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Jenin's Freedom Theater raided by the Israeli army

The Freedom Theatre, Jenin refugee camp Photo by: Keren Manor/Activestills.org

The Freedom Theatre, Jenin refugee camp (photo: Keren Manor/Activestills.org)

Overnight, roughly 50 Israeli Special Forces troops raided the Jenin Freedom Theatre in the Jenin Refugee Camp in the Northern West Bank according to members of the theater. The Freedom Theater is often associated with slain Palestinian-Jewish actor Juliano Mer Khamis and his vision of cultural resistance to Israeli occupation. Mer Khamis was shot by unknown gunman outside of the theatre last spring. According to the press release of the Freedom Theater regarding the raid,

Ahmad Nasser Matahen, a night guard and technician student at the theatre woke up by heavy blocks of stone being hurled at the entrance of the theatre. As he opened the door he found masked and heavily armed Israeli Special Forces around the theatre. Ahmed says that the army threw heavy blocks of stone at the theatre, “they told me to open the door to the theatre.  They told me to raise my hands and forced me to take my pants down. I thought my time had come, that they would kill me. My brother that was with me was handcuffed.

The location manager of The Freedom Theatre, Adnan Naghnaghiye was arrested and taken away to an unknown location together with Bilal Saadi, a member of the board of The Freedom Theatre. When the general manager of the theatre Jacob Gough from UK and the co-founder of the theatre Jonatan Stanczak from Sweden arrived to the scene they were forced to squat next to a family with four small children surrounded by about 50 heavily armed Israeli soldiers.

Jonatan Stanczak, in recounting the attack this morning, told the press that, “Whenever we tried to tell them that they are attacking a cultural venue and arresting members of the theatre we were told to shut up and they threatened to kick us, I tried to contact the civil administration of the army to clarify the matter but the person in charge hung up on me.”

The Israeli army has yet to release a comment confirming what happened this morning in Jenin. Emily Smith, an American photographer working with the Freedom Theater, told +972 that the Israeli civil administration and army have refused attempts by members of the Freedom Theater to get information about the whereabouts of the arrested and reasons for the raid.

UPDATE 11:30am: Ma’an News Agency is reporting that the Israeli military confirmed this morning that two people were arrested in Jenin but deny that the theater was raided by soldiers.

UPDATE 7:00PM: The IDF spokesman is maintaining that the army did not raid or enter the theater this morning despite the accounts by members of the Freedom Theater. The spokesman has not been clear about where exactly the Palestinians were arrested, only saying they there were taken in “near the Jenin theater.” Photos have emerged of the damaged Freedom Theater showing stones which members of the theater claim were used by soldiers to attack the building.

The Jenin Freedom Theater after alleged Israeli army attack. Photo by Emily Smith

The Jenin Freedom Theater after alleged Israeli army attack. (photo: Emily Smith)

According to Jonatan Stanczak, Israeli soldiers did not physically enter the theater but they attacked it with stones and sealed off the area around the theater while demanding that all inside come out. In the process of the operation, soldiers surrounded all entrances and arrested two people, both were inside the theater when soldiers arrived, Stanczak told +972 from Jenin this evening. “We have researched the definition of a raid, and while troops did not enter inside the theater, we believe what they did should be defined as a raid,” Stanczak noted.

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    1. narada

      Very sorry to hear this indeed, it seems perverse in the extreme to oppress such a wholesome project and the lack of press coverage in Europe is worsened by the Norway massacre. I hope the wherabouts of the manager and trustee are now known and that they are released soon. I will make efforts to share the news

      Reply to Comment
    2. Wendy

      What crap! Freedom of expression. Tell Those stupid soldiers to go Bully someone else!

      Reply to Comment
    3. It is sad that a people who went through genocide now become those who foster such behavior. The spirits are about to intervene. Aho

      Reply to Comment
    4. Ben Israel

      Dr Jerry Stubben-
      I have never understood sentiments like the one you expressed here. Why are Jews supposed to not defend themselves, by force if necessary, simply because of all the persecution we have suffered. I have never, for example, anyone criticize the blacks of South Africa for the high level of violence they perpetrate using the argument “how can people who suffered so much under apartheid be violent themselves?”.

      Reply to Comment
    5. sara

      @ Ben….defending yourselves from a cultural center? Get real. I think it is an apt analogy…

      Reply to Comment
    6. Ariella

      I’m shocked that the Israeli army finds it necessary to invade a cultural institution.
      This theatre does an amazing job of teaching children non-violent resistance, which is crucial for their survival and provides a beautiful alternative to other ways of resistance. The theatre is an emotional shelter for them and gives them hope.
      I don’t understand the army’s motivation behind attacking it.

