Jerusalem24 – Israeli authorities issued on Thursday a six-month administrative detention order against Bilal Al-Saadi, Chairman of the Freedom Theater in Jenin.
Israel detains so-called administrative detainees without charge or trial, on the basis of secret evidence neither the detainees nor their lawyers are allowed to see. Administrative detention orders may be issued for up to six months at a time and are indefinitely renewable.
Al-Saadi was detained at the Zaatara checkpoint between Ramallah and Nablus on 11 September as he returned from a meeting with the Palestinian Minister of Culture, Atef Abu Saif.
Director General of the Theater Mustafa Sheta, who was with Al-Saadi when he was arrested, told Jerusalem24 that the arrest “felt like it was premeditated.”
“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,” said Sheta.
48-year-old Al-Saadi is “one of the pillars” of the Freedom Theater, according to Abu Saif.
He was briefly detained by Israel in 2011 following the assassination of Juliano Mer-Khamis, son of the theater’s founder Arna Mer-Khamis, along with the theater’s former artistic director Nabil Al-Raai and operations manager Adnan Marmaria. All were released without charge four days later.
Show of support
The Freedom Theater has engaged in many international collaborations and is internationally renowned. Several international media and cultural organizations have issued statements in support of Al-Saadi.
Jean-Luc Bansard, the head of the Tiroir de Laval theater in France, whom Al-Saadi visited three years ago to set up a collaboration between the two theaters which played out in Jenin in August this year, stated he was “worried” about the imprisonment: “Bilal is a friend.”
The French Agence Media Palestine said his arrest “throws light on the Israeli strategy of targeting artists and members of cultural organizations, with the aim of destroying Palestinian identity and preventing the use of culture as resistance.”
The group also said they are seeking additional information and advice in order to launch a campaign for his freedom.
PEN America, the US branch of the 100-year-old PEN International network, which “works to ensure that people everywhere have the freedom to create literature, to convey information and ideas, to express their views, and to access the views, ideas, and literatures of others”, issued a statement on Friday condemning the sentencing.
“The arrest and imprisonment without trial of Bilal Al-Saadi represents a serious violation of his human rights, while the growing crackdown on Palestinian civil society raises grave concerns about Palestinians’ rights to free expression and artistic freedom,” said Liesl Gerntholtz, director of the PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Center.
“If the Israeli government has grounds to detain Al-Saadi based on alleged criminal activity they must disclose them and allow him to defend himself. Absent that, we urge the Israeli authorities to immediately release Al-Saadi and allow him to continue his work without restriction.”
The Freedom Theater’s programs (particularly the theater school and the children’s programs) continue uninterrupted despite ongoing concerns for Al-Saadi’s wellbeing, according to Sheta – as they have every time the theater has been targeted in the past. The theater is also getting ready for “a huge production” in the West Bank and Gaza, exploring the relationship between these two pieces of fragmented Palestine.