What I learned about empire in the West Bank

Nathan Schneider in Killing the Buddha:

ScreenHunter_113 Feb. 02 15.52It took three vehicles to get to Jenin. The first and last were shared taxis that played pop music the whole way; the one in the middle was a bus driven by a handsome and solemn man with a big, religious beard, whose television played music videos memorializing martyrs. If the West Bank is shaped like an hourglass, Jenin is at the top of the upper bulb, where the sand is when it’s full. Thousands of years ago, the dusty city was named after its gardens, but more recently Ariel Sharon called it a “hornet’s nest of terrorism.”

My destination, a place called the Freedom Theatre, adjoined a refugee camp that was completely flattened by made-in-the-USA Israeli bulldozers during the Second Intifada. On the walls of buildings all over town were posters celebrating young men with big guns. At the time, one of the Freedom Theatre’s founders, Zakaria Zubeidi, was sitting in a Palestinian Authority jail with no formal charge. Before turning to theatrical resistance, he had been the local commander of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, which for a time put him at number one on Israel’s most-wanted list. A year earlier, a gunman murdered the Freedom Theatre’s half-Israeli co-founder, Juliano Mer-Khamis, in the courtyard where the final taxi dropped me off.

I had come for the inaugural tour of the Freedom Bus, a ten-day sequence of performances across the West Bank. The other internationals along for the ride made for a varied group, the main factions being college students from the United States and retirees associated with the Swedish National Touring Theatre. The first night at our lonely hotel in Jenin, fatigue led me to fantasies of escape, of hiding back across the Green Line in Israel-proper, where for the previous day the half-Jew in me had felt the rare and guilty pleasure of being among my own.

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