasting these pictures on the walls in Beirut. And the same thing will happen on the West Bank, in Ramallah and then Beit Sahour, where we have been before.

AMY GOODMAN: Ahmed Tobasi, when you hear about this kind of action, both cultural actions and also just all of the protests, not only in the United States, but around the world — for example, at Grand Central Station in New York City, a thousand Jews shutting down this main train terminal, scores of them getting arrested — when you hear about the shutting down of highways, the occupying senator and congressmembers’ offices, your thoughts, what this means to you in the Jenin refugee camp?

AHMED TOBASI: It means to me a hope, a hope not just like something good will happen, a hope that — exactly that’s what I called and named hope: people doing. When you start to do things, when you start to make actions, that’s what gives me hope — not money, not waiting, not to promises, not democracy — when I see people go out, marching, solidarity. And that’s the only way. That’s the only way, is to unite ourselves as a humanity, as people, to fight, to destroy all these differences as the flags and colors and passports, and just make it all over for humanity and people have the same rights to live. Every child in this planet have the right to grow up and have a possibility to have a normal life.

And for me, exactly, as also we have a cultural intifada, we should go. Also we have to have a Jewish intifada. Jewish people are our friends, are our supporters all over the world. And Israelis and the Israeli state, as a Zionist colonization state, is using and stealing the Jewish heritage. They try to do all of this in the name of Jewish religion, which even as the Palestinian says, no, there is differences between Jewish people. They are our friends. They are normal people. They are supporters for our work. And this state is weaponized and stealing the heritage of Jew to promote what they are doing is just in the name of Jews, which makes everyone cannot deal with this case. But what I’m saying now, yes, my friends, Jewish friends all over the world, we should unite, and we fight and to stop and make a new Jewish intifada that can fight for the Jewish rights and Jewish heritage, to save the Jewish heritage against this state. And for sure, together, I promise you, if the occupation, as also was Juliano saying, if this occupation in Palestine finished, we are not stopping as theater makers, as artists. As a Jewish people, Palestinians, we should fight and go to other country to free it and take down the colonization.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted —

AHMED TOBASI: That’s the only way. So, I —

AMY GOODMAN: Speaking of conflating being critical of the state of Israel with antisemitism, I wanted to ask you about Israeli soldiers desecrating a Jenin mosque, what you have heard of this. We’re starting to see more and more videos, actually made by the soldiers themselves, reading out Jewish prayers in the style of the Islamic call to prayer, happening in Jenin. Did you see this?

AHMED TOBASI: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: What happened?

AHMED TOBASI: I saw. I saw a lot of videos, which is the soldiers themselves made it. They storm in the mosque. They start to make this kind of religion practice inside, singing, reading all this text through the speakers of the mosque. Even the Freedom Theatre, they were celebrating and doing all this dance, doing this, the horn call.

AMY GOODMAN: The shofar.

AHMED TOBASI: Having all this — yeah, the shofar, in the middle of the theater and in the middle of the courtyard of the theater. They tried to show it’s a religion war. It’s about a religion. And that’s the only way they’re going to get out of it. But, no, people today know. People today, having like social media, where they can see, they can connect, and people start to get in it. Young people start to learn about what is going on. I mean, in somehow, all this violence, I would only say that they take themselves down. Israel will finish itself by continuing in this way, in this fascist way. They are making the people of the world wake up to see what is reality and what was the truth. And now the world are more aware. And that’s why this change is happening. That’s why a solidarity is growing. And that’s why we say, if Palestine not free, this world will not be free, done. And for us, please, again, we want to unite and fight, and not make it a religious — not about religion. It’s not about the Jewish state or people. It’s about crazy, violently brutal state who try to colonize Palestine and this area.

