Palestinian who renounced violence for theatre begins death fast until PA frees him

September 10, 2012
Sarah Benton

UPDATE: PA promise court hearing.  Then news release about Zakaria Zubeidi’s fast followed by an article by Jen Marlowe  who knows Zakaria, a report from Human Rights Watch and lastly a 2009 article from Al Jazeera about Zakaria Zubeidi and the Freedom Theatre.

Zakaria Zubeidi suspends fluids strike in PA jail
Ma’an news
September 15, 2012

BETHLEHEM  — Former Fatah fighter Zakaria Zubeidi said Thursday that he will suspend his refusal of all liquids in Palestinian Authority custody as he has strong assurances he will be released in coming days.

Zubeidi announced on Sunday a hunger strike of all food and liquid until he is released from Palestinian Authority custody, after almost four months in jail without charge.

On Thursday, he pledged to continue without food but take liquids after he was briefly hospitalized due to the strike earlier in the week, he told lawyers and colleagues speaking from police jail in Jericho.

He received assurances from a delegation from President Mahmoud Abbas that he will be freed at his next court hearing on Monday, lawyer Farid Hawash said.

Zubeidi left the Fatah-affiliated Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, which he led in Jenin during the second intifada, to co-found the Freedom Theater in Jenin refugee camp in 2006.

He was detained by PA forces on May 13 and his detention has been repeatedly renewed without charges being pressed.

Call for action to free Zakaria Zubeidi

By The Freedom Theatre, media release
September 10, 2012

On the 9th of September Zakaria Zubeidi announced that he will embark on a death fast, a complete food and fluid strike, in response to the continuous postponement of his release from Palestinian Authority prison. This effectively means that unless the Palestinian Authority releases Zakaria he will most probably not make it through the week.

Zubeidi, co-founder of The Freedom Theatre and former leader of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, has been imprisoned by the Palestinian Authority for close to four months. No charges have been made against him, no evidence presented and throughout his imprisonment his rights have been severely violated, as described by among others Human Rights Watch [see below].

Being one of the last survivors of Arna’s Children* Zakaria joined the armed resistance during the second Intifada and became one of its leading figures. After co-founding The Freedom Theatre in 2006 Zakaria decided to lay down his weapons in order to join a cultural resistance, which he deemed a more powerful tool against the Israeli occupation. Surviving numerous assassination attempts by the Israeli army and vowing to never again enter an Israeli prison, Zakaria is now instead facing death in a Palestinian prison unless immediate action is taken.

*For a review of Arna’s Children, a film about Arna Mer, mother of  Juliano Mer-Khamis, and ‘her children’  a  theatre group of children including Zakaria Zubeidi,  click here.

Give Zubeidi justice, or he will die at the hands of the Palestinian Authority

Zakaria Zubeidi is on hunger strike in a Palestinian Authority prison. It would be tragic – and ironic – if someone whose life was shaped by experiencing, and resisting Israeli violence were to die resisting Palestinian oppression.

By Jen Marlowe, Ha’aretz
September 12, 2012

The first time I met Zakaria Zubeidi, I was participating in my nephew’s class project by taking a laminated paper doll (“Flat Stanley”) with me everywhere I went, photographing him with different people all over.

I told Zubeidi where “Flat Stanley” and I had traveled. He looked at the paper doll incredulously. “He’s seen more of the world than I have,” Zubeidi said with a grin, and more than a hint of wistfulness.

“Flat Stanley” and I visited Jenin just five months after Zubeidi had been granted amnesty by Israel, whose wanted list he had previously topped, and just over a year after he had co-founded The Freedom Theatre in Jenin’s refugee camp. Zubeidi’s tongue-in-cheek comment referred to his own lifetime of limited freedom of movement: There were the five years of his youth spent in Israeli prisons (first for throwing stones, then for throwing a Molotov cocktail), followed by the years he was lived in hiding after becoming a fighter during the second intifada, and in 2007, according to his amnesty terms, he could not leave Jenin.

