jakub | December 15, 2023

AMERICAN THEATRE | Freedom Theatre Members Detained in West Bank Operation

Ahmed Tobasi, Mustafa Sheta, and Jamal Abu Joas.

JENIN, WEST BANK: On Wednesday, Dec. 13, the Freedom Theatre announced the arrest of multiple of its members. Artistic director Ahmed Tobasi, producer and general manager Mustafa Sheta, and Jamal Abu Joas, who recently graduated from the Freedom Theatre Performing Arts School, were all detained by Israeli security forces.

The Freedom Theatre wrote on its social media that Tobasi was arrested outside his home in the Jenin refugee camp, where the theatre operates, and that Sheta was also arrested at his home. A statement from the theatre’s staff says that Abu Joas was also arrested at his home. The theatre’s statement says that Tobasi, Sheta, and Abu Joas were all arrested by the Israel Defence Forces (IDF). Multiple Israeli security forces operate in the West Bank, including border police. While it is likely that the IDF made the arrests, this has not been confirmed by an independent media source as of this writing.

According to the Freedom Theatre, Tobasi and his brother, Mohammed, were arrested during an IDF operation in Jenin the morning of Dec. 13. The theatre’s statement says that Tobasi went outside his home in response to noise and was then assaulted by an IDF officer; IDF officers then reportedly entered Tobasi’s home, destroyed a variety of electronic items, and retrieved Mohammed Tobasi before handcuffing both brothers. They soon released Mohammed Tobasi.

The Freedom Theatre posted video footage of Tobasi’s home after the operation, taken by Tobasi’s family. Ahmed Tobasi was released on Dec. 14, as confirmed by the theatre.

“They treated us like animals,” Tobasi said upon his release. “They are trying to hurt us in any way they can, but it’s important we stay strong.”

Sheta was also arrested the morning of Dec. 13 and remains in detention. According to Sheta’s family, IDF special forces members blindfolded Sheta before his arrest.

“My children spent their night crying,” Rasha Sheta, Mustafa Sheta’s wife, told the Freedom Theatre. “We felt so scared without him being around with us. We don’t know why he was arrested.”

The theatre also states that Abu Joas was arrested by army forces at his home on Dec. 13, and that officers confiscated Abu Joas’s phone and camera and assaulted him. He remains in detention.

In January, Freedom Theatre general assembly member Yahya Zubeidi was arrested at or near a checkpoint between Jericho and Jenin due to “suspicion of involvement in terrorist activity,” according to the IDF. The Freedom Theatre also confirmed Zubeidi’s arrest on their social media at the time; there has been no news of his release since. Zubeidi is the brother of the Freedom Theatre co-founder Zakaria Zubeidi, who was previously a member of the Jenin branch of an armed militant group, the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade. Zakaria participated in a high-profile amnesty deal with Israel in 2007 and began collaborating with artist Juliano Mer Khamis at the Freedom Theatre.

In 2011, Mer Khamis was assassinated and the Israeli government rescinded Zakaria Zubeidi’s pardon. He was detained in 2019 and escaped from prison in 2021, but was captured and remains in Israeli military detention.

In their statement, the Freedom Theatre adds that in the last few weeks, three members of their company have been killed: Yamen Jarar, a 16-year-old Freedom Theatre participant, by drone fire on Nov. 3, according to Defense for Children International; theatre member Jehad Naghniyeh Torokman, 25, by an Israeli military officer, also on Nov. 3, according to PEN America and Palestinian television channel Fajer TV; and Mohammed Matahen, an usher and front-of-house staffer, killed on Nov. 9, according to the Freedom Theatre.

The current war between Israel and Hamas, which governs the Palestinian territory of Gaza, has exacerbated tensions in the West Bank and resulted in an increase of army-led arrests and civilian unrest and violence. Haaretz has estimated that Israeli security forces killed more than 200 Palestinians in the West Bank between Oct. 7 and Nov. 28.

Multiple organizations based in the U.S. and around the world are organizing for Sheta’s release. This is a developing story.

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