Freedom theatre appeals for donations for legal defence of staff

September 7, 2011
Sarah Benton

Crime and Punishment
An appeal for moral and financial support following a new wave of harassments against The Freedom Theatre by the Israeli army
September 2011

The Freedom Theatre in Jenin refugee camp was attacked by the Israeli army on the 27th July. Two of its members, Adnan Naghnaghiye and Bilal Saadi were taken. On the 22nd of August they were released from Israeli custody. They had been illegally incarcerated for almost one month in a prison inside Israel and were finally released after no evidence could be brought against them. They were treated in an inhumane way and their basic human rights were violated from the second the Israeli army took them from their homes. The acting student Rami Hwayel, who faced a similar course of action, is expected to be released in a few days. Instead a colleague of Rami at the theatre school, Momeen Syatat has been informed that he needs to hand himself in to the Israeli army on the 1st of September.

The outcome of the interrogations confirms what we have claimed right from the start – these people are not suspects and could have been questioned without being arrested at all, not to mention the inhumane treatment they suffered. They all cooperated in giving any information they had, to assist in finding the actual killer.

Unfortunately, this is no time for rejoicing. Mohammed Eisht Naghnaghiye, the brother of Adnan and security guard at The Freedom Theatre, was taken by the Israeli army on the 22nd August and yesterday received a 15 day extension of his arrest. Once again the army came in the night and they left Eisht’s house in disarray and havoc. Furniture was thrown to the floor and broken, and there was even dog excrement on the floor. The army also took another three residents of the camp on the same night.

Two technicians at The Freedom Theatre, Mohammed Saadi, 21 years old and Ahmad Matahen, 20 years old, have been told to hand themselves in at the Salem military base outside of Jenin. All of us at the theatre want more than anything the murderer of Juliano Mer Khamis to be brought to justice, and therefore Mohammed and Ahmad have decided to obey the order and contribute with any information that might be useful. However this is on condition that they are treated in accordance with rule of law.

To walk into the arms of the Israeli security service quite often means disappearing from the surface of the earth, never knowing when you will come back and knowing that you are most certainly facing harsh treatment. We demand that Mohammed, Ahmad, Momeen and Eisht be treated no worse and no better than any Israeli citizen brought in to participate in a civil criminal investigation. Their legal rights, as stipulated by international law, must be honoured.

Mohammed and Ahmad will only come to the Salem military base if their lawyer is allowed to accompany them to the police and see them right before and after interrogation and that they will not be arrested and not be denied access to their lawyer as has been done in the previous cases. This demand has been relayed to the Israeli security and we are awaiting their answer.

Due to these cruel and unnecessary arrests The Freedom Theatre has hired a lawyer to represent its members. The fee has risen dramatically and is now around 5000 EURO. We fear that it may increase further as the cycle of Israeli arrests does not seem to end.

The Freedom Theatre is unable to allocate this money from our project funding and the families of the innocent arrestees are also unable to cover the fees. We therefore ask our friends and supporters around the world to contribute to the legal costs. This also enables us to a larger extent to expose the discriminatory legal system applied to the Palestinians. You may make your donation by clicking the headline. [] Make sure to mark your donation with “Legal”.

We would like to emphasize once more that all members of The Freedom Theatre are fully assisting the investigation of the murder of Juliano Mer Khamis. We demand to be treated accordingly, not as suspects. There is clearly no evidence against any member of the theatre, yet the Israeli army have gravely maltreated several of our members and violated their human rights.

on behalf of The Freedom Theatre
Jacob Gough, acting general manager

Juliano Mer-Khamis: the man who died for theatre

The peace activist gunned down in front of the venue he helped found in the West Bank reminds us of the true value of the arts
Giles Croft, Guardian theatre blog,

Last October, the European Theatre Convention organised a visit to the West Bank. On the morning of the trip we spent 90 minutes with Shimon Peres discussing the peace process and the role of the arts in a divided society, before boarding a coach and passing through a checkpoint into Ramallah. From there we went on to the refugee camp in Jenin. On arrival, we were taken to the Freedom Theatre and welcomed by Juliano Mer-Khamis; handsome, charismatic and with a warmth that belied the strength of character needed to work in such conditions.

He showed us short films detailing the Freedom Theatre’s work, talked about his history and mediated in conversations with three of the company. One, an ex-terrorist, believed himself responsible for the death of his sister at the hands of the Israeli army. Another’s cousin had participated in a suicide attack that had led to the death of three women; his cousin’s dream had been to be an actor. The third, a young woman, talked about how she was constantly abused by her neighbours when she first started attending the Freedom Theatre.

Mer-Khamis himself stood at the heart of this extraordinary project – a drama venue in the heart of the occupied West Bank. Half-Israeli, half-Palestinian, he had been in an elite section of the Israeli army and gone on to become a successful actor (Holk Freytag, chairman of the German Theatre Association, yesterday described him as one of the best actors he knew) before finally returning to Jenin to found the Freedom Theatre, a project born out of the work of his mother, Arna Mer, to improve the education of children in occupied Palestine. He had worked alongside her before returning to Israel after her death.

Some years later, he heard the suicide attack that killed those three women had been committed by one of the young people his mother had taught and returned to Jenin. On finding that many of those same young people were now dead or fighting in the second intifada, he decided to stay and start work on what he called the “third intifada”, which he described as needing to be “cultural; with poetry, music, theatre, cameras and magazines”.

Following our visit last year, he agreed to come to Nottingham as part of the first 2011 Nottingham European Arts and Theatre Festival (NEAT 11) to show his extraordinary film about his mother’s project, Arna’s Children, and to talk about his work.

As the details of the festival were being finalised, we received some terrible news: Anna Yablonskaya, who was also due to participate, had been killed in the Moscow bombing. Then the Belarus Free Theatre had to pull out because their government was denying them visas. A few days later, an email arrived from Juliano with some wonderful news tinged with disappointment. His wife was expecting twins at the same time he was due in Nottingham and he had to cancel his visit. We agreed to show the film and to ask UK artists who had worked at his theatre to come and talk on his behalf.

On Monday, I received a call telling me that Juliano had been murdered by masked gunmen metres from the Freedom Theatre in a car containing his infant son. It’s not 100% clear yet who the perpetrators were, but it is clear that there were many people with reason to hate him – for his fight for freedom of expression, his articulation of the Palestinians’ plight, his call for the liberation of women and his willingness to stand against fundamentalism of all types. At a time when we are asked to justify the value of the arts, it is salutary to be reminded that some people die for the things we take for granted.

I believe that the Freedom Theatre needs to thrive in order to continue the legacy that Arna and Juliano have left behind – but today, 7 April 2011, it becomes a mourning house for the life of a courageous man, a loving husband and a devoted father.

Giles Croft is the artistic director of the Nottingham Playhouse and NEAT11

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