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Campaign to release Samieh Jabbarin

Palestinian Prisoners

31 May 2009

Dear friends,
The solidarity struggle with Palestinian theatre-artist and activist Samieh Jabbarin, who is still under house-arrest in Um Al Fahm, has gained significant resonance in the past two weeks thanks to the publication of journalist Aviva Lori’s extensive coverage of the affair in “Haaretz” weekend supplement in Hebrew (22.5.09) and English (28.5.09). Links to both versions follow:

Unfortunately, nothing has moved in court. On June 7th the court in Hadera is to review Samieh’s appeal for lifting the limiting conditions of his house-arrest – four (!) months of being denied his personal liberty after being arrested at a political demonstration. Due to the said limiting conditions, Samieh could not even attend the Tel Aviv University scholarship and award-granting ceremony of the Faculty of Fine Arts held a few days ago, where he was mentioned with outstanding honors by the dean and received a scholarship (see appendix).

Please consider: further damaging Samieh, the police – along with the State Attorney’s Office – has accused him of so-called violent action. It is no coincidence that these very days a steep exacerbation is anticipated for the future freedom of expression and political association in the State of Israel. Rapid legislation in the Knesset (parliament) of a whole battery of anti-democratic laws has been of major concern. Among others: a proposed law curbs ‘any aspiration to change the character of the State or to publish anything that might cause disrespect of the regime” (!); the “Nakba law” prohibits the commemoration of Palestinian suffering caused by the foundation of the State of Israel; the “loyalty law” will require every Israeli citizen – Arabs included – to sign a declaration of loyalty to the state as a “Jewish and Zionist state”; a law to create a fingerprint database of all Israeli citizens; a law forbidding demonstrations in front of residences of public officials, etc.

These are laws that, once legislated, will enable the state to act harshly against all of us in the future, Arabs and Jews alike. No more figments of imagination will be needed about ‘violent action’ in order to arrest, prosecute and punish innocent citizens.

We thank you for your support of Samieh Jabbarin, for joining the struggle against political detention in Israel, and for sharing the struggle against the new evil winds now blowing in this country.

Our online petition is ongoing. We would appreciate your signatures if you have not yet signed it, and thank you for distributing it among your friends, for this is our most efficient way to keep you in the picture and update you about further actions for Samieh in the near future.

Here is the link to our petition:
Thanking you in advance,
The Committee for Solidarity with Samieh Jabbarin
May 2009


Aviva Lori | Ha’aretz

28 May 2009

Two weeks ago, Samih Jabarin’s elderly father, Mahmoud, fell down the steep flight of stairs at the entrance to his house, and lay helpless in the front yard. Jabarin was inside the house when he heard his mother, Rasima, shouting for help. He came running and stood at the top of the staircase. If he went downstairs to help his father, he thought, the electronic ankle bracelet attached to his right foot would go off, bringing the police to his door. He hesitated for a moment, but quickly came to his senses and went downstairs.

That time he was lucky. His father was lying within Jabarin’s permitted range of movement, and the only siren heard in his Umm al-Fahm neighborhood was that of the ambulance. A week later, panic struck once again. In the adjacent yard, which belongs to his brother Khalil Jawabre, a tree was chopped, collapsing and bringing down a telephone line. They were worried the electronic signals being sent from Jabarin’s device to police headquarters would be interrupted, or wouldn’t reach them at all, God forbid, and someone would come to the conclusion that he was trying to escape.

“We started to call them in hysteria,” says Jabarin. “We told them to calm down, that everything was all right, that it was only a tree.”

Jabarin, 40, a native of Umm al-Fahm and normally a resident of Jaffa, works in the theater and is a political activist. A kind of local Che Guevara, he admires the Argentinian-born Cuban revolutionary. He goes to demonstrations dressed as if for the theater, usually with one of the shirts from his Che Guevara collection; his crowning glory is a beret with a star from his visit to Cuba. During the most recent demonstration in Umm al-Fahm, in the heat of the moment, the hat disappeared. Jabarin mourned his loss, but when he found himself at the detention center in Kishon Prison he understood that it was a minor problem compared to those lying ahead.

