Israel uses Jenin murder probe as pretext to arrest, harass Freedom Theatre staff

18 June 2012

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Since the murder of Juliano Mer-Khamis, the Israeli army continues to harass and arrest members and staff of the Freedom Theatre.

(Wagdi Eshtayah / APA images)

Micaela Miranda’s two-year-old daughter is having nightmares, two weeks after her father was taken away in the middle of the night by the Israeli army.

“She saw her father being taken away,” Miranda said. “It’s very difficult. This is the second time that he was taken.”

Miranda’s husband, Nabil al-Raee, is the artistic director of the renowned Freedom Theatre in the Jenin refugee camp in the northern West Bank. A group of armed Israeli soldiers arrested him at the family’s home in the early morning hours of 6 June.

Currently held in Jalameh prison in northern Israel, al-Raee has, to date, been denied access to a lawyer and from contacting his family. According to Miranda, his arrest and detention seem to be related to the investigation into the 2011 murder of Juliano Mer-Khamis, a founder of the Freedom Theatre.

“For us, this is not acceptable because we have been in interrogation before. We went by our own feet and we talked with them. They don’t have anything else so they just keep him in prison,” Miranda said.

“I see it as harassment. I don’t know why the Israeli authorities are doing this. Do they have the wrong information from the Palestinian Authority? Or are they doing this for several reasons: to harass the theater, to shut down the theater, or to see what is the reaction of other people while Nabil is under arrest?” she said.

Meant to intimidate

Al-Raee is the latest in a string of people affiliated with the Freedom Theatre — including a young lead actor and a member of the theater’s board of directors — who have been arrested over the past year.

The Israeli army has also broken theater windows and equipment and shot live ammunition during night raids conducted in the camp, and intimidated and ransacked homes of theater employees.

Mer-Khamis, a well-known actor and director, was an Israeli citizen born to a Palestinian father and Jewish Israeli mother. He was shot and killed in front of the theater in April 2011. The Israeli authorities continue to say that the arrests were related to the probe into his murder.

But most people close to the theater aren’t convinced.

“These kinds of abductions and attacks on the Freedom Theatre physically have happened too many times now, which leads us to believe that maybe this is not conducted entirely, or even at all, as part of an investigation surrounding Juliano’s murder,” explained Jonatan Stanczak, the theater’s managing director. “It may actually be a way for the Israeli army to harass and break the Freedom Theatre.”

Stanczak said that since Freedom Theatre staff members have cooperated with the Israeli authorities in their investigation into Mer-Khamis’s death, arresting people in the middle of the night is an unnecessary measure.

“We are calling for people of conscience around the world to talk to their local Israeli representative in order to get an explanation of what motivates a large scale military operation in order to abduct the artistic director of the Freedom Theatre, and why this could not have been done through a simple phone call?” he said.

The Jenin refugee camp is a 0.42-square kilometer area in the north of the occupied West Bank that is home to approximately 16,000 registered Palestinian refugees, more than half of whom are under the age of 24.

Today, the Palestinian Authority has jurisdiction over the camp, and it began a criminal investigation into Mer-Khamis’ death immediately after he was killed. The Israelis also began their own investigation shortly thereafter, run jointly by the Israeli army, police and the Shabak security agency, also known as the Shin Bet (according to its Hebrew acronym).

To date, no one has been charged.

International pressure building

On 13 June, 50 European parliamentarians sent a letter to Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, demanding al-Raee’s release. The letter was published on the Freedom Theatre’s website.

“We consider that it is a duty of the international community and much more of the European Union, to demand from the leaders of the State of Israel to respect international law and cease maintaining the repressive and brutal wave of detentions, contrary to the provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention,” the letter stated.

“Furthermore, the EU should support the cultural work done that helps bring about a climate of understanding. Given the urgency of the situation, we would appreciate your response to safeguard and protect the life of Nabil al-Raee,” it added.

Petitions demanding that al-Raee be released from prison are also circulating across Europe and North America, and the Freedom Theatre has encouraged individuals to appeal directly to Israeli politicians and to the Israeli army’s District Coordination Office.

Not losing hope

The next hearing into Nabil al-Raee’s arrest and detention is scheduled for 19 June at Israel’s Salem Detention Center, near Jenin. According to Micaela Miranda, the Palestinian Authority should also be held responsible for her husband’s fate.

“There is cooperation between the PA and the Israelis. We don’t even know if this arrest has its origin in wrong information from the PA because they’re supposed to be giving the Israelis information from inside [about] what is going on [in Jenin],” Miranda told The Electronic Intifada, adding that the Israeli army enters Jenin at least three times each week to make arrests.

“[When] we see there is no PA [police] in the street, we know they’re all inside and the [Israeli] army’s coming. For us, it’s clear that the PA is not here to protect the Palestinians.”

Despite this reality, Miranda said she continues to hope that her husband will soon be released.

“The pressure we can make is very small because the Israeli system and Israeli law is built in a very smart way, and so we feel helpless. We just have to accept it like this and wait and see how it goes,” she said. “We are continuing and hoping for Nabil to come home.”

Jillian Kestler-D’Amours is a reporter and documentary filmmaker based in Jerusalem. More of her work can be found at http:jkdamours.com.