PEN Norway strongly condemns the assault on the Freedom Theatre in Jenin and brief detention of its Director, Ahmed Tobasi, along with other members. We demand a thorough investigation into this incident and urge Israeli authorities to stop targeting journalists, media workers, artists, and cultural figures in the Gaza strip.
Ahmed Tobasi, a Norwegian citizen born in the Jenin refugee camp, is a prominent artistic director contributing to the cultural landscape.
The targeting of Tobasi and The Freedom Theatre by Israeli security forces is deeply alarming. The destruction and vandalism of Freedom Theatre, as reported by eyewitnesses and The Freedom Theatre itself, is a direct attack on art and cultural diversity, PEN Norway said in a strongly worded statement.
In its statement, PEN Norway further said it is deeply concerned about the reported actions of the Israeli soldiers, including the arbitrary detention of Freedom Theatre members, violence, and vandalism against Freedom Theatre.
The Freedom Theatre, in a statement released on microblogging website X, formerly known as Twitter, confirmed the reports and said the Israeli army on Wednesday entered the Freedom Theatre, destroying the offices and opening fire inside. They then knocked down the wall between the office and the neighbour’s home. “For hours, the Israelis sat in the offices as the sound of hammering and shooting could be heard.”
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Oslo, Norway, confirmed to National Broadcaster (NRK) that a Norwegian national was arrested on Wednesday morning by the Israeli military and later released. It remains unclear why he was arrested.
Tabosi also told NRK that he asked the raiding Israeli soldiers multiple times why they were doing this. Still, instead, they became violent and started beating him. He confirmed due to being hit, he has developed problems with his neck and shoulders. Tobasi says he has also told Israeli soldiers he was a Norwegian citizen, but the soldiers did not care.
The Freedom Theatre, a vital cultural Centre founded in 2006, has been a beacon of artistic expression and creativity in the West Bank. The attacks on such cultural institutions violate individual rights and undermine the fundamental values of freedom of expression and artistic work.
Since the Hamas attack on Israel on October 7, civilians, particularly journalists, artists, and writers, have been targeted. The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has documented 63 killings of journalists and media workers as of December 14. Among them, 56 were Palestinian, four were Israeli, and three were Lebanese. This represents the highest number of journalists killed in a conflict in such a short period.
PEN Norway stands in solidarity with Ahmed Tobasi, The Freedom Theatre, and all those affected by the escalating violence in the region. We reiterate our call for an immediate end to attacks on journalists, artists, and media workers. We appeal to warring parties to safeguard civilians and uphold human rights principles during conflict.