Today, Zubeidi’s confinement is even tighter, and perhaps more troubling, than when imposed by Israel. He has been in the custody of the Palestinian Security Forces since May 13, with no charges or evidence of wrongdoing presented. On September 9, after yet another arbitrary continuation of his detention, Zubeidi announced that he was embarking on a hunger strike and would refuse food and fluid.

Zubeidi was one of 150 Palestinians arrested as part of a sweeping crackdown in May after the Jenin governor’s home was shot at, leading to the governor’s death by heart attack. Although the majority of those arrested have since been released, Zubeidi has continued to be held.

Perhaps, Zubeidi’s ordeal is partially connected to his role in establishing and continuing to advise and support The Freedom Theatre.

Juliano Mer-Khamis, Zubeidi’s partner in founding The Freedom Theatre, was gunned down by an unknown assailant on April 4, 2011. Since then, the theatre’s staff, board members and students have endured a continual barrage of harassment from the Israeli authorities, ostensibly under the auspices of investigating Mer-Khamis’ murder. The latest outrage was the arrest and five-week imprisonment by Israel of Nabil Al-Raee, the theatre’s artistic director.

It’s not difficult to surmise why Israel would want the theatre’s doors closed; its very establishment was an act of cultural resistance to the occupation.

Zubeidi’s connection to the theatre project runs very deep. The original “Stone Theatre” started by Mer-Khamis’s mother (Arna Mer, a Jewish-Israeli anti-occupation activist) was built during the first intifada on the top floor of Zubeidi’s house, and Zubeidi’s mother worked closely with Arna. Zubeidi was among the child actors, and is one of the few who survived the second intifada, as documented by Mer-Khamis’s acclaimed film, “Arna’s Children.”

Zubeidi used his influence within the camp as a respected fighter to ensure that the multi-ethnic theatre effort got off the ground.

Mer-Khamis once put it like this: “[Zakaria] is the one who says, ‘Jews are allowed here, as long as they come for peace and for freedom.’”

Long before Zubeidi laid down his weapon, he recognized that it would not free Palestine. Rather, it was a vehicle to get the world to understand that Palestinians were resisting the occupation. Zubeidi came to believe that this message could be transmitted far more effectively through theatre.

“Through theatre, you can talk to the world and give a different message than the way they see us as terrorists,” Zubeidi once said.

But The Freedom Theatre also critiques oppression from the Palestinian Authority—which may be one reason that the PA is determined to punish Zubeidi.

Another reason may be understood in the protests currently roiling the West Bank, reflecting long-brewing discontent which is partially rooted in the feeling that the PA functions as Israel’s sub-contractor. Zubeidi’s detention might be an extension of the PA’s “security cooperation” with Israel, trying to neutralize the revolutionary theatre in Jenin’s refugee camp.

Zubeidi’s Kafkaesque ordeal mimics the experience of thousands of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails. Zubeidi has been shuffled back and forth between civil and military courts, and had his detention extended repeatedly without justification. The torture he says he’s experienced includes being pushed down a flight of stairs with his hands tied behind his back, being forced to stand for two straight days with his arms shackled above him, being forced to drink toilet water, and being tied outside to an iron door during the heat of the day.

And now, like prisoners in Israeli jails, he is using his one available tool of resistance: a hunger strike.

If the PA does not release Zubeidi, he likely has a matter of days to live.

It will be beyond tragic—and more than a little ironic—if Zakaria Zubeidi, whose life was shaped by experiencing, and resisting, Israeli violence—were to die in his resistance to Palestinian oppression.

During one brief visit that Zubeidi was permitted from friends at The Freedom Theatre, he ruefully underscored his enduring belief that theatre remains the best way to expose injustice:

“I keep thinking—we could do a play about this.”

Jen Marlowe is an author, documentary filmmaker and human rights activist. Her latest book (written with Sami Al Jundi) is The Hour of Sunlight: One Palestinian’s Journey From Prisoner to Peacemaker and her most recent film is One Family in Gaza. She serves on the U.S.-based board of the Friends of the Jenin Freedom Theatre. Follow her on Twitter at @donkeysaddleorg.

