As part of its first ever tour of the UK, the Freedom Theatre staged its production of 'The Siege' at St Mary in the Castle in Hastings.

The play portrays the 39-day siege in Bethlehem in 2002 during the Second Intifada. Invading Israeli forces drove more than 200 Palestinians - civilians, local police and resistance fighters - to seek sanctuary in the Church of the Nativity.

The play centred around 6 trapped fighters, beginning with the dramatic and chaotic arrival in the church and ending with the anguished negotiations over whether to fight to the bitter end or to accept exile.

Cultural resistance at its best

The production used archive film footage, monologues and dangerously realistic shooting and bombing effects to evoke the tense atmosphere within the church. The play turned out to be a powerful, emotionally charged example of cultural resistance at its best.

3 rousing standing ovations

The play was clearly a triumph with the audience giving the cast 3 rousing standing ovations. We are sure that audiences throughout the UK have been inspired by this example of outstanding radical theatre.

There was a Question and Answer session after the performance with directors Nabil Al-Raee and Zoe Lafferty, cast member Ahmed Tobasi, chaired by Polly Gifford, Cultural Strategic Development Manager with the Hastings Council.

A film of the Q&A session after the Battersea Arts Centre performance with Nabil, Zoe, cast member Faisal Abu Alheja, joined by actor Samuel West and comedian/activist Jeremy Hardy can be seen here.

Hastings PSC invited the Freedom Theatre to Hastings. St Mary in the Castle is an ideal location for 'The Siege,' not only for its incredible atmosphere, but also for the fact that it was originally a church. We would like to thank everyone at St Mary for all the hard work they put into the event. The first visit the Freedom Theatre crew made on arrival in Hastings was to the Town Hall where mayor Bruce Dowling gave an official reception (above photo). They were also made honorary members of the Hastings branch of Unite, the largest trade union in Britain.

On the day of the performance we made sure that the 'crypt' area at St Mary was full of information about the Palestinian struggle, the BDS movement; and was bedecked with Palestinian flags; also an exhibition of Carlos Latuff posters (see photos below).


Directors Nabil Al-Raee and Zoe Lafferty interviewed at Arise News TV:

Palestine Resistance to Israeli Occupation - the 2nd Intifada

The 2nd Intifada was triggered by Ariel Sharon's visit to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem in September 2000 with 1,000 armed police. This provocation, along with decades of Israeli occupation, land theft and failed peace agreements, brought about protests throughout Gaza and the West Bank. In 5 days at least 47 Palestinians were shot dead by the Israeli forces The Palestinian people rose up: the second Intifada had begun.

Neighbourhoods razed to the ground

During the Second Intifada, Israel re-occupied all the West Bank cities: the army proceeded to systematically destroy the infrastructure and the whole fabric of Palestinian life, by means of house demolitions, bombarding of refugee camps, looting, mass arrests and targeted assassinations. Whole neighbourhoods were razed to the ground. The economies of both the West Bank and Gaza were ruined.

Eye-witness account

This is the background to the siege of the Church of the Nativity: hundreds of people fleeing from the terror of the Israeli army, looking for refuge. An eye-witness account described those seeking refuge, along with members of the resistance, as "... ordinary townsfolk and included 100 uniformed Palestinian Authority workers; also 26 children and 8 to 10 women and girls." A full eye-witness account is published in Stuart Littlewood's 'Intifada: Voice of Palestine.'

Years of injustices

The Palestinians had suffered years of injustices since the 1948 Nakba, intensified by the occupation from 1967 onwards. Diplomatic negotiations after the first Intifada had resulted in the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993, which aimed at a two state solution after five years. Palestinian expectations were that they would then be able to attain self determination and statehood.

But during this period, the Occupation had intensified: further land confiscation; increased settlers and settlement building; by pass roads; house demolitions; control of borders, freedom of movement and ethnic cleansing of East Jerusalem, leaving Palestinians with a sense of disbelief that they would ever achieve independence through diplomatic means. Since the end of the Intifada in 2005, prolonged and fruitless peace talks have been held and the reality is that Palestine is in a worse position than it was in 2000, with no hope of an independent state in the near future.