Published in Zeitschrift für Theaterpädagogik Nr 65

For the last five years now, the Arbeitskreis Kirche und Theater of the Evangelical Church in Germany and the Institute for Theatre Pedagogy in Lingen have been putting a cooperation and exchange programme into practice called “Palestinian-German Dialogue on Theatre and Theatre Education”, which links together Palestinian and German theatres, universities and amateur and school theatres.

A network connecting Palestinian and German theatres, training establishments, associations, theatre educators, theatre producers and theatre scholars has been set up, with a internet portal also having been created so that information can be exchanged. The website has been in operation since 2013 and is used very frequently. Today, all the important theatres in Palestine are active in the network, such as the Ashtar Theatre in Ramallah, the Hakawati National Theatre in Jerusalem, the Freedom Theatre in Jenin, the Diyar Dance Theatre in Bethlehem, the Yes Theatre in Hebron, the Al Harah Theatre in Beit Jala, the Inad Theatre in Beit Jala and the Al Qasabeth Theatr in Ramallah, as well as the Dar Al Kalima College, the University of Bethlehem and the Goethe-Institut Ramallah. On the German side, the following institutions are involved alongside the Arbeitskreis Kirche und Theater, the Institute for Theatre Pedagogy Osnabruck-Lingen and the Hanover region’s Palestine Initiative (whose “Filistina” event included the theatre performances discussed below): the Bundesarbeitsgemeinschaft Spiel und Theater and representatives of universities in Berlin, Dortmund, Hanover, Greifswald, Hildesheim and Braunschweig, associations such as the Bundesverband der Theaterpädagogen, the Bundesverband Schultheater, the Theaterpädagogische Zentrum Lingen and the Kinderkulturkarawane, as well as theatres such as the Junges Schauspiel und Theaterpädagogik of the Staatstheater Hannover, the Jugendclub of the Schaubühne Berlin, the Theater Essen and the Cactus Theater Münster.

Theatre from Palestine

As part of the “Palestinian-German Dialogue on Theatre and Theatre Education”, we invited the Ashtar Theatre from Ramallah to come to Hanover from April 10 to 17, 2016 to take part in performances, discussions and workshops.

The Ashtar Theatre was founded in Jerusalem in 1991 and has been putting on experimental theatre in Ramallah since 1995 and carrying out theatre educational training programmes. It is the leading theatre in the Middle East, which translated Augusto Boal’s book on the Theatre of the Oppressed into Arabic and practises its methods. The Ashtar Theater has also started putting on theatre education training programmes in Jordan, working in particular with Syrians in refugee camps.

(In the Babylonian era, the god Ashtar represented love, beauty, fertility and the willingness to make sacrifices. The main gate to the city of Babylon also carried his name. An imitation of this gate can be seen at the Pergamon Museum in Berlin.) 

The theatre is not just concerned with providing information about concrete social situations, but also enabling audiences to take part in interventional actions and thus become “co-actors” in the process. So-called “jokers” often ask those watching to take up a position or look for solutions to problems, not just in the form of verbal argumentation but also via alternative scenes, which the audience then demonstrate onstage with the performers. The way in which this public forum theatre enables conflicts to be visualised and solution approaches to be tried out in scenic actions and speech make it into a suitable theatrical form for political and educational learning processes.

The Ashtar Theatre presented both their working approaches and their commitment to social change. We asked them how they choose their subjects for the stage and about the international discussions surrounding what role and what function Palestinian theatre has in Palestine. We wanted to observe which forms of contemporary theatre are practised there and what impact theatre has in the context of political conflicts both in Palestine and worldwide. This Palestinian-German dialogue regarded theory and practice as intertwined.

The team from the Ashtar Theatre were involved in the entire specialist programme that took place in Hanover from April 10 to 17: theatre head Edward Muallem, artistic director Iman Aoun and theatre director Mohammad Eid, together with a technician and five young actors, thus meaning a total of 9 Palestinians working in theatre actively participated. On the German side, theatre educators from Hildesheim, Bielefeld, Lingen and Hannover, representatives of school theatres, project heads from the Anna Lindh Foundation, members of the Hanover region’s Palestine Initiative and also Syrian refugees being accommodated in Hanover.

There was a surprising amount of interest in the public performances, with 84% of seats taken.

To begin with, the Ashtar Theatre performed a piercing piece without dialogue entitled 48 Minutes for Palestine:

A woman lives alone and takes care of the house and garden, when a man turns up one day. He is carrying a suitcase and looks in a bad state, bearing the mark of death. She doesn’t know him, but he moves into the house anyway. They begin to argue relentlessly about the space there and who should have control over it, almost as if they were married, which is something neither of them would want. The performance is entirely without dialogue and was referred to as an “astounding, great work” by Peter Brook.

In the question and answer session with the audience that followed, it was discussed whether the Jews had the right to receive a new home with the Palestinians after losing their European one. Questions were also raised as to the role of the Germans in solving the conflict: should the Germans just stand by until all Palestinians have been expelled? 

The New Gaza Monologues were characterised by extreme corporeality, while The Syrien Monologues placed more of an emphasis on language, in calm, piercing fashion:

The New Gaza Monologues, The Syrian Monologues

The Gaza Monologues were created in workshops for children from Gaza put on by the Ashtar Theater during the war there in 2008-2009, with the resultant piece premiering in October 2010. It has received international attention, including in the form of a performance in 14 languages in front of the UN General Assembly. Now the Ashtar Theatre has written new monologues with young people about their experiences today, which are now being performed in Germany for the first time. The second part of the evening was entitled The Syrian Monologues and was created as a result of the Ashtar Theatre’s work at a refugee camp in Jordan.

The discussion that followed touched upon how the actors were affected by the material and was dominated by questions relating to personal and family experiences.


