(Nasser Ishtayeh/Flash90; Shutterstock)
Zakaria Zubeidi

“Taxpayers’ money is being spent on promoting boycotts of Israel and one of these groups is linked to a terrorist,” said British lawmaker Robert Halfon.

By Pesach Benson, United With Israel

British taxpayers are funding two Palestinian art companies that are pressing for BDS.

One of the companies was founded by a Palestinian terror commander whose prison sentence was extended five years after a notorious jailbreak, London’s Jewish Chronicle reported.

The Freedom Theater was founded by Zakaria Zubeidi, a commander in the Fatah-aligned Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades. Zubeidi and other terrorists opened fire and threw grenades at a Likud polling station in Beit Shean in 2002. Six people were killed and another 34 were injured. He also claimed responsibility for a 2004 Tel Aviv bombing that killed one woman and injured another 30.

Keeping one step ahead of the IDF, Zubeidi was one of Israel’s most wanted fugitives for several years.

The other entity is the dance troupe Hawiyya. Both received thousands of pounds in public money through the British Council, which encourages cultural, educational and scientific cooperation with the United Kingdom

According to the JC, the Freedom Theatre was awarded a £74,976 ($94,382) grant in March 2022. The theater also received grants “that ran to tens of thousands of pounds in 2015 and January 2021.”

Hawiyya received £16,576 ($20,866) in March, to fund a show currently touring Britain.

In response, senior Tory MP Robert Halfon told the JC: “This is pretty shocking. Taxpayers’ money is being spent on promoting boycotts of Israel and one of these groups is linked to a terrorist. The Government must now deliver on what it promised over BDS in the Queen’s Speech.”

The Freedom Theater

In 2008, Israel pardoned Zubeidi and around 200 other wanted fugitives as part of a controversial amnesty program. After turning in his guns, Zubeidi was hired as director of the Freedom Theater in Jenin.

Israel cancelled Zubeidi’s pardon in 2011, saying he had violated its terms. He spent several years in Palestinian detention before being arrested by Israel in 2019.

Zubeidi was one of six Palestinian terrorists who escaped from the Gilboa prison in 2021, Israel’s biggest jailbreak. All the fugitives were caught after a two-week manhunt. On Sunday, an Israeli court extended the sentences of all six escapees by five years.

He is prominently featured on the Freedom Theater’s web site and Facebook pages.

The Hawiyya dance troupe was co-founded by Shahd Abusalama, a Gaza-born lecturer at Sheffield Hallam University.

In February, despite protests from Jewish students, Abusalama was reappointed as an associate lecturer. Jewish students protested, saying she made the campus a “hostile environment for Jews.” The JC reported at the time that Abusalama, who was “due to teach a course on ‘post-colonial media culture,’ has also written posts praising Palestinian terrorists as ‘heroes’ and declaring that ‘Zionists… buy presidents.'”

Critics pointed to social media posts describing Palestinian terrorist Leila Khaled as a “beautiful fighter,” who “became a symbol of the Palestinian revolution in her glory, hijacking airplanes and shaking the Zionist entity and the world.”

Other social media posts by the Freedom Theater, Hawiyya and their associates have supported BDS and denounced normalization, which would appear to go against the ethos of the British Council.

A spokeswoman for the British Council told the JC: “Both these organisations were successful with grants awarded through a competitive open call.

“These funding decisions have been through vetting at the British Council and comply with UK Government policy.” The Freedom Theatre was “committed to using the arts as a catalyst for social change”, she said.