Israeli filmmakers to spend second Shabbat in jail in Nigeria
Three Israeli filmmakers arrested in Nigeria are set to spend a second Shabbat in prison.
They have not been charged by Nigerian authorities and are without legal representation, according to members of the Jewish community familiar with the situation.
Rudy Rochman, a pro-Israel activist with nearly 95,000 Instagram followers, filmmaker Andrew Noam Leibman and Franco-Israeli journalist Edouard David Benaym were arrested last week while filming a documentary in a separatist southern region -est of Nigeria.
According to media reports, Nigerian State Services Department officials arrested and questioned the trio on July 9 on suspicion of having come into contact with Biafran separatists.
That night, members of the Nigerian Jewish community called Rabbi Israel Uzan, the Chabad rabbi of Nigeria, who is in France for the summer.
Chabad, along with expatriate Jews living in Nigeria, provided the three men with kosher food and religious items.
“We are there to help them and to help the parents with the connections, with food for the boys, with everything they need for Shabbat, with tefillin,” Uzan said.
One of the men entered Nigeria with a French passport and the other two with American passports. This made it difficult for the Israeli embassy to get involved at first, according to sources with knowledge of the situation.
To complicate matters, the US embassy reduced its operations on Friday as a security measure, without providing further details. Muslim Eid al-Adha
the holidays fall next week, which means the embassy will not function normally until July 26.
The families of the three Israelis said Wednesday that local political elements had “twisted” the donation of a Torah scroll to a local community to claim that it constitutes support for separatist political ambitions.
The Torah scroll is currently with the local community.
The Israelis were in Nigeria to film ”We have never been lost», A documentary exploring Jewish communities in African countries such as Kenya, Madagascar, Uganda and Nigeria.
They took off from Ben-Gurion Airport on July 5 and landed in Nigeria the next day.
https://wewereneverlost.raisegiving.com (Click here) We are going to Africa soon to document the stories of…
According to locals, the crew were held in a synagogue during Thursday night’s church services in the Igbo village of Ogidi by Nigeria’s secret police and taken to the capital Abuja. The Igbo see themselves as a lost tribe of Israel.
In their statement, the families explained that the filmmakers brought gifts for the communities that hosted them.
The group met Igbo leader Eze Chukwuemeka Eri last week and presented him with a Shiviti made in Jerusalem.
Honored by King Igbo Eze Chukwuemeka Eri and guest in his palace. I presented him with a gift from Israel, a shiviti …
Rochman also presented another Igbo community with a Torah scroll, the cover of which was designed by Anglo-Israeli street artist Solomon Souza.
“The film crew thought it would be a nice gesture to bring several gifts with cultural symbolism to the communities they were planning to visit,” the families said in their statement, adding that one of the gifts was the Torah scroll.
“Unfortunately, members of non-state political groups have misused footage of filmmakers offering Torah to a local community for their own purposes,” the families accused.
“These individuals distort the intentions of the filmmakers in order to create a link with local political issues when such a link does not exist,” they said. “These politically motivated actors took a simple gesture of kindness and twisted it in an attempt to create an alternate meaning.”
A relative of one of the men told The Times of Israel on Tuesday that separatist social media accounts took advantage of the Israelis’ trip to claim that the three supported separatist groups in Biafra.
The documentary series “is designed to educate viewers about the religious and cultural experiences of lesser-known Jewish communities. Their objective is to interview members of Jewish communities in several African countries, as well as Jewish communities in China, India, Afghanistan and elsewhere, ”the families said.
“This documentary is not intended to make political statements about the countries in which filming will take place, and the film crew does not endorse any political movement. The film crew acts as a guest visiting the country and its different communities – there is no political connotation, ”they said.
The filmmakers were aware of the political sensitivity surrounding the filming of the Igbo community. Last Thursday, the Facebook page “We Were Never Lost” noted: “We take no position on political movements because we are not here as politicians or as a member of any government delegation. “
One of the detainees, Benaym, was temporarily released from custody on Tuesday evening and handed over to the French embassy in Abuja for unspecified medical reasons, a spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry told Wednesday. Times of Israel.
The families confirmed the details, saying that “as a sign of appeasement, the DSS authorized the French Embassy to welcome Edouard David Benaym on Tuesday evening for medical treatment, with the intention of bringing him back into custody. the next day to continue. investigation.”
While a family friend of one of the detainees told The Times of Israel that former Israeli minister Ayoub Kara had traveled to Nigeria to participate in the talks, the ministry spokesman said Kara was was already in Nigeria and was not involved in the diplomatic effort.
Kara did not respond to a request for comment.
“We are working diligently with the American, Israeli and French embassies on this issue, and we greatly appreciate the attention they have given to the situation. Their involvement helped improve conditions for filmmakers while in detention – including the delivery of kosher meals prepared by the local Chabad, ”the families of the detainees said.
“We hope the DSS will quickly conclude what the facts support – that the film crew has no political motive and that the crew should be released as soon as possible,” they concluded.
In January, a conflict erupted in southeastern Nigeria between Nigerian forces and the military wing of the Biafra Indigenous Peoples Movement (IPOB). The fight is on.
A previous unilateral declaration of independence by the Igbo people in 1967 sparked a brutal 30-month civil war that left over a million dead.
In 2018, fugitive pro-Biafran separatist leader Nnamdi Kanu gave a radio broadcast saying he was in Israel and indicating that he owed his survival to the Jewish state.
Kanu, a former London real estate agent, runs IPOB and the banned pirate radio station Radio Biafra. He maintains that the Igbo people, the majority in southeastern Nigeria, are a lost tribe of Israel and his mission is to lead them to the Promised Land of Biafra.
Kanu faces charges of treason in his homeland. He was arrested by Interpol in the Czech Republic in June 2021.
AFP and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.