      Reply to Comment
    7. Angel

      Mr. Ben Israel – Dr Jerry Stuben is not denying Israel and Israelis the right to defend themselves. Never has it been said by any but radicals that Israel should be denied the right of self-defense available to all people and all nations. But what part of this raid was about self-defense? Were they afraid this theatre would “act” them into submission, or more just afraid that this theatre would popularly dramatize the truth of the oppression, segregation, and discrimination practiced by Israel?

      Reply to Comment
    8. Holden

      @ Ben Israel
      2 things are pretty obvious to me here. First of all, half the story is missing. There must be some kind of important reason why a platoon or more of elite soldiers made a sudden raid on the theatre. Most probably because there was a tip that it was being used as a base or hideout for armed action against Israel/ Jews whatever. Didn’t the soldiers ask for anyone specifically?

      Reason #2 is that the writer and I’m sure this publication have a real problem with the idea that Israel continues to exist.For them, every day is naqba day.

      Like most Jews and Israelis, I’d just like to see an end to the animosities and the occupation, but it really is up to the Arab leaders to decide to come to the table to help draw up lines and negotiate many things. They’ve had many offers to do so, but don’t seem to want to end the state of conflict just yet.

      Reply to Comment
    9. Rob

      Ben Israel,

      You speak of the black South Africans and you never criticizes their violence, yet you defend Israel?? You made the wrong reference, the apartheid of South Africa and Palestine are the same. South Africans who fought apartheid support Palestinians not Israel. Read a little bit of history before you start talking about things you do not know. You commend South Africans for fighting yet probably look at Palestinians as terrorists. Israel is an occupying force that denies basic rights to an occupied people in Palestine. Look it up.

      Reply to Comment
    10. Holden

      PS to my note above. I see in Ma’an News that some specific people were taken in for questioning. Of course it isn’t yet clear whether they were actually arrested, or just taken in for witness statements.

      Now my guess is that the Israeli army was perhaps acting concerning Juliano Mer Khamis’s murder. if so, that would be in everybody’s interest, Jew or Arab, I’m sure, except for those who didn’t want to see any place where the 2 cultures could be bridged.

      Reply to Comment
    11. Holden

      @Rob. No the South African apartheid bears no similarity to the Arab/Israeli dispute for 2 basic reasons.

      1) Black Africans never sought or attempted the genocide/eradication of all whites in South Africa or tried to deny their right to exist.

      2) The dispute between the Israelis and Arabs is not about race. It’s about land and religious & cultural differences. Arabs are 20% of the population of Israel and have full rights there. Nearly no Jews live in Arab countries any more, and Jews have no rights to live in or visit most Arab countries.

      Reply to Comment
    12. Dylan

      Ben Israel, Holden, er…sorry ’bout the name mixup.

      Reply to Comment
    13. Danny

      @Ben Israel:
      How typical of you to whip out the “right to defend ourselves” card, when it is obvious that it is Israel who is the aggressor and occupier in this saga. Who and what is Israel defending itself against? Is it defending its occupation against the sinister anti-occupation peace camp that uses non-violent means to bring an end to the occupation? If so, then it has NO right to defend itself! It is high time the “security” arguments for maintaining the occupation be tossed into the trash heap because it is crystal clear it is nothing more than excuse to continue to entrench the occupation.
      And another thing: How cynical of you to compare Israel to the black South Africans when in fact it should be compared to the white Apartheid regime that used to jail black dissidents in much the same way Israel does so today. By the way, you must be aware that once upon a time, Israel and Apartheid South Africa were very close allies, with Israel supplying weapons and training to South Africa’s military and police forces (indirectly helping them to maintain the apartheid regime). But that was a long time ago…

      Reply to Comment
    14. Holden

      @Danny “… Who and what is Israel defending itself against?…”

      Of course, Danny, you are being disingenuous with this kind of loaded question.

      Call it whatever you want, but there’s a war on.
      The uncomfortable fact is that until a full peace has been fully effected between the people who live in Samaria/Judea/Gaza and Israel, then you can expect the Israeli military and border police to take whatever actions, precautionary or otherwise that they feel are required to defend the security of their state, including Jewish population areas outside the “Green line.”

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    15. Piotr Berman

      “There must be some kind of important reason why a platoon or more of elite soldiers made a sudden raid on the theatre. Most probably because there was a tip that it was being used as a base or hideout for armed action against Israel/ Jews whatever.”

      The reasoning is: my state would not commit a nonsensical action, so the action had to have some sense. It may appear like a vandalism just for the joy of it, followed by a random arrest to cover the hooliganism, but SURELY there has to be some deep meaning.