It all began on February 10, election day. Members of the extreme right, headed by Baruch Marzel, announced their intention to report to one of the polling stations in Umm al-Fahm, in order to “monitor” the elections. In Umm al-Fahm, residents said this was a provocation for its own sake. “It’s absurd,” says Jabarin,” only a crazy man could think there would be votes here for the National Union.” The atmosphere became heated, and in the weeks prior to the elections there was talk of organizing a huge protest. The mayor, Sheikh Khaled Hamdan, Knesset members and Arab dignitaries joined city residents intending to demonstrate on the morning of the elections.

Jabarin put on a coat and his hat and went out early in the morning to meet friends and prepare. “We stood at the entrance to the city drinking espresso,” he says, smilingly painting a pastoral picture. “And then a police officer approached me, someone I had never seen before. Only later did I discover that he was the commander of the northern region of the Border Police, Chief Superintendent Uri Mor Yosef.” The two were to meet three times that day. “The first time, at 6:30 A.M., he got very close to me, broke into my aura, and said: ‘I have my eye on you.’ I said: ‘Great, I have my eye on you too.’ The second time he came up to me again, in the same place, and said: ‘This time you’re in big trouble.'”

Why you, of all people?

“I’m a political activist, a member of the Sons of the Village [a radical leftist movement of Israeli Palestinians that calls for an active boycott of Israeli elections]; maybe that’s why.”

At about 8 A.M., the police announced that Marzel wasn’t coming after all and people began to disperse. Jabarin invited all his friends, male and female, who had come especially from Tel Aviv and Jaffa, to have breakfast at his parents’ home. But two hours later, a rumor began to circulate that instead of Marzel, MK Aryeh Eldad, a member of the National Union party, had arrived under cover of night and with police protection, and had reported to the polling booth at the Al Razi school. Organizing spontaneously, residents began to stream in the direction of the school.

“Maybe 13 seconds passed from the moment I arrived, and I was immediately surrounded by seven Border Policemen, who stayed around me all the time and at a certain moment began to beat me with clubs. I don’t know why,” says Jabarin. “I was behaving perfectly. Usually I’m very loud at demonstrations, but at this one I had no megaphone, and we only sang together once. The policemen provoked a female friend of mine and I saw that she was angry, so I took her aside and told her: ‘Stand behind me.’ I tried to calm things down – so they called me a provocateur?”

In stills taken by a photo agency, Jabarin can be seen standing with his perpetual hat, creating a natural megaphone with his hands and shouting something. At a certain point, things heated up. “Suddenly I found myself lying on the ground, and on all sides they were beating me with cudgels, mainly on my legs. There were Border Police and the Yasam [the Israeli Police Special Patrol Unit] on my upper body and clubs on my lower body. I was in shock.”

Then the third encounter between Jabarin and Mor Yosef took place. “He made his way through the bloc of Border Police,” says Jabarin, “leaned over me, pointed and said: ‘He’s under arrest from this moment.’ It’s strange, they usually say ‘detained.’ I felt as though I had been framed.” The next thing he recalls is being inside the police van.

Along with Jabarin, another 28 people were arrested; all except for him were released on the same day. He was transferred from the police station in Umm al-Fahm to Iron and then to Afula, where he was interrogated and sent to the detention center in Kishon Prison. He was detained there for almost three weeks.

Jabarin was indicted for participation in an illegal assembly and for attacking a policeman in order to obstruct his work. The police demanded he be held until the end of the court proceedings. Jabarin’s attorneys, Salim Wakeem and Hussein Abu Hussein, demanded his release. The issue was discussed in the Hadera Magistrate’s Court before Judge Penina Argaman, who decided to place Jabarin under house arrest, with an electronic monitoring device attached around his ankle.

Nir Yona, spokesman for the Border Police in the northern region, refused to comment beyond saying the following: “Since the matter was discussed in court, we cannot answer the questions. The fact that an indictment was submitted speaks for itself.”

On one wall of the living room of the house in Umm al-Fahm hang framed graduation certificates and diplomas of all of Jabarin’s 11 brothers and sisters: a hematologist at Rambam Medical Center in Haifa, a lawyer, two pharmacists, a journalist in Hamburg, a nurse, a teacher, and so on. He himself finished high school at the age of 17, and after the last matriculation exam left for Tel Aviv. “The high school was at the entrance to the city, I brought my knapsack to the English exam and left from there. I didn’t return home again.”

