Michael Riordon

the view from where I live

45. International theatre artists protest attacks on the Freedom Theatre

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More than 260 artists and supporters of the arts have signed a public letter to Israeli authorities decrying the Israeli military’s attacks on The Freedom Theatre in Jenin, a northern city in the West Bank, Palestine.  The signatories include dozens of prominent playwrights, actors, directors, filmmakers, producers and theatre professors from the U.S., New Zealand, Israel, England and other countries.

The statement was hand-delivered today to the Israeli Mission in New York and the Israeli Embassy in Washington, D.C.

The U.S. artists include Pulitzer prize-winning playwrights Edward Albee and Tony Kushner; actors Susan Sarandon, Olympia Dukakis, Alec Baldwin, Mandy Patinkin, Kathleen Chalfant and Mercedes Ruehl; prominent theatre educators such as James Bundy of the Yale Drama School, and Catherine Coray and Mark Wing-Davey of the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University.

Their statement called the Theatre “a beacon for artistic expression, offering youth in Jenin a safe space in which to express themselves, and to explore their creativity and emotions.”

The signatories urged the Israeli military authorities to release those arrested or make their charges public and to pay compensation for the buildings they damaged.

The protest follows an Israeli army attack on the Jenin-based theatre at 3:30 a.m. on July 27.  Soldiers hurled rocks at the building, knocking out many of the windows.  The theatre’s facilities manager was arrested, along with the president of the theatre’s Board, whose home was also damaged.

On August 5, Israeli forces blindfolded and arrested a 20-year old acting student, part of The Freedom Theatre’s young acting troupe, at a checkpoint near Jenin.

“We have been very concerned about the health and safety of our colleagues since their arrests,” said Constancia Dinky Romilly, president of Friends of the Jenin Freedom Theatre, a New York-based support group.

“Our supporters,” Romilly continued, “have been calling the authorities in Jenin and in Washington, but no one has given us any information about their condition or the charges facing them, if there are any.  This is a truly shocking attack on a cultural institution in Palestine and one more horrific example of what goes on in a country under occupation.”

The full statement follows. 

We the undersigned, members and supporters of the arts community, deplore the recent attacks in Jenin on The Freedom Theatre, its people and property. The Freedom Theatre is a beacon for artistic expression, offering youth in Jenin a safe space in which to express themselves, and to explore their creativity and emotions. The Theatre has the following admirable goals:

– To raise the quality of performing arts and cinema in the area.
– To offer a space in which children and youth can act, create and express themselves freely, imagining new realities and challenging existing political, social and cultural barriers.

– To empower the young generation to use the arts to promote positive change in their community.

– To break the cultural isolation that separates Jenin from the wider Palestinian and global communities.

To our dismay, the Israeli military attacked The Freedom Theatre in the Jenin Refugee Camp at 3:30 a.m. on July 27, 2011, hurling rocks at its building and damaging windows.  During this raid, they arrested Adnan Naghnaghiye, the Theatre’s facilities manager, and then went to the home of Bilal Saadi, the President of the Theatre’s Board in Jenin, and arrested him after damaging his home.  Charges against them have not been made public.

On August 6, 2011, while at a checkpoint crossing with members of the Theatre’s acting troupe, soldiers of the Israeli military arrested, handcuffed and blindfolded Rami Awni Hwayel, a 20-year old third-year acting student.

Calls to the military authorities to get information about all three have yielded no information.

We call on the Israeli government either to make public any charges against the three Freedom Theatre personnel or release them immediately.  In addition, we insist that the Israeli military pay damages for the destruction to the Theatre and to Mr. Saadi’s home.

We call on all supporters of the arts everywhere, including our fellow artists and supporters of the arts in Israel, to support The Freedom Theatre as an inspiring source of cultural understanding and artistic hope and to demand that attacks against it cease.

Friends of the Jenin Freedom Theatre

Author: Michael Riordon

Canadian writer and documentary-maker Michael Riordon writes/ directs/produces books and articles, audio, video and film documentaries, plays for radio and stage. A primary goal of his work is to recover voices and stories of people who have been silenced or marginalized, written out of the official version: First Nations (aboriginal) youth, Mozambican farmers, inmates in Canadian prisons, traditional healers in Fiji, queer folk across Canada, Guatemalan labour activists. Michael also leads courses, workshops and seminars for community organizations, trade unions, schools, colleges and universities.

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