From Jenin's Freedom Theater to jail

12:00 Aug 21 2011 Jenin

Why has the leading man been imprisoned, even though he had nothing to do with the murder of Juliano Mer-Khamis, the theater's founder?

By Amira Hass

The production of Samuel Beckett's "Waiting for Godot" by the Freedom Theater in Jenin has new casting directors: the Shin Bet security service and the Israeli army. They are currently deciding whether Pozzo, master of the slave Lucky, will be played by 20-year-old Rami Hwayel of the Jenin refugee camp.

The part of Pozzo was made for him. Just hear Rami and you will agree with Pozzo that, "The tears of the world are a constant quantity. For each one who begins to weep, somewhere else another stops. The same is true of the laugh."

The casting agents are military judges Maj. Gil Elharar, Maj. Shachar Greenberg and Lt. Col. Asher Schor, military prosecutor 1st Lt. Yitzhak Unger, Shin Bet and police investigators Y. and Z., and the honorable military judge X.

Hwayel was arrested on August 6 on suspicion of involvement in the murder of his beloved teacher at the theater, Juliano Mer-Khamis. However, after just a few hours into the investigation, all the air escaped from the balloon of suspicion. Elharar admitted during deliberations on August 10 that it had no basis.

Handcuffs, forms, signatures

An intelligence operation was conducted to locate Hwayel on August 6. Soldiers were sent out on a steamy Saturday to wait for him at a surprise checkpoint west of Nablus, along with an army vehicle, a flannel cloth to cover his eyes, handcuffs, forms, signatures. An investigation was held, a ban from meeting with a lawyer for five days was declared, as well as a gag order, three arrest extensions.

All this for nothing? The military court system's assembly line had to spit out another convicted Palestinian into the statistics. And so, instead of the Mer-Khamis murder, the investigators and the prosecutor clung onto to Hwayel's statement during questioning that he had twice spent time in Israel without permission, some time during the last two years.

On August 10, the police requested a remand of nine days in order to investigate this terrible crime. Elharar granted five. On August 14 it became clear that this complex and difficult investigation was still unfinished. The police asked for a remand extension of five days. Military judge Greenberg granted three, saying, "According to a decision of the military court in Judea and Samaria, under these circumstances, [that is, being in Israel without a permit], the rationale for remand is the risk and concern of an escape from judgment."

On August 16, it was the military prosecutor himself, 1st Lt. Unger, who asked for another remand extension, because the file in the case had only that day reached the prosecution. Hwayel's lawyer, Smadar Ben-Natan argued: "The offense does not justify such a prolonged period of arrest, [and this marks] a continuing failure by the investigators, for which the suspect should not pay with his freedom." The actions required to complete the investigation, she said, are not those "that require detention."

Military judge Lt. Col. Schor wrote in his decision that "the learned defense attorney is correct in the complaint she raises against the police. I am also not comfortable with the way the police have managed this case." The indictment could have been handed down sooner, he said, "and even more so, since we are not talking about suspicion of a serious or complicated offense."

Then came the "but." "At the same time," said Lt. Col. Schor, "the prosecutor is right in his argument that, according to the previous court ruling, the suspicion of violating an order in the case of a closed military zone allows for use of the risk and concern of an escape from judgment as the rationale for remand."

Hwayel's arrest was extended to August 18, and Ben-Natan was informed that an indictment would be served yesterday. Lt. Col. Schor would not allow play director Udi Aloni to speak on behalf of the "dangerous" detainee, or transmit the play script to him, so that he could at least use his time in jail to prepare for rehearsals. Soldiers in the court would not allow Hwayel to kiss his mother.

"It will be a mockery if the investigation trying to find the murderer [who] committed this abominable crime [in the process] murders [Mer-Khamis's] legacy, contained in his students," wrote Omri Nitzan, artistic director of the Cameri Theater in Tel Aviv in a letter presented to the court that details the Freedom Theater's professional and social achievements.

Shows canceled

"Waiting for Godot" was chosen as the final project of seven third-year students in the theater school that Mer-Khamis founded, Hwayel among them. Aloni took it upon himself to mount the play, he said, "as a message that murder will not destroy the theater and [the students'] careers in acting."

Due to Hwayel's long detention, the first performances in Jenin and Haifa have been canceled. Without any connection to yesterday's indictment, the above-mentioned casting directors have already put at risk Hwayel's chances of participating with his colleagues in an acting workshop at New York's Public Theater in September. This week, the student actors have been busy getting visas (the boys will travel to Amman, since they did not receive permission to enter East Jerusalem, where the American consulate is located ). In October the play will be performed at Columbia University.

After Hwayel's arrest, rehearsals were stopped. His friends were in shock. Now, in spite of all the difficulty involved in performing without their leading man, and their concern for him, rehearsals have resumed. The lesson has been learned: From now on the Freedom Theater casts each actor in two parts.

"Waiting for Godot" is a minimalistic play, Aloni says, and requires work on nuance. "During this work we discovered Rami's ability to work in gray areas," Aloni says. "At first, during rehearsals he thought that, as a master, he would be called on to give beatings. Then by degrees he understood how his authority as a master could be achieved in a whisper. Suddenly he saw that domination did not require violence."

Hwayel understood that violence does not have to be physical in order to be violence.

Yesterday, military judge Yaakov Koren found him guilty of a one-time illegal sojourn in Israel, some time last year. Based on a plea bargain between the military prosecution and Ben-Natan, Hwayel was sentenced to a month and a day, and was given credit for the two-week period he has already served in detention.
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