AMY GOODMAN: I also wanted to ask you about the importance of culture. A recent survey by the group Heritage for Peace details the damage done so far to more than a hundred heritage landmarks in Gaza since the start of this conflict. The casualties include the Great Omari Mosque, one of the most important ancient mosques in historical Palestine; the Church of Saint Porphyrius, thought to be the third-oldest church in the world; a 2,000-year-old Roman cemetery in northern Gaza, excavated only last year; and the Rafah Museum, a space in southern Gaza which was dedicated to teaching about the territory’s long and multilayered heritage, until it was hammered by airstrikes early on in the conflict. If you can talk about the importance of culture, Ahmed?

AHMED TOBASI: For sure. I mean, if you, as a country, as a people, as a community, as a human, you don’t have culture, then what you are? Then you are — I don’t know — an animal who lives in the forest? No, we have a history. We have a culture as a Palestinian. That’s how your identity will be completed. And that’s what they want to do. They want to delete the Palestinian identity. They stole our heritage. They stole our food. They stole our clothes. They stole our culture. They’re using our keffiyeh. They’re using hummus. They say it’s Israeli hummus. It’s our food. You know what I mean? It’s a very simple stuff. What they try to do, all what they’re doing — you know, in Jenin, they came, and they destroyed monuments, which is like — what the hell are you doing, guys? Because it’s simple: They want to take out the identity of Palestine. They want to say there is no Palestine, there is no Palestinian identity. And that’s how they want to win.

But in the end, that’s, for me, the most important thing, that what we do, it’s to save our culture. And that’s the way we’re going to save our identity. That’s why it’s very important to keep doing art and theater and culture. That’s why we have to save universities, schools. But yeah, our identity is the only thing that’s left to us as the Palestinians. And maybe we lose the lands, maybe we lose people, but there is no way to lose our identity. That’s what lifts for us, and that’s what we’re going to hold on, even they — they have to kill us all, not just our — to destroy universities and cultures, museums, theaters. No no, no. They have to kill us all. And then they can finish from us. But we teaching our children. New generation is growing. We teach them. We tell them what happened. We teach them history. We teach them culture. And we’re going to save our identity, whatever it takes. And we’re going to stay here in Palestine.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to turn to Peter Schumann, and — you’re 89 years old. This is the 60th anniversary of the theater you founded with your late wife, Elka, 60 years of Bread and Puppet Theater. And I was wondering if you can talk about the drawings that you’ve been doing. You’re not only a theater director and actor and musician, pioneered a new kind of theater, but you are also an artist. If you can talk about the series that you have painted that you call bedsheet paintings, which are literally painted on bedsheets, about the war in Gaza? If you can tell us about these? We’re showing them, thanks to Robbie Leppzer, who’s making a film about Bread and Puppet Theater.

PETER SCHUMANN: Yeah, well, bedsheet painting is a style of painting, like, relates to the other styles that we have developed. That is, we are digging the clay out of the rivers here to make our puppets, and then we soak cardboard and retrieve the different layers of paper from it and put the cardboard into corn starch and mold it over these clay molds. And that’s how we make the puppets. And by the same token, the bedsheets are a vehicle for saying what needs to be said, what needs to be commented on, what needs to be protested.

So, yeah, I painted 50 bedsheets during last couple of months on Gaza items. We made them into a book. We gave them to our friends. They are out in— on the West Bank, actually. They are with friends in Lebanon. And they are being pasted on walls and what have you. So, we try to bring across to people that solidarity.

Yeah, 60 years ago in New York City, we lived in that slum, the Lower East Side. Yeah, very good. And there was a group of Puerto Rican women who approached us, women who had all gotten the same letter, which started with the line, “We regret to inform you.” And these were the mothers of Puerto Rican boys who had been killed in Vietnam, because they were used as cannon fodder. They couldn’t vote in America, but they were useful as cannon fodder in the Vietnam War. So these women came to us, and we made a show and made — first traveled it all around New York City, and in all the dark corners on street corners — it’s a very simple play that can be done very easily, with very few actors and props — and then took it all around Europe, etc. This was typical action of how to do theater in response to what there is.

