Sunday, July 08, 2012

Theatre director on humger strike
NABIL AL-RAEE in working environment

JENIN Freedom Theatre's artistic director Nabil Al-Raee, held prisoner by the Israeli occupation forces, has begun a hunger strike to draw more attention to his plight, and pressure for his release.

"I don't understand why I am here, [in detention]. There is no reason for them to keep me here." Nabil said on Thursday, announcing his intention to start the strike.

The Palestinian director was taken from his home by armed troops at 3 am on June 6. For two weeks he was not allowed to communicate with his lawyer or have any contact with his family. Nor were any charges made against him.

The Freedom Theatre's co-founder Juliano Mer Khamis was shot dead outside the theatre in April last year. No one has been brought to justice for the murder, and theatre staff had voiced concern that not enough was being done to investigate it.

At first the Israeli authorities put out the story that they suspected Nabil al-Raee was witholding information that could lead to the identification of Juliano Mer Khamis’ murderer. But Nabil's colleagues refused to accept this. Managing director Jonathan Stanczak said the Israeli authorities were waging an intimidation campaign to deter people from joining.

Three weeks before Nabil was arrested the Israeli security service Shabak (also known as Shin Bet) had called nearly half the theatre staff into interrogation at an Israeli army base near Jenin. ,Everyone had complied, including Nabil and his wife Micaela.

"We were very clear that we want to participate and contribute to any investigation regarding the murder of Juliano, but we strongly oppose the means and methods they used to conduct these interrogations," Stanczak said. During the interrogations staff were not just asked questions relating to the murder but about the activities of the Freedom Theatre, and things happening in the Jenin refugee camp.

Later, n a court hearing after Nabil's arrest, the Israeli prosecutors claimed that Nabil was involved in “terror activities”. Then in a recent court hearing the military judge declared that no evidence of any illegal activity had come up during the almost one month of interrogations and that Nabil would be released.

However the prosecution was given a 48 hour period to appeal, and last week it put forward a third accusation against Nabil. This time he is accused of possessing guns, and of helping a wanted person (Zakaria Zubeidi) as well as three other wanted but unnamed persons. The help Nabil is accused of rendering Zakaria – who years ago was granted amnesty by the Israeli authorities – is that he has driven him in his car and given him food and cigarettes. In response to these accusations Nabil declared that he was starting a hunger strike.

Micaela Miranda, Nabil’s wife, who attended the court hearing on Thursday, said “This farce started with them accusing Nabil of being involved somehow in the murder of Juliano, then they accused him of terror activities and now it’s something else. Every court hearing we go to there’s another accusation, it’s ridiculous and it’s obvious that they are trying to find a justification for having kept Nabil incarcerated for so long.”

Founded on a vision by Juliano Mewr Khamis mother, Arna, of creating a safe haven for Palestinian children to find respite and develop artistic skills, the Freedom Theatre, situated in Jenin refugee camp, has more than once been trashed and its workers harassed, by Israeli occupation troops.

At the same time its activities drew resentment from conservative and oppressive elements within Palestinian society, and during tours abroad to raise support, Juliano Mer Khamis sometimes ran into misguided opposition from self-claimed supporters of the Palestinians who thought he was "normalising" the occupation by practising cultural "collaboration".

Juliano Mer-Khamis made clear that, on the contrary, his theatre's work was not intended as an "alternative" to resistance, taking the place of Palestinian struggle, but as a contribution to it. This work has ranged from raising youngsters' morale, self-confidence and ability to express their view, to providing practical skills training with cameras abd video. The Freedom Theatre has attracted enthusiastic audiences and participation from children, and praise from seasoned militants.

So naturally it has also atracted enemies.

Jonathan Stanczak believes the accusations against Nabil al-Raee are part of the Israeli occupying force’s attempt to destroy The Freedom Theatre.

“Maybe they thought we would break down when Juliano Mer Khamis was assassinated, but we kept on and now they are trying to suffocate us slowly but surely by harassing our employees, members and supporters with various accusations, one more absurd than the other. This systematic harassment has gone on for a year now, it’s enough!”

An international campaign has been launched with support from artists and intellectuals who admire the Freedom Theatre's work, and 56 members of the European Parliament recently signed a letter urging EU High Commissioner Catherine Ashton to take action. Petitions are also being circulated.

Online petition:

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