As part of a large-scale British-Palestinian theatre project, the Artistic Director of The Freedom Theatre, Nabil Al-Raee, was scheduled to speak at a series of events in the UK throughout June (see full tour dates and details). The speaking tour is a preparation for a co-production which is set to tour the UK in spring 2015.
However, Nabil Al-Raee was denied a visa which is necessary for Palestinians to enter the UK. The justification for the refusal was: “I am not satisfied you are genuinely seeking entry as an entertainer or business visitor and will leave the UK at the end of your trip and do not intend to live for extended periods in the United Kingdom…“, adding that the speaking tour does not qualify under the term ‘Entertainer Visitor’ and neither under ‘Business Visitor’ – thus ruling out any possibility for Al-Raee to obtain a visa.
“What they are saying is that there is no way for me to represent The Freedom Theatre in the UK”, says Al-Raee. “This is despite the fact that I have travelled extensively around Europe and the US, most recently as a keynote speaker at the Kennedy Centre in Washington. That I am suspected of intending to jump ship and stay in the UK, is simply absurd – not to mention offensive. I have my family in Palestine, and my work as the Artistic Director of one of the world’s most interesting theatre institutions. My wife is Portuguese so if I had any wish to live in Europe I would not need a UK visa to do so. I was rejected because of who I am, and this rejection is also part of why we are struggling for our rights and our freedom.”
Jonatan Stanczak, Managing Director of The Freedom Theatre, fears that the refusal of a visa for Nabil Al-Raee may be a precedent for others to come, thus jeopardising the entire production. The denial is likely the result of a more restrictive British visa policy and the privatisation of the visa reviewal system. During the last years several Palestinian cultural workers have been denied entry to the UK.
Zoe Lafferty, director of the upcoming theatre production and one of the organisers of the speaking tour, says that it has been extremely frustrating to deal with UK migrations. “We are not only challenged by the Israeli occupation – also by our own government, effectively denying British artists the opportunity to cooperate with artists from other parts of the world. I do hope that the British public will come to our events to show support for The Freedom Theatre and for Palestinian culture in general.”
Zoe Lafferty adds that one of the actors in the play, Ahmed Tobasi, a Palestinian with Norwegian citizenship, has replaced Al-Raee and the speaking tour is taking place as planned. Tobasi is a former student of The Freedom Theatre School who has spent the last five years making a career for himself as an actor in Norway. He has now returned to Jenin Refugee Camp and The Freedom Theatre, sharing his skills and experiences with new generations of aspiring actors.
The Freedom Theatre has established a network of supporters throughout the UK, including two Friendship Associations that are hosting the speaking tour and the ensuing co-production. Since its establishment in 2006 The Freedom Theatre has received many prominent British guests, including David Miliband, former Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Diane Trevis, theatre director, Howard Brenton, playwright and Maggie Smith, actress. The Freedom Theatre has been featured in British media on several occasions; most recently in The Guardian on the 3rd of March 2014, an article that ended with the words “I am certain, that Freedom theatre’s 2015 UK tour will be a success.”