He began to work as a waiter in the Turquoise Restaurant in Jaffa and later became a chef in a popular cafe on Gordon Street in Tel Aviv. He spent formative years in Germany, studying and working. “I wanted to travel for two years to clear my head, in Tibet,” he says. “I passed through Stuttgart to say goodbye to one of my best friends, who was studying engineering there, and he convinced me to stay and study. I began to study German, but I didn’t have enough money and returned to Israel. In 1998 I returned to Stuttgart to study cinema, and within four and a half years I had a master’s degree, a thesis and a film.” The subject of the thesis: “The role of young people in Germany in founding the movement against the war in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Jabarin stayed in Stuttgart for eight years, and in addition to his studies, worked in the theater. “My roots are in theater,” he says. “I started acting at the age of 13 in Umm al-Fahm. My cinema teacher [in Stuttgart], Stuart Marlow, offered to form an ensemble with me. We called ourselves ACTS [Anglophone Collaborative Theater of Stuttgart], he wrote the plays and I directed. People began to recognize my name, and because we did mainly political things they turned to me, and in that way I progressed and achieved publicity. One place where I worked was the Maxim Gorky Theater in Berlin. I directed, acted and wrote, too. I have a combination of love for the theater and a passion for politics. I melt at anything related to art. That’s what keeps me alive.”

Jabarin joined radical leftist groups, was one of the founders of an international organization against globalization and was very involved in protest against the Israeli occupation. In 2006 he was supposed to move to England to pursue a master’s degree in theater. “My teacher connected me with the University of Exeter in England, and arranged a scholarship for me. But then the dean contacted me and apologized; she said she had invited a student from Sarajevo, and promised me the spot for the coming year. Since I was already in a packing mood, I decided to return to Israel and do a master’s here.”

Were he not under house arrest now, Jabarin would have submitted his thesis to Prof. Nurit Yaari: “An analogy between the Israeli narrative in the Palestinian theater and the Palestinian narrative in the Israeli theater.”

Upon his return, he found an apartment in Jaffa, began studying at the university and joined the social milieu of theater people. At the same time, he got involved in fighting social and political injustice. For example, he organized demonstrations against home demolitions. “There are 497 families who have received injunctions to leave their homes. During the 1948 war their houses were taken from them, they were placed in Amidar buildings, and now Amidar wants them to buy [the apartments]. Most of these people have no money at all. We are trying to protect these families, because we think it won’t stop there. We went to ask for a permit to demonstrate in Jaffa on Land Day [which marks the loss of Arab lands in the Galilee]. What most angered the police were the Palestinian flags. A policeman in the police station on Salameh Street spoke to me with typical Mapai [Labor Party] Orientalism and said: ‘We want to help, we want you to demonstrate, but tell the guys there – without Palestinian flags. Someone could get angry, throw a stone, and you’ll lose out.’ I wouldn’t agree under any circumstances, so he said: ‘One flag at the beginning and one at the end.’ I said: ‘No, it’s our flag and anyone who wants to raise a flag can do so.’ In the end they gave in.”

During Operation Cast Lead in Gaza last winter, Jabarin was arrested three times. “Once they took me out of the house, took me with a motorcycle escort to the police station on Salameh. They tried to scare me. They left the door of the room where I was being interrogated open and brought young Arabs to the adjacent room, and I heard shouts in Arabic from there, as though they were being beaten; it was unbelievable. It really made me laugh. They put me under house arrest in Jaffa for three days for incitement to terror. One of the interrogators told me at the time: ‘Samih, a little Zionism.’ Afterward I had to go in twice more for interrogation, and the last time I was warned: ‘Now you’re going home, but I promise you next time you’ll pay a heavy price.”

Avi Tzabari, spokesman for the Tel Aviv police responded: “The above-mentioned was interrogated several times in the Yiftah District on suspicion of committing criminal offenses. As one of the conditions for bail, he was warned not to commit those crimes again.”