Yeah, the Lower East Side was full of good materials. The newspapers tossed out scrolls of paper. We connected them and made what we thought of as movies, the original movie just a paper scroll-up, scroll. We painted stories about rats and cops and whatever was in our neighborhood, and performed it on street corners. And we had colloboration. We had a community leader who translated everything we said into Spanish at the street corner. We did everything lightweight, so that when the cop would appear to chase us, we could carry it to the next street corner and continue there, etc. Yeah, that was the technique of how to start theater.

AMY GOODMAN: When you left Germany, the rising Nazi Germany, you and Elka, why was theater what you put all of your effort into?

PETER SCHUMANN: Well, it was my upbringing, because when I was — when we were refugee kids, when I was 10 years old, and we had to flee from Silesia, my parents allowed all of us kids, five kids, to have one little baggage of our own. And I chose a group of hand puppets that my parents, who were friends with puppeteers, had gotten us for Christmas presents. And I chose those and took those along. And then, when we arrived on the Baltic in the little village where we were housed as refugees, and I did shows for the villagers there and just used those hand puppets. That was my first performing as a puppeteer, and from then on after, yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Ahmed Tobasi, we started Part 1 of our interview with you in the Jenin Freedom Theatre, you describing being held by the Israeli military for 24 hours. The general manager of the theater is still being held. I’m wondering, for people who are just watching this, if you can once again describe what happened to you. Were you beaten in custody? Do you know exactly what’s happening with Mustafa Sheta the general manager of the theater, who hasn’t been released yet?

AHMED TOBASI: Yes. I mean, it is really — there’s still many young people that nobody knows what exactly is going on with them. I have been arrested from my house after three days’ invasion in Jenin camp destroying buildings and arresting people. I have been arrested inside my house, and I’ve been beaten, brutality way — I don’t know why — by soldiers. Looks like they are really crazy, and they have come to destroy. They destroy all the houses inside. My house been destroyed. Everything was smashed. They stole equipment, my computer. They destroyed another two computers, all the screens. They have been invaded in Jenin — like the Freedom Theatre, destroyed everything, the cameras. They stole the computers. Everything is destroyed, as you see.

And I’ve been taken to the, like, military bases and being thrown out in the cold without clothes, in the rain, handcuffed and blindfolded, on the mud, and a very crazy situation with other men. Some of them was, you know, without clothes and waiting, and we didn’t know what was going on. And in the end, yeah, they have nothing against us. And with the support of our friends all over, in Norway, everywhere, we are calling, and in the end they have nothing against me, and so they released me.

But Mustafa Sheta, the general manager, is still under arrest. We don’t know exactly many information about him. Soon, inshallah, we will get some information, but it look like he’s going to be put in a prison for a while. And, you know, the Israelis have this law that they can put you in a prison without any charge, because they think you are danger, without even any charge officially charged. So, we hope that soon we will know some information, and we will share it with our friends by social media.

And I hope all other prisoners, artists — you know, we have also to mention that many artists all over Palestine, Gaza, West Bank, been killed, imprisoned. They’ve been shot. They’ve been tortured, just because they are artists and because they are doing art. So, please, support Palestinian artists. Go and read about them. Share their stories. In Gaza, many artists already been killed. And we have to stop this.

AMY GOODMAN: The number of people arrested, not in Gaza, but in the occupied West Bank, since October 7th is what? Over 4,000 at this point?

AHMED TOBASI: Yeah. And for me, there is no house, there is no family not having a prisoner. I mean, my father is a prisoner. Me, I was a prisoner. In the first invasion, in the Second Intifada, they took me, put me four years in prison. I don’t know why. I didn’t do anything. Just because my name or they think I’m dangerous. They put me four years. Like, from 17 years old to 21, I was in prison. Just they made a charge for me, and they said, “You are dangerous on Israeli state.”

So, all Palestinians actually are prisoners. The 8 million Palestinians in West Bank and Gaza, they are prisoner. So each child have to go through this process. And for me, this is a disaster. How? How we can agree and accept a big open prison air in Palestine for an 8 million Palestinians under prison all the time? So, whatever new generation comes, they are a prisoner. Each one of them will be prisoner. So it’s not about 4,000 or this time or last time. We have been in prison many times. Many people have been three, four times in the prison. So, I mean, all the Palestinians, they are prisoners. They are martyrs. They are target for the Israeli brutality army.

