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Another existential threat? Israel bans Palestinian cultural events on Israeli soil

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Ira
Glunts, who used to live in Israel and now lives in upstate New York, has been tracking the Israeli response to the Arab cultural festival. Read his account and weep. It is about profound disrespect for the other.

 

The Israeli
authorities have prevented all events associated with al-Quds Arab
Culture Capital
2009 celebration from occurring in what they consider to be
Israeli sovereign territory.  The harsh suppression of the cultural
expression of Palestinians of which this action is indicative,
reflects the very grim reality of the
Israeli relationship to the Palestinian people, especially those
with whom they live in close proximity.  The Arab Culture Capital
festival, which is celebrated in a different Arab city each year,
hosts artists, officials and tourists from all over the Arabic-speaking
world.   The Israeli refusal to allow these cultural events to take
place in Jerusalem and within Israel's borders sends a blunt and clear
message, not only to Palestinians, but to all Arabs.  The message is: We do
not intend to acknowledge your rights or your presence here,
ever. 

 

This
year's al-Quds celebration was scheduled to include events
in Jerusalem (al-Quds), Gaza, Nazareth, Ramallah and a refugee camp in
Lebanon. According to the Israeli newspaper web site YNet,
Interior Minister Avi Dichter ordered the police "to forcefully
suppress" any attempt by the Palestinian Authority to stage any event
in or around Jerusalem or the rest of Israel, which is connected to
the festival.  Israeli authorities view all external demonstrations of what
they consider expressions of Arab sovereignty to be illegal within what
they consider to be their borders.

 

On Saturday morning,
March 21, 1000 Israeli police were deployed in the Old City of Jerusalem to stop
all events associated with the festival.   Most of the
originally scheduled events had either been moved or cancelled as a
result of the Israeli orders.  However, according to the Israeli
daily Ma'ariv, eight different smaller events were
closed down by the authorities during the day.  In
addition, there were 20 arrests of either organizers or
participants.

 

Events associated
with the festival which were shut down by police included a football game,
a meeting of youths inside a club building and an attempt by schoolchildren
carrying Palestinian flags to enter the area around the
al-Aqsa mosque.  Hundreds of young students accompanied by
their teachers who attempted to stage some modest artistic events in the
Old City of Jerusalem were prevented from doing so by
police.  The authorities also arrested  two employees of al-Quds
University who were distributing T-shirts commemorating the festival.

 

In Ras al-Amud, a
neighborhood in East Jerusalem, police shut down an event in which there were
hundreds of participants, according to the Israeli daily,
Ma'ariv.  In a separate incident, a ceremonial torch which
was brought from Damascus the site of last year's festival was confiscated by
police.  In addition to the closings in and around Jerusalem, a conference
associated with the Al-Quds Capital of Arab Culture celebration which was
scheduled in the Palestinian-Israeli city of Nazareth, was prohibited by police
order.  

 

The official opening
event, which was supposed to take place in East Jerusalem, was
relocated to Bethlehem, where on Saturday evening Palestinian
officials appeared live and via a television hook-up which was broadcast,
apparently illegally, from East Jerusalem.  President Mahmoud Abbas
was present and addressed those gathered in Bethlehem for the opening
ceremony.  The International Middle East Media Center web
site reported Saturday that Hamas had refused to host the
scheduled events associated with the festival in Gaza.

 

Member of the
Israeli Parliament Haim Oron, in remarks pointedly critical of his
government, said, "Israel must encourage cultural pluralism both Israeli and
Palestinian." He added that "East Jerusalem is the cultural capital of the
Palestinians and that does not constitute any threat to Israel,… Jerusalem is
the cultural capital of Israel and also that of Palestine."

 

In relation to the
horrors of the Gaza War and the recent revelations about the conduct of the
Israeli army in that war, all this may seem insignificant.  But it is hard
to envision a peace between Israelis and
Palestinians when 1000 Israel police are being deployed
to grab flags out of the hands of children and stop teenagers from playing
football in a event organized by the Palestinian Authority.

Ira Glunts

Ira Glunts is a retired college librarian who lives in Madison, NY. His twitter handle is @abushalom

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