Israel/Palestinian Authority: Theater Group Hit From Both Sides

‘Freedom Theater’ Staff Mistreated, Due Process Denied

By Human Rights Watch
July 27, 2012

Jerusalem – The Palestinian Authority and Israeli military authorities should both end abuses against members of the West Bank-based Freedom Theater, Human Rights Watch said today.

The Palestinian Authority (PA) arrested the theater company’s co-founder, Zakaria Zubeidi, in May 2012, held him incommunicado, and allegedly tortured him. It arrested his defense lawyer in July. Israeli authorities arrested the company’s artistic director, Nabil al-Ra’ee, in June, held him incommunicado, and allegedly subjected him to physical and psychological ill-treatment that might have amounted to torture, Human Rights Watch said. Zubeidi’s lawyer and al-Ra’ee were recently released, but all three men still face charges. Al-Ra’ee’s next military court hearing is scheduled for July 29.

“Israel and the Palestinian Authority are trampling on the rights of Freedom Theater’s staff,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “A theater should be able to offer critical and provocative work without fearing that its staff will be arrested and abused.”

The arbitrary arrests and detentions should cease, and allegations of mistreatment should be investigated, Human Rights Watch said.

The theater’s director and co-founder, Juliano Mer-Khamis, an Israeli citizen and activist, was killed in April 2011. Since the killing, Israeli occupation forces have repeatedly raided the theater and beaten and arbitrarily arrested employees. Israeli authorities have said that they suspect theater staff of involvement in Mer-Khamis’s killing, but have not charged anyone with the crime. The PA appears to be abusing the theater’s staff because of the company’s criticisms of the PA’s rule.

The productions of the Freedom Theater, based in Jenin, have criticized the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and abuses by both Israel and the PA in the territory. Some staff and acting students are former members of Palestinian armed groups who renounced violence in favor of nonviolent opposition to Israeli and PA policies.

Palestinian Authority Abuses

Palestinian police arrested Zubeidi, the theater’s co-founder, on May 13 amid a wave of about 150 arrests after unidentified people fired bullets at the home of the Palestinian governor of Jenin, in the northern West Bank, on May 2. Zubeidi’s brother, Abed Zubeidi, told Human Rights Watch that police had arrested and abused Zubeidi at the Jenin police station after he responded to a police request to help with an unrelated investigation.

“Zakaria said they tied his hands behind his back and pushed him down a flight of stairs,” Abed Zubeidi said. Police transferred Zakaria Zubeidi to Jericho later that day, where he has been held in a military Preventive Security detention facility.

The PA prosecutor denied Zubeidi access to his lawyer for more than 15 days, his brother told Human Rights Watch. Then, except during judicial hearings, he was able to meet with his lawyer, Farid Hawwash, only once, briefly, when Zubeidi signed documents granting Hawwash power of attorney in his case, Hawwash said. Officials at the detention facility repeatedly denied access to Zubeidi’s family and have since allowed him to receive visitors once in early July and again on July 19, family and theater staff told Human Rights Watch.

Zubeidi told his family and colleagues that officials at the Preventive Security detention facility had kept him in solitary confinement during his first 50 days there. During Zubeidi’s interrogation, officials forced him to drink water from a toilet, he said. The jailers repeatedly tied his arms together and raised them in a painful elevated position for two days at a time, requiring him to stand and preventing him from sleeping. They also tied him to an iron door outside in the heat of the day.

Abed Zubeidi also said that his brother has been denied access to newspapers, television, or other information sources. The officials demanded that Zubeidi tell them the whereabouts of “50 guns” that members of Palestinian armed groups had held during the second Palestinian popular uprising, or intifada. Zubeidi told them that Israeli forces had confiscated the guns years ago, his family and theater staff said.

Human Rights Watch was not able to verify the allegations but has previously documented the torture and ill-treatment of detainees at the Preventive Security facility in Jericho, where Zubeidi is being held. The Independent Commission for Human Rights, a Palestinian human rights ombudsman, has submitted scores of affidavits to the PA regarding the alleged torture of people detained in the Jenin-centered mass arrests since May.

