Israeli Forces Arrest Chairman of Jenin's Freedom Theatre

Palestinian culture minister condemns arrest of Bilal al-Saadi at the Za’atara checkpoint: 'Part of the policy of abuse and oppression that the occupation employs on a daily basis'

Sheren Falah Saab
Sheren Falah Saab
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The entrance of the Freedom Theatre in the Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank, in 2014.
The entrance of the Freedom Theatre in the Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank, in 2014.Credit: Ana Anonim / Wikimedia Commons
Sheren Falah Saab
Sheren Falah Saab

The chairman of the board of the Freedom Theatre in Jenin, was arrested on Sunday by Israeli forces while crossing through a military checkpoint in the West Bank, the Palestinian Wafa news agency reported.

The Israeli security establishment confirmed that Bilal al-Saadi was in fact arrested, "but we cannot elaborate on additional details at this time."

According to a statement issued by the theater's spokespeople, al-Saadi had driven through the Za’atara military checkpoint between Ramallah and Nablus along with the theater's producer, Mustafa Sheta. "They were both returning from a meeting with the culture minister in Ramallah. The Freedom Theatre is in contact with human rights groups who have been alerted of the situation. We are seeking further information and advice and will then inform people how they can campaign for Bilal’s release.”

Bilal’s brother, Yasser al-Saadi, confirmed these details in a conversation with the Palestinian newspaper Al Quds. After Israeli forces checked Bilal's ID at the checkpoint, he said, "they arrested him and took him away.”

Palestinian Culture Minister Atef Abu Saif issued a statement condemning al-Saadi’s arrest. “This arrest is part of the policy of abuse and oppression that the occupation employs on a daily basis against the sons and daughters of our people. It engages in all forms of oppression and restrictions on Palestinian cultural institutions.”

He also said that al-Saadi helped found the Freedom Theatre and is one of its key figures. “He and his comrades have not stopped searching for the future under the difficult conditions in the refugee camp, and they have contributed to the strengthening of the national narrative and the exposure of the crimes of the occupation.”

Al-Saadi, 48, a resident of the Jenin refugee camp, has served as an adviser on the theater’s board of directors since its inception. He is also a member of the Palestinian Performing Arts Network, which promotes collaborations in the fields of dance, music and theater. A post on the theater’s Facebook page says that he “believes in the role of art and culture in advancing the Palestinian national struggle against the Israeli occupation. For him, theater has an important message of making one's voice heard around the world against the injustice of the Palestinian situation.” In 2011, al-Saadi was arrested by the IDF following the assassination of the Arab-Jewish actor Juliano Mer-Khamis, who was a founding partner of the theater and its artistic director.

The Freedom Theatre was founded in 1990 by Arna Mer-Khamis, Juliano’s mother. In 2002, at the height of the second intifada, the theater was shut down and demolished by the IDF. In 2006, it was reopened by Juliano Mer-Khamis, together with former militant Zakaria Zubeidi. The theater was established to teach Palestinian children and teens acting and to help them express themselves through art. Juliano Mer-Khamis also established an international council to support the theater’s activity, boasting prominent members such the philosopher Judith Butler and writer Elias Khoury. Before Mer-Khamis' murder, the theater had been vandalized by Islamists repeatedly, and there had been two attempts to torch it; his shooting remains unsolved.

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