AMY GOODMAN: Ahmed, as we wrap up, are you in the Freedom Theatre right now?

AHMED TOBASI: I am in the Freedom Theatre right now.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you show us? I mean, I see behind you the destruction. But if you can take your computer and kind of take us on a tour, unless you’re attached by wires?

AHMED TOBASI: No, I will show you. This is Mustafa’s office. Exactly as you see.

AMY GOODMAN: I see a guitar.

AHMED TOBASI: A guitar being destroyed, again, many instruments. This is the cameras. This is our, like, storage for the technical equipment, being, you know, destroyed. This is my office.

AMY GOODMAN: You’re just showing —

AHMED TOBASI: As you see.

AMY GOODMAN: — a ransacking of your office, things knocked over, strewn on the floor.

AHMED TOBASI: That’s my office. And exactly that. Also, our inside, as you see, another office that also our secretary and financial and —

AMY GOODMAN: Were you here when they ransacked the office?

AHMED TOBASI: No, I was at home. They took me home, and then they come to the theater. And you see what they draw on our cinema. This is the soldier who draw like the Star of David on our cinema. And if I —

AMY GOODMAN: With the red paint —

AHMED TOBASI: Yes, all over.

AMY GOODMAN: — they draw the Star of David.

AHMED TOBASI: Yes, see. Exactly. And we took three months to rebuild and fix the theater. And exactly, that’s what they doing again. You know, it just —

AMY GOODMAN: Are you planning —

AHMED TOBASI: That’s the real face.

AMY GOODMAN: Are you planning to rebuild the Freedom Theatre, to clean it up? Are any of the infrastructure, the physical walls of the building destroyed?

AHMED TOBASI: In the building, yes. But in a way, you know, we fixed the theater before, two months, you know. But now it’s more equipments been destroyed, and the offices, which is really like, as I said before, we are in a problem with fund. We don’t have a fund, like even a European fund. EU was also cut. We lost a lot of money, especially after the attack of Gaza. Many propaganda was made about the support of, you know, a political situation, which we lost a lot of money from our budget. And that’s a serious, a serious condition now, that most of the Palestinian theatrical and cultural institution, if this continue, in three, four years will be closed. And if this fund control, and they — you know, it’s about “terrorism,” even as a artistic cultural organization. We lost all fund. And then they will make this possible that Palestine, West Bank, we will not have any cultural institution or theaters. And that’s very difficult.

But it is a very difficult mission. We will — we will, for sure, try, with the support of all our friends around the world, to keep the Freedom Theatre open, because that’s what everything around you want to do to make your close. But we tell them we will even bear from our blood to make this place open and continue to the young people in Jenin or all over West Bank and, inshallah, Gaza, will be rebuilt again. And we will rebuild more theaters and cultural institutions. That’s the hard mission.

And that’s what I want to show the artists all over the world. That’s the situation of the Palestinian artist. We fight to have a place. We fight to save the theaters. We die to keep our places open. It’s not to build more bigger or — you know what I mean. It is a different fight to just keep our door of the theater open. And yeah, I ask everyone to help, not just the Freedom Theatre, any theater in Palestine. Help them. Support them. Solidarity. And instead of paying money for weapons, bear money for culture and artists.

AMY GOODMAN: Ahmed Tobasi, I want to thank you for being with us, artistic director at the Freedom Theatre in Jenin, speaking to us from the Freedom Theatre there, that has been wholly ransacked, and Peter Schumann, the 89-year-old co-founder of the legendary Bread and Puppet Theater, that’s celebrating 60 years. I also want to thank Robbie Leppzer, who’s making a film on Bread and Puppet, for the video we were able to show today, which links to BreadAndPuppet.org.

That does it for our show. To see Part 1 of our discussion, go to democracynow.org. I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks so much for joining us.

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