According to the penal code, an assembly is not a demonstration and does not require a permit, on condition that participants do not deliver political speeches and do not march. The line between prohibited and legally permitted assembly is very fine: “prohibited” means at least three people who meet for a common cause, even what is deemed as an acceptable one, in a manner that gives people in the area a reasonable basis for suspicion that they will disturb the peace or arouse other people to do so.

“The provision on disturbing the peace is problematic,” says attorney Abir Bacher of Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel. “It allows the police to use their judgment to decide whether the people who are assembling are planning to disturb the peace. Especially problematic is the ‘reasonable basis for suspicion.’ It means that even before they’ve done anything, they can be detained because of the ‘reasonable basis.’ During the war in Gaza it was enough for people to stand quietly on the sidewalk with signs; as far as the police were concerned, that was a sufficient excuse for dispersing the demonstration.”

Attorney Dan Yakir, legal adviser of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, says that violence at demonstrations, even when they are defined as quiet protest vigils that do not require a permit, are a common event. “There is total lack of understanding on the part of the police as to which demonstrations require a permit and which do not,” he says, “as well as ignorance of the legal situation. We turned 25 years ago to attorney general Yitzhak Zamir, and in 1983 he issued very clear guidelines in which he spells out what is permitted and what is prohibited. [He] emphasizes the definition of a quiet protest vigil, when people stand with signs – and it makes no difference how many they are – which does not require a permit. But most of the police are not aware of that, and in most cases they order dispersal. And then it all depends on the dynamics on the ground – often there is friction that easily deteriorates into violence.”

About a month from now, a new ACRI report will be published, detailing the harassment against demonstrators during protests against the operation in Gaza and all the cases in which people were illegally detained. Among those arrested were Jews, but the number of Arab Israelis was especially large – about 600 people. “In recent years we have seen a serious deterioration in freedom of expression, especially in the area of demonstrations against government policy, and the Arabs are more vulnerable to the steps taken against them, but it’s not exclusively against them. By any criterion, 600 detainees is a huge number and arouses great surprise and a suspicion of misuse of the instrument of detention,” says Yakir.

He goes on to explain that attacking a police officer is a serious accusation, but does not always reflect what actually happened. “There are many cases in which policemen are afraid that they will be accused of violence, and then they are proactive and inform the suspect that he is suspected of attacking a policemen. It’s one person’s word against the other, and it’s hard to prove who started it.” Jabarin believes that is exactly what happened in his case: “But I didn’t touch him – on the contrary. The policemen attacked me for no reason, and all I did was tell that same policeman who beat me with a club that I would sue him for it.”

Jabarin’s attorney, Salim Wakeem, claims that even if a crime was committed, the punishment is clearly disproportionate. “There are enough examples of that. Full house arrest, in the event of attacking a policeman, is imposed when there was real violence, injury. And here he claims that he was pushed in the chest, that Samih pulled him, but he was not wounded and needed no medical treatment. This is someone with a clean record.”

The indictment is signed by nine witnesses for the plaintiff, all of them police officers. All of Jabarin’s friends who were with him that morning at the demonstration contradict the claims, and some have even testified to that effect to the police. “The police were very violent,” says Ben Ronen, 26, a filmmaker from Jaffa. “At that moment the police set on me and others and [Jabarin] asked them not to attack people, and then they set on him and threw him to the ground. I went to testify about that at the police station; I said he didn’t attack anyone. They interrogated me and asked me if he had incited, where he came from, with what activities he is connected, all kinds of things unrelated to the issue. Samih is an emotional person, an actor, but I’ve never seen him behaving violently; the claims against him are baseless.”

Igal Ezraty, manager and director of the Arab-Hebrew Theater in Jaffa, worked with Jabarin recently on two plays. In “The Odd Couple,” Jabarin was assistant director and manager of the play, and in “The Apartment” he was a playwright, and, if not for the house arrest, he would have been assistant director. “He’s extremely talented,” says Ezraty. “Michael Ronen, the director, said he wouldn’t continue to direct ‘The Apartment’ without Jabarin. In the end they worked via e-mail.” The play will be performed next week.