Two well-attended workshops on Augusto Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed and theatre work in Syrian refugee camps in Jordan took place at the end of the week. The workshops were seen as being of lasting value because they were led by people who do theatre work in order to change the political situation around them with the help of theatre. One participant said that, “to know that Eduard gives hope to people who have experienced oppression, who have lost their homes and left everything behind, because this work enables them to become actors, stakeholders, capable of shaping things together, is very significant for me. And it encourages me to think again more intensively about what sort of participatory theatre I should place a focus on when working with young people in Frankfurt.”

Theatre in Palestinian Society – A Discussion about New Perspectives

These diverse examples of theatre practice were supplemented by a discussion about theatre in Palestinian society. With theatre educator and theatre scholar Professor Dr. Florian Vaßen as the moderator, who has come into contact with Palestine in many different capacities, the subject was discussed by Iman Aoun, artistic director of the Ashtar Theatre in Ramallah, Prof. Dr. Caroline Robertson von Trotta, head of the German centre of the European-Mediterranean Anna Lindh Foundation, Klaus Hoffmann, theatre scholar and theatre educator and chairman of the Arbeitskreis Kirche und Theater of the Evangelical Church in Germany and Andreas Poppe, university lecturer for theatre education at Osnabruck University’s Institute for Theatre Pedagogy in Lingen.

Unfortunately, a particularly important ambassador for Palestine in Germany was unable to attend, namely Dr. Choloud Deibes. She was forced to cancel her appearance, as Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas was making an official visit to the German government in Berlin over the same period and she understandably had to be on hand as a result. In his discussions with the German Chancellor, Abbas asked for more support for Palestinian policy from the German Federal Government, whose position does at least contain the clear message that the Israeli government’s settlement policy is counterproductive for the peace process. Ms Deibes would certainly have been able to make some fundamental statement on the current state of Palestinian cultural policy and its future possibilities as well as the financial and organisational difficulties it faces. This would likely also have generated some critical responses, as these problems are not just a result of the Israeli occupation but are to some extent a consequence of Palestinian government policy.

The event began with a PowerPoint presentation by Klaus Hoffmann, in which he provided a vivid overview of the general state of theatre in Palestine and the various cooperations being conducted between German and Palestinian theatres and cultural institutions. 

Ms Aoun, an expert on Palestinian theatre expert, looked at the situation in Palestine from the point of view theatre practice. Before sketching out the theatrical landscape in the Occupied Territories and presenting the diversity of theatre to be found there and its target groups, methods and forms of organisation, she gave a brief historical overview and reminded those present that theatre arrived very early in what is now Palestine within the context of the silk road, reaching this region even before ancient Greece. Making this clear was of particular importance to her with regards to debunking the frequently expressed claim that Palestine has no cultural tradition, which implies that Palestine was just an “empty strip of land” before the Israeli occupation.

In the presentation that followed, she mentioned the Al Harah Theatre in Beit Jala, the Diyar Dance Theatre in Bethlehem, the Yes Theatre in Hebron, the Freedom Theatre in Jenin and several others before going on to present the theatre work of the Ashtar Theatre in detail, which is informed by Augusto Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed. Theatrical approaches are linked to theatre educational methods here. The so-called forum theatre, for example, enables the problems of society to be presented by the actors in concrete performance variations, who then work together with the audience to establish potential changes or solutions. The Theatre of the Oppressed thus offers those participating the chance to shape the production and play an active role and offers fresh perspectives in political conflicts. The Ashtar Theatre employs this approach in rural areas of the Jordan valley, where the Palestinian population particularly suffers from the Israelis’ agricultural settlements, but also with young people to give them self-confidence and dignity and improve their everyday situation. The Ashtar Theatre also trains multipliers so that the Theatre of the Oppressed becomes used as widely as possible. This open, educationally sound artistic process forms an important part of the political resistance to the Israeli occupation. 

The discussion largely revolved around the relationship between cultural work and social work and/or political action, about the link between artistic and theatre educational work and about personal development, identity formation and resistance in theatre practice – primarily among young people. Due to the large number of Syrians that have fled to Germany, there was also particular interest expressed in theatre work in Syrian refugee camps. 

Ms Robertson von Trotta from the Anna Lindh Founation looked at the cultural situation in the Mediterranean region from another perspective. For her, the focus was on cultural dialogue and intercultural meetings, such as by providing financial support for an Arab Film Week, the “Mediterranean on the Ground” project or this very week of Palestinian theatre in Hanover.  

Intensive cooperation doesn’t just take place between German and Palestinian theatres, there are also meaningful, sustainable collaborations in the university sector with regard to both teaching and research. An exchange programme for students and teaching staff is being conducted, for example, between the university in Lingen and the Dar Al Kalima University College of Arts and Culture in Bethlehem. In additional, the university in Bethlehem receives advice and support from the German side on their theatre educational Bachelor curriculum. Poppe revealed the close, fruitful working relationships here, but also pointed out certain organisational and institutional problems.

The questions from the audience in particular revealed the important status of art and culture in Palestinian society on the one hand and made visible the difficult working conditions for theatre under the Israeli occupation on the other. For children and adolescents in particular – more than half the Palestinian population is under 19 years of age – theatre is not a luxury but rather a necessity for identify formation and self-determination; the right to culture is a central human right. It is not isolation, but rather dialogue that enables society to move forward, and it is only contact with the outside than enables self-reflection and changes to take place in one’s self. And thus theatre and other areas of culture don’t just play an important role within Palestine, but they also have an external effect, as a “bridge to the world”, as an “ambassador“ for the culture of an oppressed and occupied country. In this sense, the panel discussion supplied important information, changed points of view and generated new perspectives.


Klaus Hoffmann          Florian Vaßen