Tensions between the Freedom Theater in the Palestinian town of Jenin and extremist groups that oppose secular cultural activities in the town and the neighboring refugee camp continued to rise this week.
Several days ago the venue's door was set on fire, and a Molotov cocktail was thrown inside.
Last weekend a pamphlet accusing the theater's founder and director, Juliano Mer-Khemis, of corruption and immorality was distributed in a Jenin mosque. Another pamphlet, riddled with violent quotes from the Koran, was handed out as a direct threat on him.
Al-Kamanjati music center after it was torched (Photo: Juliano Mer Khemis)
The pamphlet refers to Mer-Khemis as a Zionist envoy and a fifth column: "This Zionist, the cowardly theater man, is inciting our children to rebel against their parents. This lowlife is comparing between liberation from the occupation and liberation from our righteous religion.
"Therefore it is our duty… to warn family heads to keep their children away from this Zionist theater. It is our obligation to protect our sons through words and guide them. If this is not done, we will have to speak in another language – the language of bullets."
Zubeidi: People behind pamphlet are cowards
The pamphlet urges the Fatah movement, the Palestinian Authority's security forces and local dignitaries to have the theater shut down immediately and to expel Mer-Khemis from the refugee camp. It also calls for the closing of the music center and another cultural center in town.
Zacharia Zubeidi, a townsman and one of the second intifada's most prominent symbols, who currently works for the PA's prisoner authority, told Ynet on Wednesday that he intends to protect the theater from people who seek to harm it.
Zubeidi at entrance to Freedom Theater. Vows to protect it (Photo: Merav Yudilovitch)
"I don't know who the people behind the pamphlet are, but they apparently forgot that I'm with the theater," he said. "The Palestinians have no sense of security, and this makes people more agitated. Some think that theater and music weaken the power of the resistance, but they don't worry me. They are cowards who don't dare to speak openly."
'I've never been more Jewish than in Jenin'Mer-Kehmis admitted in a conversation with Ynet that he is afraid, but added, "What's the alternative, to run away? I'm not someone who escapes." However, he said that he was taking precautionary measures to protect himself.
"This is a disgusting pamphlet that reeks of violent and blatant racism. It drives them mad that a person who's half Jewish heads one of the most important projects in the northern West Bank, and this is hypocritical racism.
"I've never been more Jewish than I am now in Jenin. After all the work we've done in the camp it would be a shame to die of a Palestinian bullet," he concluded.
Roee Nahmias contributed to the report