Whistler puppetista to perform in Palestine 

Education key component of trip to refugee camps, Jennings says

It is more fun to watch a theatre performance than listen to a lecture.

That’s why local activist Sara Jennings has teamed up with other puppetistas across North America to travel to Palestine and perform for refugee camps and community groups. Puppetistas are puppeteers who perform politically themed street theatre.

The skits, all written by the group under the name Olive Tree Circus, will focus on the everyday struggles of Palestinians and provide hope for a brighter future. Theme’s range from the Israeli West Bank barrier, border crossing issues, the concept of home, and realizing the humanity on both sides of the Israeli/Palestine conflict.

“The best people to work on the solution in the Middle East are the Palestinians and Israelis,” explained Jennings, who is also president of AWARE and one of the main organizers of Whistler Watch.

“We are not going there to fix anything, especially not in a few weeks. We are going there to share our skills with them and also learn from them about what is happening there. The learning is then going to be brought back here and shared with people in our own communities.”

The Olive Tree Circus’s three-week trip will take them to villages surrounding Bethlehem and Ramallah, where they will perform, create puppetry and teach circus skills. Jennings is the only Canadian in the group made up of nine adults and two children, including Palestinians, Jews, Christians and Humanists.

This is not Jennings’s first trip to the Middle East. In 2005, she travelled to Israel to learn more about the region. At that time she joined several Israeli-run groups, including one organization that travels to border checkpoints to ensure that Palestinians legally crossing the boarder are treated humanely.

“I have thought a lot about the conflict. I have been very interested in it for a long time, and I wanted to make sure that I understood it. That is why I originally travelled there. I wanted to get a better picture of what is going on in the area,” she said.

Jennings added that the she has found the Middle East to be a contentious issue with people in North America. As she has been preparing for the trip, she said there have been people who have assumed that she does not really know about the area or what she is getting into.

“I don’t feel that this is that dangerous of a trip. People are concerned about that,” said Jennings.

“Of course there are things that could happen, but in general the biggest thing to me is that Palestinians and Israelis have to face these issues every day. The least I can do is go over there and try to share and learn with them for a short period of time. I think it is important to think about that, rather than think about what could happen.”

Jennings met the rest of the Olive Tree Circus crew while she was in Georgia protesting at the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, formerly the School of Americas. The school is a military training base for Latin American soldiers and protesters gather there every year to speak out against its educational practices. Last year, a Palestinian-American woman joined the group and suggested that the radical puppeteers travel to Palestine.

To raise both funds for the trip and awareness of the situation in Palestine, Jennings is throwing two fundraising events. The first one is a film night that will be held on Thursday, Oct. 9 at 45-L Eagle Ridge Drive in Whistler Cay Heights. The second event will be held on Sunday, Oct. 12 at 9 p.m. the Crystal Lodge jam session and will include music and raffle prizes.

Jennings also plans to give presentations on her trip and the Palestinian/Israeli conflict when she returns to Whistler to help inform locals of the situation there. For more information, contact 604-932-2664.

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