After 22 Years, West Bank Movie Theater Comes Back to Life

In late summer, the theater will host Cinema Jenin, the city's first international film festival.

Avi Issacharoff
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JENIN - The traffic on the recently-refurbished road from Jalameh checkpoint north of Jenin into the city reflects the changes over the past two years. Much has been written about the Palestinians' improving living conditions in the West Bank, but the revolution taking hold of Jenin never ceases to amaze.

The road was opened three weeks ago to pedestrians and Israeli Arab vehicles, though with a daily limit of 500 cars. The center of Jenin is packed with shoppers, most of them Israeli citizens. One of the city's northern neighborhoods boasts a giant playground built through the donation of a prominent local journalist.

The armed militants who symbolized the city during the first years of the second intifada are no longer to be found. Instead, downtown, near the central transportation hub, a different sight catches the visitor's eye: Jenin's old movie theater is being renovated.

The cinema, closed in 1987 during the first intifada, is expected to be up and running within four months.

The Cinematheque will open in the historic building that housed a movie theater since the 1950s. The building's refurbishment is being carried out by local construction crews assisted by German volunteers.

In August, the theater will host Cinema Jenin, the city's first international film festival. On the Palestinian side, the project is being led by Fakhri Hamad and Ismail Khatib. German film director Marcus Vetter has also joined the effort.

Khatib is well known to many in the Israeli peace camp. Four years ago his 11-year-old son Ahmed died from gunfire by the Israel Defense Forces - the soldier responsible said he had spotted a child carrying a rifle, though it turned out to be a plastic toy gun. Khatib donated Ahmed's organs to Israeli recipients, a decision that shocked his friends and family.

"Even my brother was in shock," he told Haaretz from the Jenin office where he raises funds for the theater. "But eventually he became convinced. For me there is no difference between one child and another, Israeli or Palestinian."

Of the plan to renovate the theater, Khatib said that "Marcus was making a film about Ahmed, and we were walking around the city. When we went past the old cinema, he asked me if there was still a theater in the city and I said there wasn't. That's when we decided to take on the mission."

Khatib said the Palestinian Culture Ministry donated funds for the effort, and the German Foreign Ministry added 170,000 euros.

"We're a traditional conservative society, and that's why it was agreed that a special committee would determine the nature of the films to be shown here," he said of the festival. "Cinema Jenin is more than cinema for us. It's a center of culture, and that's why the films we'll bring here must be meaningful, so people can learn from them."