“He’s a fighting idealist,” continues Ezraty, “but in the positive sense. I’ve never seen him violent. It’s clear that they framed him; the fact is that the police have no photograph that proves he raised a hand. I was at the proceedings in the courtroom and we know that they film from every angle, and they presented the evidence and didn’t show a single picture. Is it any wonder? Four policemen get up and say that he cursed and hit, so the judge believes the police – not the Arab guy who took part in all the demonstrations in Jaffa and has annoyed many policemen. I’m a veteran in the matter of interrogations, and I know that they accuse Arabs where they don’t accuse Jews. I gave Samih a personal letter [saying] that I’m willing to keep an eye on him, that he’ll be under my supervision from morning till night, and that they should let him continue working, but that didn’t make an impression on the judge.”

Some time after Jabarin’s arrest, his friends formed an action committee. At present the committee has a manifesto on the Internet (over 2,500 signatures have been collected), and at the end of last month they held an event at the Tzavta theater in Tel Aviv to demonstrate support for him, in which artists, academics, human rights activists and actors participated. Participants included Gila Almagor, Doron Tavori, Itzik Weingarten, Oded Kotler, Rami Heuberger, Sandra Sadeh, Hanan Wakim, Aharon Shabtai, Moshe Zuckerman and Adi Ophir.

“What did [Jabarin] do?” asks Prof. Avi Oz of Haifa University, one of the organizers of the event at Tzavta. “He protested against people from a party that teaches on its Web site how to bring about transfer. Is he a danger to the public? No. But the Israel Police went into a state of preparedness because Samih will beat them up. The intention is to frighten people away from going to demonstrations. Do they think I broke the law? Let them put me on trial, but don’t use the weapon of arrest against legal political demonstrations. It’s reminiscent of unsavory regimes.”

I heard that Tzavta was not packed.

“It was hard to enlist people from the academic world. It’s a big disappointment that they don’t dare, they’re thinking about their pension and about promotions and they don’t come. Many people think like me, but with the indoctrination from above, they don’t dare say a word. I was surprised at how easy it was to enlist theater people; apparently they’re more sensitive and have less to lose. Everyone feels that something is crawling beneath the surface, but they don’t do anything about it.”

Prof. Shimon Levy, one of Jabarin’s teachers at Tel Aviv University, compares him to Brecht. “He’s a man of the theater, a courageous, reliable, intelligent and decent guy. He carries many people along with him. He knows that if he lifts a hand, his freedom will be denied immediately. He knows that the best defense is passive defense, and that really makes the police angry. Brecht said: ‘One morning when they beat up the communists, I didn’t go; when they beat up the Jews, I didn’t go; now they’re beating me up, and nobody comes.’ That’s the most dangerous thing.”

In his speech at Tzavta and afterward in an op-ed in the daily Yedioth Ahronoth, the actor Rami Heuberger declared: “I also deserve an electronic anklet. We’re both in the same profession – directors. We both opposed the unrestrained activity of the Israel Defense Forces in Gaza, but I didn’t voice my opinion, I became part of the consensus. I am a celebrity, whatever that means, and I can use that fact for important causes. Now [after the Tzavta event], something strange has happened. Usually when I write something in the newspaper or say something on television, there’s a follow-up, they talk about it, write about it. This is the first time there was silence. There was no reaction to my words. That says something about the general gloomy atmosphere, a warning light for the media and all of society. Liebermanism is coming to Tel Aviv, too. People think that Tel Aviv is a bubble, but the bubble is moving to the right. What they did to Samih they wouldn’t dare do to an Israeli citizen who is not an Arab.”

Last week, Jabarin’s lawyers asked the court to review the conditions of his arrest. Judge Argaman agreed, after consulting with the State Prosecutor’s Office and subject to the opinion of the parole board, to consider the request; the hearing has been set for June 7. Meanwhile, his prolonged stay at his parents’ home is not easy, says Jabarin. The atmosphere is tense. His ailing father is being cared for in an adjacent room, and the living room has temporarily been given over to visitors trying to provide encouragement.

“People think I have a lot of free time,” he says, “but it’s very tiring. There are a lot of phone calls from Israel and abroad, people want to talk, to express solidarity, and I read my many e-mails, try to answer all of them. Then friends come, from Tel Aviv, Jaffa, Umm al-Fahm, and I don’t have a moment to myself with all the uproar.”