Palestinian civilian courts repeatedly extended Zubeidi’s detention without charge for 15-day periods. On June 26, the prosecutor informed his lawyer that his case had been transferred from the civilian to the military judiciary for further investigation, and he was denied access to his lawyer, as well as several family members and theater colleagues who had driven to Jericho to attend a hearing. After Zubeidi’s lawyer challenged the military’s jurisdiction, on July 7, Zubeidi’s case was transferred back to the civilian judiciary, where he has been charged with “assisting an attempted murder,” his lawyer said.

On July 12, Preventive Security officials arrested Hawwash, Zubeidi’s lawyer, at his home in Jenin, after he criticized the security agency in a hearing earlier that day in Jericho.

“I said that the Preventive Security was acting like a mafia and telling the prosecution what to do,” Hawwash told Human Rights Watch. “So the prosecutor charged me with insulting the prosecution and insulting Preventive Security.”

Hawwash and his brother separately told Human Rights Watch that the security forces did not show them a warrant for the arrest. The prosecutor’s office denied Hawwash access to his lawyer until a court hearing on July 15 and did not allow him to call his family until July 16, family members said.

Hawwash told Human Rights Watch that he was detained alone in an unhygienic cell but that he was not otherwise mistreated. He was released on bail of 1,000 Jordanian dinars (US$1,400) on July 18. The case against him is ongoing.

The United Nations Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers provides that:

Governments shall ensure that lawyers (a) are able to perform all of their professional functions without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference; … and (c) shall not suffer, or be threatened with, prosecution … for any action taken in accordance with recognized professional duties … Lawyers shall enjoy civil and penal immunity for relevant statements made in good faith in written or oral pleadings or in their professional appearances before a court.

Zubeidi is a former member of a Palestinian armed group who had publicly renounced violence when he co-founded the Freedom Theater with Mer-Khamis in 2006. In 2007, the Israeli prime minister’s office “amnestied” Zubeidi, on condition that he not travel outside the Jenin district.

In August 2009 the Palestinian Authority Interior Ministry responded to the deaths in custody of four detainees by issuing Decision No. 149, which prohibits Preventive Security officials from “taking part in any kind of torture.” Officials stated that 43 security service officials, including civil police, had been disciplined for abuses, but the officials did not publish any further information. In 2011, the Independent Commission for Human Rights documented 112 complaints of torture and ill-treatment allegedly by PA security forces, including Preventive Security officials. Human Rights Watch is not aware that any Palestinian security official has been convicted of abuses against detainees.

Western governments, primarily the United States and United Kingdom, have provided direct fundingto the Palestinian Authority security services, including the Preventive Security agency, and foreign governments, including the European Union, have provided general budgetary support that the PA uses to pay security officers’ salaries, according to international news reports and leaked diplomatic cables. Governments that fund the security forces should condition their support on the Palestinian Authority meeting basic rights benchmarks including an end to impunity for abuses, Human Rights Watch said.

“The Palestinian Authority’s mistreatment of Zubeidi and his lawyer is just the latest in a string of serious abuses in Preventive Security detention facilities,” Stork said. “Foreign funders of Palestinian Authority security services should apply meaningful pressure to reverse this record of torture and ill-treatment.”

Israeli Military Abuses
Israeli security officials said that the PA was in charge of investigating the killing of Mer-Khamis, whom an unknown attacker shot at close range while he was driving with his infant son and a baby-sitter near the theater. Israeli soldiers raided the Freedom Theater on July 27, 2011, and arrested the facilities manager, Adnan Naghnaghiye, and the chairman of the theater’s board, Bilaal Saadi. The Israeli military detained the two men without charge for nearly a month, then released them on August 23.

On August 22, Israeli forces arrested Mohammed Naghnaghiye, the theater security guard, at his home, allegedly beat him and ransacked his home, and released him without charge after a few days, theater staff said. Theater staff described other arrests of acting students and staff in August and December 2011, although some took place in the course of larger military actions and it was not clear if theater staff were specifically targeted. Security forces summoned many of the theater’s staff for questioning regarding Mer-Khamis’s death in May 2012, staff said.

On June 6, 2012, the Israeli military arrested al-Ra’ee, the theater’s artistic director, at his home in Jenin. His wife, Micaela Miranda, said in a statement that he had previously cooperated with Israeli summons to appear for questioning and that Israeli forces initially did not inform her of the reasons for his arrest or his whereabouts in detention.

