In Jenin, Seven Shattered Dreams
Sabagh skulked from hideout to hideout, once living in a concrete culvert for weeks, once spending days in a hole in the rubble of his parents' house, which had been destroyed during the battle of Jenin, his father said.
In the second week of November 2002, Sabagh's wife -- whom he had seen only sporadically since their marriage -- gave birth to a son. Through friends, he dispatched secret messages to his wife to set up clandestine meetings. Over the next two weeks, Sabagh stole two brief visits with his wife and baby, according to his father.
At about 11:20 p.m. on Nov. 26, 2002, Israeli aircraft fired a missile into a house on the southwestern side of the Jenin refugee camp. Sabagh was hiding inside with the local leader of Islamic Jihad. His wife and son were not with him. In the photograph on the posters pasted on walls across Jenin the next day, Sabagh cradles not a gun, but the infant son he saw twice.
"I was told later, that during the really harsh period when he was wanted by the Israelis, that Alaa told his friends, 'I wish I'd listened to my father,' " the elder Sabagh said.
Forms of Resistance
Mahmoud Kaneri folded his 6-foot-2 frame next to the row of tombstones he designed for the boys from the theater. For Kaneri, who remained on the fringes of the close-knit clan of militancy, survival has become its own form of torture.
"Sometimes you sit by yourself and think it over," said Kaneri, gazing across the Jenin Martyrs Cemetery where his brother and so many of his friends lie beneath headstones he crafted. "You think you're living in a dream. It's next to impossible to believe what happened."
Creating headstones for the fallen is his therapy.
"The theater was a base for us to become distinguished people," he said. "They were all distinguished in the theater. They were distinguished here. Their tombs should be distinguished. That is my job.
"Each time I build a tombstone, the film starts rolling," he continued. "I remember the stories, the jokes, the kind of things we did. It was an illusion. We were struck by reality."
His long, elegant fingers plucked absently at a dead leaf on a geranium atop the nearest grave.
"While you are making the headstone, you are crying," said Kaneri. "You never thought you'd design the tomb for a friend, or a brother."
At home, a few blocks from the building that once housed the theater, he voices emotions that border on guilt over the fact that he, unlike most of the others, is still alive.
"I'm not different than them," Kaneri said, watching his 3-year-old daughter play with a kitten next to him on a living room sofa. "Resistance comes in many forms. Everybody chose to resist in his own way. Not everybody who resists becomes a martyr. It's not like the only condition is to carry a gun. Maybe helping your family is part of the resistance.
"I am the man of the house," he added. "I support the wife of my martyred brother, the wife of my wanted brother and their five kids, my mother, my younger brother, my wife, my two children. I built this house and moved them here. Don't you think that's part of the resistance?"
Juliano Mer Khamis, who worked with his mother in the theater, returned to the refugee camp after the 2002 invasions and directed a documentary tracing the history of the theater group, splicing footage of the children's plays with scenes of carnage from the ongoing conflict. "Arna's Children" shared the prize for best documentary at the New York Tribeca Film Festival in May.
"Some people ask me if my mother failed," Mer Khamis said on recent night, sitting at the kitchen table of his house in the Israeli port city of Haifa. "They say, 'She wanted to make actors of them and they became terrorists.'
"From my perspective, it's a success that people stood up and fought for their rights," said Mer Khamis, who said he recently lost his contract to work in Israeli theaters because of his pro-Palestinian sympathies. "Arna told them to fight for their rights."
© 2004 The Washington Post Company