One hundred Scottish playwrights including Scotland’s former makar, have signed an open letter condemning raids by Israel on a Palestinian theatre in the West Bank.
They included the theatre’s artistic director, Ahmed Tobasi, who was later released after suffering injuries through beatings while detained.
The West Bank is under the control of the Palestinian authority, not Hamas and the targeting of the theatre – which has performed in Glasgow – has drawn strong condemnation in Scotland.
Signatories to the letter include Liz Lochhead, who was the Scot’s Makar – or national poet – from 2011-2016. Other high profile playwrights include Alan Bissett, Sue Glover, David Harrower, Morna Young, Peter Arnott, Cora Bissett, Uma Nada-Rajah, Matthew Zajac, Stef Smith, Julia Taudevin, and Meghan Tyler.
Call to Israeli authorities to release playwrights
The letter says: “As members of the Scottish playwriting community, we are horrified by the news that Ahmed Tobasi, producer Mustafa Sheta, and youth trainer Jamal Abu Joas were recently taken hostage by the Israeli military.
“We join with our artistic colleagues in Scotland and across the globe in vociferously opposing these attacks on artists and their freedoms. We call on our elected representatives to demand the immediate release of our colleagues, and an end to the military occupation and its targeting of artists, journalists and writers in Palestine.”
Freedom Theatre associate director Zoey Lafferty wrote a piece for The New Arab claiming that Israeli forces ransacked the internationally renowned cultural centre shortly after 9am on 13 December 2023.
Originally called the Stone Theatre, The Freedom Theatre was founded in 1987, after the first Intifada, by Arna Mer-Khamis, an Israeli activist who died in 1995. The first Intifada was a Palestinian mass uprising in 1987.
Mer-Khamis was born into a Jewish family in 1929 and became a lifelong supporter of the rights of Palestinians, especially children. With her theatre, she hoped to offer children a space for healing and to empower women through the theatre and arts.
Playwright and screenwriter Kieran Hurley, who signed the letter, said The Freedom Theatre does “valuable work” with young people in Jenin “to tell their own stories, nurturing the next poets, writers, and actors, using culture as a means of resistance to oppression”.
The writer, best known for the film Beats, added “They are our valued international peers, having contributed to our cultural life through touring their work to Scotland recently. This egregious assault on theatre artists is an attack on us all, and Scotland’s playwrights will not stand for it.”
Sara Shaarawi, a playwright from Cairo who is based in Glasgow, said she was “proud” to sign the letter and call for the end of the violence. She added: “We’ve been watching the horrific violence the Israeli military has inflicted on Gaza and the West Bank for two months, including their deliberate targeting of cultural institutions and artists.
As theatre artists we cannot stand by and let this happen to our colleagues. The devastation and destruction of Palestinian life and heritage we have witnessed so far has already been an immense loss to the world.”
The Israeli Embassy, in London, has been asked to comment.
Image of Jenin refugee camp thanks to DZarzycka/Istock