      However, hooliganism can be a part of a deep strategy, or at least of a meticulously conceived strategy. Basically, calibrating the amount and intensity of random shit directed at Palestinians so they would become submissive, despondents, and, ideally, just go away on their own volition, while staying short of obvious “crimes against humanity”.

      Reply to Comment
    16. Danny

      Ben Israel

      I think you have turned the terms of the analogy with South Africa upside down somewhat. Israel=apartheid oppressor, Palestinians=black South African struggling for freedom. Don’t take my word for it – ask Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu – apparently they know apartheid and oppression when they see it.

      Reply to Comment
    17. Ben Israel

      You have all missed my point about South Africa. I only mentioned it because people say all the time”how can Jews be violent after they have suffered so much”. I simply brought another example in which other people suffered…i.e. the blacks of South Africa, and, unfortunately there is a high level of violence carried out by blacks there, yet NO ONE ever says “how can South African blacks carry out violence considering how they suffered so much in the past”. That is all.
      Jews are being judged by a different standard than everyone else.

      Reply to Comment
    18. Alice

      Ben Israel,
      I expect that the double standard that you perceive between the Jews and other historically oppressed groups stems at least in part from the fact that one of the Zionists’ main claims to the land of Israel, aside from obvious religious ties, is that their people have been oppressed for centuries in foreign lands and have no sovereign country of their own. It seems that, having encountered so much prejudice in the past as to have persecution ingrained in their cultural memory, the Jews would be averse to enacting similar means as those used against themselves to further their cause, however just it may be in their eyes. Also, I have to agree with other commenters here in that there doesn’t seem to be anything in this article that leads me to believe that the Israelis (if the reports are true and it was in fact the IDF perpetrating the attacks) were acting in self-defense, although I do not pretend to know that that is the case. In any case, it would be absurd to declare that all of the actions of the IDF are purely taken as a means of defense of Israel, so I find the wording of your original comment, “Why are Jews supposed to not defend themselves, by force if necessary, simply because of all the persecution we have suffered” misleading.

      Reply to Comment
    19. Deïr Yassin

      A very interessting interview with Juliano Mer-Khamis where he also talks about The Freedom Theater, and maybe gives a reason for the raid.
      “I think we are facing the end of the destruction of the Palestinian people by the Israeli forces. We are in a situation today when not only political and economical infrastructure was destryed. Israel is destroying the neurological system of the socity which is culture, identity, communication”

      And maybe the IDF heard the news of “Canaan”, a troup from the Freedom Theater touring France with their new “Sho kman” for three weeks ending July 15th and the huge success it was everywhere they went.

      Reply to Comment
    20. MONSHERI

      I met juliano mer khamis personally in NYC. He truly is a lose to a world that can be a better place. What his mother began he carried through… I hope the people of Jenin! Especially the people of the Freedom Theatre and supporters stay strong in his memory and fight violence with art! BRAVO Deir Yassin for your comment! I hope “Canaan” comes to NYC..if it hasn’t already…

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    21. Stan Squirers

      I am from vancouver,canada and i heard that the Freedom Theatre has been raided again by israeli troops.These Nazi like raids by israeli troops should be condemned by artists from everywhere in the world.Facism needs to be stopped where ever it occures.Progressive people and unions needs to publicly condemn this atrocity.Victory to the people of Jenin in their heroic fight against the facist israeli gov.

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    22. Miriam

      Now, Dec 22nd I’ve learned that AGAIN the IOF has raided the Freedom theater in the middle of the night, arrested seized and brutalized several members of the theater staff.
      Purpose? so demoralize the children and surrounding community that there might be a resumption of insurrection ….allowing further destruction and violence by these “soldiers”. Cowards is what they are…that their “mission” is to attempt to demoralize AGAIN….the people of Jenin .. the bulldozing of structures in 2002, the killing of ?how many in the camps? Peres slipped and initially called it a “Massacre”….but he was silenced and UN officials blocked from entering.
      Then Mer Khamis returned to rebuild the Freedom theater…effective and powerful tool to strengthen the sense of personal power of the children …to give them HOPE..for their future and for the future of Palestine…. Raided again in July….with 50 stormtroopers…damage trauma and fear….detaining lead actors ….and now, again, a nighttime raid…..
      Cant we all discern what these out of control violent and hateful military invasion is intended to do….BECAUSE they are COWARDS that is why they pick on artists and children. This can ONLY spell disaster for their own lives and the ‘communities’ they live in after military duty. The uptick in elder abuse, domestic disturbance and drug abuse is symptomatic of their dysfunctional and deterorating fascist state.
      In the end Justice will prevail.

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