Israeli authorities sent al-Ra’ee first to the Jalameh (Kishon) detention facility in Israel, then to detention facilities in Ashkelon, and subsequently back to Jalameh, Al-Ra’ee and his lawyer, Smadar Ben-Natan told Human Rights Watch. Al-Ra’ee was denied access to his family and lawyer for almost two weeks, until the prosecution lifted the denial order on July 19, following a petition by Ben-Natan to Israel’s High Court.

Israeli interrogators initially claimed they were investigating al-Ra’ee in connection with the killing of Mer-Khamis, he told Human Rights Watch. Al-Ra’ee said that during his detention, Israeli interrogators at the Jalameh facility blindfolded him and handcuffed him to a chair:

They gave me two polygraph tests, asking me about Juliano’s murder, and then they said, “You’re hiding something from us,” and they put me in the chair. They kept me in the chair for almost 48 hours. I would ask to go to the toilet, and then three hours later someone would come and say, “Now you can go.”

Interrogators repeatedly told al-Ra’ee that if he didn’t cooperate, “I would spend the rest of my life in jail and never see my daughter again,” he said. On several occasions, “six or seven interrogators would come into my room and question me at the same time. Some were standing in front, some behind me, asking different questions, and of course I was stressed because I could not answer them all. But I was clear that I had nothing to do with Juliano’s killing, or any involvement with weapons or armed groups. My only involvement is with theater.”

On June 28, after the prosecution had not brought charges or new evidence against al-Ra’ee following 22 days of detention and interrogation, the military court at Jalameh ordered al-Ra’ee’s release on bail and temporary house arrest. However, the court delayed his release to enable the prosecution to file an appeal to extend his detention. On July 2, the military court of appeal in Ofer accepted the prosecution’s appeal to extend his detention until July 4. On July 4 the military prosecutor charged al-Ra’ee with possessing a weapon and “providing shelter” to Zubeidi, whom the prosecutor claimed was “a wanted person.”

The prosecution’s sole evidence for the weapons charge appears to be al-Ra’ee’s statement to interrogators that he had once held a gun, not his own, for a few minutes, and fired a pistol in celebration at a New Year’s party, his lawyer said. The charge of “providing shelter” was issued under an extraordinarily broad Israeli military order that criminalizes assisting any person against whom “there is a reasonable basis to suspect” that he “committed an offense under the security legislation or who is or was engaged in any action aimed at harming public peace, the well-being of the IDF [Israel Defense Forces] and the maintenance of public order.”

Israeli military prosecutors have not charged Zubeidi with any crime and had not stated that they were seeking to take him into custody. The “support” that al-Ra’ee allegedly provided includes buying cigarettes for Zubeidi, his neighbor, and giving him car rides in Jenin on various occasions since 2009. If convicted under the Order Regarding Security Provisions, al-Ra’ee could face five years in prison on the provision of shelter charge and up to life in prison for the weapons charge.

On July 7, the Israeli military released al-Ra’ee from the Jalameh detention facility on bail of 3,000 shekels (US$800). He had been directing a play, “The Caretaker,” which was scheduled to open on July 1 but has been indefinitely delayed, theater staff said.

Al-Ra’ee’s lawyer said that at his July 29 hearing before the Salem military court, she would petition the court to conduct a “trial within the trial” procedure to examine his alleged mistreatment, and to quash the charges against him.

The military court should thoroughly examine al-Ra’ee’s claims of coercive interrogation, and Israeli authorities should appropriately discipline or prosecute any officials responsible, Human Rights Watch said. In another case, an Israeli military court excluded from evidence a Palestinian child’s statement on the grounds that interrogators obtained it coercively.

The Freedom Theater’s artistic manager, Gary English, a US citizen, told Human Rights Watch that he recently briefed US State Department officials about the cases against al-Ra’ee and Zubeidi. Foreign donors to Israel’s military should use their leverage to press for an end to abuses, Human Rights Watch said.

