Israel is apparently using the investigation into the assassination of Palestinian artist Julian Mer-Khemis, which has dragged on for months, as a pretext to hamper the operation of the Freedom Theater where he taught and performed.
Since the slaying of Mer-Khemis, the theater in Jenin’s refugee camp has been subject to repeated Israeli raids, allegedly to investigate the artist’s murder. After many arrests and interrogations, the joint Palestinian Authority-Israeli investigation has yielded little results.
Repeated Israeli raids on the theatre have kept students away. For many it was like a second home. In time, they found an alternative space, al-Qasbah theater, where they could resume their rehearsals for the play Waiting for Godot.
George Ibrahim, the director of Al-Qasbah and Mer-Khemis’ friend, laments the transformations taking place at the Freedom Theater and rejects calls to close it down. However, Ibrahim does not blame Israeli forces for the theater’s closure and the exodus of actors. He believes Palestinians are to blame because he says they were responsible for Juliano’s death and scared away foreign donors who previously supported the theater.Ibrahim adds that the rebellious Freedom Theatre alienated the people of Jenin by challenging their traditions and customs. Ibrahim’s position ignores Israeli interests in shutting the theater down. In an interview given months before his assassination, Mer-Khamis said that his theater did face opposition partly because Palestinian society was constrained by the dictatorship of tradition. But he added that Israeli intelligence were concerned that the theater was giving rise to a new Palestinian generation that is both courageous and ready to stand up to the occupation.
Journalist Mouhanad Abdel-Hamid and director of the Kamanjati Center Eyad Staytiyeh, agree that Israeli authorities have no interest in seeing Palestinians open up to the world of art and culture. They prefer the stereotypical image of Palestinians as a backward people. Abdel-Hamid attributes the sad state of affairs at the Freedom Theater to Palestinian society’s conservative nature. Staytiyeh, on the other hand, sees that Israeli arrests and raids have taken a toll on the theater’s employees and actors, which may very well lead to its closure.
This article is translated from the Arabic Edition.