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Israeli forces arrest Chair of Freedom Theater in Jenin

The arrest is "an attack on cultural organizations and community in Palestine."

Jerusalem24 – Bilal Al-Sa’adi, Chair of the famed Freedom Theatre in Jenin refugee camp, was arrested yesterday afternoon by the Israeli military at the Za’atar checkpoint on his way back to Jenin.

According to the Freedom Theater, Al-Sa’adi, a member of the General Assembly of the Palestinian Performing Arts Network, “has played a key role as an adviser on the board of The Freedom Theatre since its establishment.”

Al-Sa’adi was detained by Israel without charge or trial in 2011.

“It felt premeditated”

General Manager of the Freedom Theatre Mustafa Sheta, who was traveling with Al-Sa’adi, tells Jerusalem24 that their car was “arbitrarily and violently stopped by the Israeli military” around 4pm. “It felt like it was premeditated.”

Sheta and Al-Sa’adi were on their way back to Jenin from Ramallah after holding a meeting with Palestinian Minister of Culture Atef Abu Saif.

Sheta says Israeli soldiers stopped them at the Zaatara checkpoint south of Nablus and asked them to step outside the vehicle and sit on the ground. The officer in charge gave Al-Sa’adi a phone, and Al-Sa’adi talked to the commander in charge of the Jenin area. Afterwards, Al-Sa’adi was arrested, put in the military jeep, and Sheta was asked to take Al-Sa’adi car back to Jenin.

Sheta was given no information on the reason for the arrest or where Al-Sa’adi was going to.

“On the same day around 8pm, an Israeli intelligence officer – unidentified – called Bilal’s family and asked them about any medication that Bilal was taking, and informed them he was arrested,” Sheta says.

When the family tried to confirm Al-Sa’adi’s whereabouts, they were only informed that he was in an unspecified detention center in the Nablus region.

Sheta says that the theatre is in contact with human rights groups who have been alerted of the situation, and that they are seeking further information and advice.

“An attack on cultural organizations”

Atef Abu Saif, Minister of Culture, released a statement on Facebook following the arrest: “This morning, we were discussing together the collaboration between the ministry and the theater. Bilal, who contributed to the establishment of the Freedom Theater and remains one of its pillars, has never stopped hoping and looking towards the future. Freedom for Bilal Al Sa’adi.”

Sheta tells Jerusalem24, “We consider it an attack on cultural organizations and community in Palestine, and a continuation of Israel’s continued acts of repression and intimidation against the civil movement – especially after the shutdown of the seven Palestinian civil society organizations.”

The Freedom Theatre said in a statement on Facebook that the arrest “highlights Israel’s strategy of targeting artists and those involved in cultural organisations with the aim to destroy Palestinian identity and end the use of culture as a form of resistance.”

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