The families of three Israeli arrested in southeast Nigeria have called for the release of their children.
In a press statement released by the family on Tuesday, the families of the Israelis, Rudy Rochman, a Zionist activist, filmmaker Noam Leibman and French-Israeli journalist E. David Benaym said they were in Nigeria “as part of a documentary filmmaking effort to explore the lives and customs of Jewish communities around the world”.
The documentary series titled, “We Were Never Lost” (www.wewereneverlost.com) according to the family is designed to educate viewers about the religious and cultural experiences of lesser-known Jewish communities.
“Their goal is to interview members of Jewish communities across multiple African countries, along with Jewish communities in China, India, Afghanistan, and elsewhere,” the family said in the statement.
But on Friday, July 9th, the boys were arrested and detained at a synagogue during night services in Ogidi village by Department of State Security Service, DSS over an alleged connection with the Biafra separatist group, They were then taken to Abuja later.
The filmmakers had been aware of the separatist tension in the region and last Thursday, they wrote in the ‘We Were Never Lost’ Facebook page: We do not take any position on political movements as we are not here as politicians nor as a part of any governmental delegations.”
This claim was also stressed in the Tuesday’s press statement by the families who stated that “the filmmaking crew does not have any political intentions, that their visit is purely for educational filmmaking purposes, and that the filmmakers do not support the actions of any local groups that have tried to assign their own political meaning to the activities of the filmmaking team”.
The families however said images of the presentation of a framed Shiviti made in Jerusalem presented to Igbo leader Eze Chukwuemeka Eri and a “Torah scroll whose cover was designed by British-Israeli street artist Solomon Souza presented to an Igbo community were used by separatist groups to push their selfish agenda and thus distort the intention of the filmmakers as being sympathetic to their separatist agenda.
“These politically-motivated actors have taken a simple gesture of kindness and twisted it in an attempt to create an alternate meaning,” it said.
The family further said they are working with “the U.S., Israell and French Embassies on the matter and have urged “that the team should be released from custody as soon as possible”.
Separatist groups in the southeast region have claimed to be a lost tribe from Israel. And Nnamdi Kanu, the recently extradited leader of a proscribed separatist group, Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) had at different times said that he “believes in Judaism” and considers himself a Jew. Oftentimes, he had led his Biafran people to various Jewish prayers and religious observations.