In a letter to the Israeli security apparatus, issued on the 11th August, staff, friends and supporters of the Freedom Theatre in Jenin demanded humane treatment of the three Palestinians, currently detained, condemning the methods used by the Israeli forces into the investigations over the murder of Juliano Mer Khamis. The open letter followed the attack on the theatre by Israeli commandos just two weeks before. The actions taken by the Israeli forces during the raid have left the Freedom Theatre seriously damaged though ever more strengthened to continue its struggle for liberation through culture and non-violence.
Representatives of the international volunteers and staff, friends and supporters of the Freedom Theatre in Jenin addressed an open letter to the Israeli security apparatus on the 11th August.
The letter denounced the arrests made by the Israeli forces, in conjunction with the attack on the Freedom Theatre on July 27th, and the denial of basic humane treatment to the three detainees, the head technician Adnan Naghnaghiye, the chairperson Bilal Saadi, and acting student Rami Hwayel.
Signatories of the letter rejected the brutal methods applied by the Israeli forces in investigating the murder of Juliano Mer Khamis, and called for all efforts to find whoever is responsible for the his death. In addition, representatives and supporters of the Freedom Theatre urged that their friends, held captive by Israeli officials, receive immediate access to their lawyers and be promptly released.
Two weeks after the Israeli night attack on the Freedom Theatre, staff members, students and the community of Jenin refugee camp have been left traumatised and deeply harmed, yet more determined than ever to pursue their cultural struggle for freedom.
In recounting what they witnessed early morning on the 27th July, Jonatan Stanczak, theatre’s co-founder, and Jacob Gough, general manager, said they first realised what was happening after they had a phone call at 3.15am from Naghnaghiye saying that the Israeli soldiers were destroying windows and trying to enter the theatre.
When they arrived at the scene, Stanczak and Gough found masked and heavily armed Israeli soldiers surrounding the theatre. In the course of the operation, the troops demanded that all inside come out, arrested Naghnaghiye and Saadi and took several people for interrogation.
Stanczak explained that they were forbidden to speak and, whenever they tried to, they were told to shut up and threatened with beating. Stanczak and Gough were forced at gunpoint to squat next to a family with four children. Both used to these kinds of tactics employed by the Israeli army, they were rather concerned for the staff in the theatre and the family detained with them.
The Israeli civil administration and army refused to clarify to members of the Freedom Theater, to the lawyer or media outlets, the reasons for the night raid and the whereabouts of the arrestees, eyewitnesses claimed.
An army spokeswoman confirmed only that the two men were taken to an unknown location near the theatre but gave no other details. In the week after the attack took place, the army reportedly stated that Naghnaghiye and Saadi were being detained for ‘acting against the security of the region’.
Two weeks following the arrests during the Israeli attack on the Freedom Theater, Saadi was apparently allowed access to a lawyer, he stated that the treatment used by his interrogators was inhumane, Naghnaghiye still hasn’t had access to a lawyer.
Since after the army statement on the reason for the arrests was made, staff at the theatre learnt in court, though not publicly, the attack was supposedly part of an investigation into Juliano’s murder. However, Gough pointed out: ‘the actions the Israeli security services have taken coupled with their own statements in court that nothing has been gained from interrogation of members of the Freedom Theater lends more weight to the idea that this is actually a sustained attack on the activities of the theatre.’
As investigations are still underway and no one has yet been charged officially, the assassination of Mer-Khamis remains an unsolved case. For the time being, members and supporters of the Freedom Theate, and the community of Jenin refugee camp have to live with not knowing and hoping that they will know in the near future.
While the PA in coordination with Israeli security agents continue investigating into the case, Gough noted that they don’t seem to be looking at other leads apart from trying to get information from members of the theatre which has not helped in bringing any result so far: ‘…whether they are just incompetent or don’t want to truly pursue the investigation, this harassment of TFT and its staff will not lead to any new evidence.’
Focussing on the means of investigation adopted by the Israeli security services involving violence and terror, Stanczak stressed that to attack a cultural venue at night, with armed military appearing at night and scaring the population in a civilian area, is not the way to conduct an investigation into a case.
He insisted that members of the theatre have made it very clear they have nothing to conceal in connection with the murder of Mer-Khamis. Gough confirmed that everyone in the theatre has willingly given statements to the PA when requested, and stated they are willing to answer questions again.
Theatre officials were shocked by the manner in which the arrests were made, arguing that the Israeli forces could have sent summons to the arrestees and called them in for questioning, based on the routine security coordination with the Palestinian Authority.
Highlighting how the actions of the Israeli military have impacted on the Freedom Theatre, causing serious damage to the cultural establishment, Stanczak and Gough commented it is hard for the theatre staff and members coping these days, and what happened on the 27th July certainly didn’t help.
Furthermore, it has been very hard to continue the work since after Juliano was killed. Nevertheless, as Stanczak and Gough reiterated, the theatre has to continue its activities and for no reason should stop, honouring the work left by Juliano, and living in the legacy of his cultural fight for liberation from the Occupation and all forms of oppression.
Since the murder of Mer-Khamis, staff and members of the Freedom Theatre are faced with small and big challenges. Keeping steadfast and long standing when confronted by attacks on the theatre and its ideals seems to be the ongoing struggle.
Despite the hard conditions in which staff at the theatre are working, Gough concluded on an optimistic note: ‘The freedom theatre has a bigger future than we can see at the moment, it will be the lead in cultural resistance, in reconnecting Palestinian civil society and in producing professional work from Palestine.’
Special forces of the Israeli army raided the Freedom Theatre in Jenin refugee camp at approximately 03:30 a.m. on the 27th July. Some 50 masked soldiers threw stone blocks at windows, kidnapped several staff, and arrested two employees Adnan Naghnaghiye, location manager, and Bilal Saadi, member of the board, who are still being held at an unknown location. Soldiers also strip-searched night guard Ahmad Nasser Matahen, and handcuffed his brother.
Third-year acting student Rami Awni Hwayel, aged 20, was abducted by the Israeli army on the 6th August, at about 03:00 p.m. Rami was reportedly taken at the Shaveh Shomron military roadblock, located between Jenin and Nablus. He was
travelling from Ramallah to Jenin together with his fellow students.
Third member of The Freedom Theater, Rami is currently playing the main role in ‘Waiting for Godot’.
Jenin’s Freedom Theatre is internationally renowned for its work for peace and cultural development in the Jenin refugee camp, one of the hardest-hit places in the West Bank.
While it is considered an island of tranquillity in the refugee camp, the Freedom Theater has been under attack more than once.
It was damaged by two arson attacks in 2009, and it allegedly received several threats afterwards.
Earlier in April this year, the Freedom Theater was in the news when its General Director, Juliano Mer-Khamis, was murdered outside the theatre by unidentified assailants.
Those responsible for the killing of Mer-Khamis are still at large.
Juliano Mer-Khamis, actor, director, filmmaker and cultural activist, son of Arna Mer and Saliba Khamis, was one of the founders of The Freedom Theatre in Jenin Refugee Camp in 2006. All his life Juliano longed to fight against occupation using the arts as a model of social change.