“The Israeli military appears determined to convict Nabil al-Ra’ee of something, even if it means bringing dubious charges and violating his basic rights,” Stork said. “This case has gone on far too long for the US, which claims to support the rule of law in the West Bank, to remain silent.”

Jenin’s theatrical oasis

Armed Palestinian leader swaps weapons for words in West Bank youth project.

By Mona Ibellini, Artsworld, Al Jazeera

June 06 2009

Zakaria Zubeidi has featured near the top of Israel’s most wanted list for many years.

But the head of the Jenin branch of the al Aqsa Martyr’s Brigade now believes that children’s theatre is as important a method for achieving Palestinian statehood as armed conflict.

“One of my first poignant memories in life was waking up in a hospital with a bullet wound when I was thirteen and a half,” Zubeidi says. “At 14 I was imprisoned.”

“With its invasions, tanks, and explosives, the occupation destroyed our childhood.”

Having felt his own youth was taken from him Zubeidi is investing his efforts in the Freedom Theatre which is giving that childhood back, by allowing the current Palestinian youth to develop a different narrative.

One of the most popular armed leaders in the Palestinian intifada he has now laid down his weapons.

Sited in the Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank the Freedom Theatre aims to provide “a safe space in which children are free to express themselves and in which they can develop the skills, self-knowledge and confidence which would empower them to challenge present realities.”

In a community that is often forced to live in fear, isolated from the rest of the world and subject to regular raids by the Israeli army the theatre provides a social oasis in the Jenin camp.

When Al Jazeera vists Zubeidi is welcoming home a former political prisoner.

Incarceration is a rite of passage for young men in Palestinian refugee communities and many of Zubeidi’s childhood friends are now dead. Consequently he is determined today’s young Palestinians have better prospects.

“Instead of playing on the streets like I used to,” he says. “The kids of the Jenin camp now have a place to go.”

“The Freedom Theatre is an umbrella for everyone. I’m the head of the Al Aqsa Martyr Brigades, but when I walk in that gate, I become Zakaria Zubeidi, a member of the Freedom Theatre.”

A theatre was first established in Jenin by Arna Mer Khamis, an Israeli woman who taught Zubeidi and his friends acting skills at his parents house.

But as the war dragged on the teenagers became soldiers and the theatre was forgotten.

The new theatre is now run by Kamis’ son Juliano. Zubeidi for security reasons is not officially on the staff but is very much a strong presence.

“I am very happy that Zakaria went in this way, and decided to put down the weapons, and joined the Freedom Theatre,” Jualiano Khamis says.

Mixed environment
“It’s not safe from a fundraising point of view, you know, some people still consider Zakaria a terrorist. So he supports us from the top of that mountain, protecting us, giving us the legitimacy to be here.”

Khamis says that because the camp is home to Jews, Muslims, Christians, Americans and is among the most attacked camps in Palestine, the theatre is a true phenomenon.

“Art cannot free you from your chains,” he says. “But art can generate and mobilise discourse of freedom. Art can create debate, art can expose,”

In a community often segregated by gender the theatre also provides a rare occasion for boys and girls to gather and act and play together.

“Palestinian girls are essentially oppressed by their male relatives, an atmosphere of fear exists between them,” Nadine, one of the theatre’s regular performers, says.

“So in my sketch I am trying to get the message across that no matter what the Palestinian girl does, she will be monitored.”

Many of the performances are improvised and raw but in a society where acting has often been considered taboo the theatre provides a rare chance to leave everyday problems at the stage door.

“I love being in the theatre, because it gives me a stage to express my thoughts and feelings,” Nadine says.

Movement Therapist, Petra Barghouti, works with the performers and says that although acting is frowned upon in much of Palestinian society, talking about psychological problems is traditionally even more looked down upon.

“In this culture if you have any kind of psychological problem you hide it, because it’s a shame,” she says. “But now they ask for help, which is wonderful, because it’s the first step to a healthy environment or healthy community.”

The interminable threat of violence and repression has often meant that life as a child in the Palestinian territories has involved growing up a lot faster than elsewhere in the world.

The Freedom Theatre is at least giving some youngsters the opportunity to act their age for a while longer.

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