Israelis arrest Palestinian theater’s artistic director at 3 a.m.

Israel/Palestine
Nabil
Nabil Al Raee

Updated, by Felice Gelman, who is on the Jenin Freedom Theatre’s board:

Last night, Israeli armed forces raided the home of Nabil Al Raee, the artistic director of The Freedom Theatre in Jenin, arresting him and terrifying his three year old daughter Mina. The Freedom Theatre manager, Jonatan Stanczak asked the soldiers why they were detaining Al Raee. They refused to say. “The only answer you get is a gun in your face,” Stanczak said. According to Al Arabiya, the Israelis confirmed the incident, saying that Raee, “was arrested overnight in Jenin on suspicion of illegal activity.”

This marks the 6th time in the last 12 months that Israeli forces have arrested a member of the staff or board of The Freedom Theatre. In addition, Palestinian security forces, vaunted for their “cooperation” and “coordination” with Israeli security, have twice arrested Freedom Theatre co-founder Zakaria Zubeidi. At this moment, Zubeidi has been held without charge in a Jericho prison for the last three weeks. And of course, the same Israeli and Palestinian security forces have failed to make any serious investigation of the unsolved murder of Juliano Mer Khamis, co-founder and director of The Freedom Theatre, in April 2011 despite the existence of substantial forensic evidence. Instead the Israelis have repeatedly summoned Palestinian staff members of The Freedom Theatre to the Salem army base for intimidating interrogations. Stanczak said, “Usually these interrogations start with ‘We know you are the one who killed Juliano, why did you kill him?’” 

What is The Freedom Theatre’s crime? The theater is well known for its advocacy of art as resistance against occupation. It has mounted critically acclaimed productions of classic and newly written plays that raise the dilemmas of the individual spirit faced with the soul crushing imposition of arbitrary power. These include Alice (an original musical production inspired by Alice in Wonderland), Animal Farm, While Waiting (a Palestinian adaptation of Waiting for Godot), Fragments of Palestine, What Next? Several of these productions have toured in Europe and the United States – although never without extreme difficulty in getting the necessary permissions for performers to travel. In the case of While Waiting, Israeli armed forces arrested the lead performer in the five person production and held him in jail throughout the final two months of rehearsal.

Israel has frequently obstructed the international performances of The Freedom Theatre by denying actors and technical staff access to consular offices to apply for visas or permission to cross the border into Jordan, the only access West Bank Palestinians have for international flights. Performances within the West Bank have been harassed by Israeli armed forces surrounding the performance space with troops. A French circus group, scheduled to perform at The Freedom Theatre, was denied entry into Palestine by Israel.

Press Release from The Freedom Theatre in Jenin Refugee Camp, northern West Bank June 6, 2012

At approximately 03:15 am the Israeli army entered the home of Nabil Al-Raee, the Artistic Director of The Freedom Theatre, and took him to an unknown location.

Nabil’s wife, Micaela Miranda explains what happened: “The dog started barking so I went outside and saw soldiers jumping over the gate and come into the yard of the house. They asked for my husband and I asked what for, that it’s my right to know and it’s my house. The soldiers replied that they were not going to tell me. They then took Nabil, brought him to an army jeep and drove off. We are very worried because we don’t know where they took him and why.”

Jonatan Stanczak, Managing Director of The Freedom Theatre: “I live on the floor above Nabil and when I heard what was happening I tried to go down to talk to the soldiers because I speak Hebrew. The house was surrounded by masked Israeli soldiers and three of them immediately pointed their weapons at me and pushed me back into the house.”

Attempts were immediately made to contact the District Coordination Office of the Israeli army but to no avail. More than half the employees of The Freedom Theatre were recently called to interrogations by the Israeli army, including Nabil Al-Raee. All came to the appointments as scheduled and answered to their best of their knowledge the given questions even though they were intimidated and even threatened.

Jonatan Stanczak continues: “I don’t understand why they do this after they know they could simply have made a phone call to Nabil and he would have come to answer any questions or concerns that they might have. Since this has happened so many times in the past, I can’t interpret it as anything else than an ongoing harassment of the employees of The Freedom Theatre and their families by the Israeli army.”

At this point it is unclear if any other members of The Freedom Theatre have been taken during the night. Several of them have not responded to phone calls.

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