The Jenin refugee camp, located in the northern West Bank, is home to more than 13,000 Palestinian refugees who fled or were expelled from their homes by Israeli forces during and in the aftermath of the 1948 Palestine War. The camp has since become a stronghold of Palestinian militants, and has become known as “the martyr’s capital” by Palestinians, and “the hornet’s nest” by Israel.
The camp has been the scene of several incidents relating to the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, most notably the 2002 Battle of Jenin between Israel and Palestinian militants and the 2023 killing of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, and remains the site of frequent clashes between Israeli forces and Palestinians.
The camp has a high population density, estimated at 33,000/km2 by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). Refugees in the camp face difficult living conditions, which are caused in part by Israeli restrictions. The camp has a high unemployment rate compared to the rest of the West Bank, and many refugees live in substandard shelters, with poor sewage networks and common shortages in water and electricity.
Despite these challenges, the camp also represents a symbol of resistance and resilience for many Palestinians, who have maintained their identity, culture, and dignity in the face of oppression and occupation. The camp has produced many prominent figures in Palestinian politics, culture, and sports, such as Zakaria Zubeidi, former leader of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades; Kamal Nasser, poet and PLO spokesperson; and Abdel-Fattah Abu Srour, football player and coach.
The camp also hosts various initiatives and projects that aim to improve the lives of the refugees and empower them to achieve their aspirations. These include cultural centers, youth clubs, women’s associations, health clinics, schools, and vocational training programs. Some of these initiatives are supported by UNRWA or other international organizations, while others are run by local volunteers or activists.
The Freedom Theatre
One of these initiatives is The Freedom Theatre (TFT), a cultural center that was founded in 2006 by Juliano Mer-Khamis, an Israeli-Palestinian actor and director who was assassinated in 2011 by unknown gunmen outside the theater. TFT offers theater workshops, performances, film screenings, and other activities that aim to foster creativity, critical thinking, and social change among the camp’s youth.
Another initiative is The Jenin Creative Cultural Center (JCCC), which was established in 2017 by a group of young Palestinians who wanted to create a space for art, education, and dialogue in the camp. JCCC organizes various events and programs that showcase the talents and stories of the camp’s residents, such as exhibitions, festivals, lectures, debates, and book clubs.
The Jenin refugee camp is not only a place of suffering and struggle, but also a place of hope and inspiration. The refugees who live there have shown remarkable courage and determination in defending their rights and pursuing their dreams. They have also demonstrated their creativity and diversity in expressing their culture and identity. The camp is a testament to the resilience and resistance of the Palestinian people.