The PalFest in Jerusalem despite Israeli police
Marie MMina - 19/06/2009
The organisers of the PalFest meant to “confront the culture of power with the power of culture”. None but Jerusalem could be as prominent, so that’s where they decided to inaugurate and close the second edition of this touring literature festival, in the honour of Al-Quds 2009 (Jerusalem, capital of Arab culture). However, Israeli police forces closed the National Palestinian Theatre, that was due to host the inauguration on 23 May and the closure of the event on 28 May, just an hour before each of the two events. The first one finally took place at the French Cultural Centre and the second one at the British Council.
“Even an author or a musician can pose a threat to Israel’s security”, says ironically Rania Elias of Yabous productions, one of the co-organisers of this festival that gathered Palestinian and foreign writers for a tour around the West Bank (Ramallah, Jenin, Bethlehem and Hebron). “They fight anything Palestinians do in Jerusalem”.
The launch of Al Quds 2009 on last May had already been disquieting. This new Israeli intervention against a Palestinian cultural event in East Jerusalem occurred in a very particular context.
On the Arab side of town, conquered by Israel in 1967, the orders to demolish the Palestinian houses have abounded in the last months, whereas the authorisations to extend the Jewish settlements have multiplied. According to some observers, by these means the Jewish State hopes to encircle East Jerusalem with settlements and cut it off from the rest of the West Bank to avoid returning it as the future Palestinian capital. The annexation of East Jerusalem, contrary to international law, was ratified by the Knesset since 1980 with the adoption of the basic law that makes of Jerusalem the “complete and unified” capital of Israel. The law was judged “”null and void” by the UN Security Council in resolution 478, though this doesn’t prevent Israel from trying to create circumstances that will make any retrocession difficult, or even impossible.
The fact that the Oslo Agreements (1993-94) prohibit the right to the Palestinian Authority (PA) to carry out political activities in East Jerusalem makes things even easier. In this part of town, Israeli police forces can consequently interrupt any event that may be linked actually or supposedly to the PA. This is the explanation they gave for the launch of Al Quds 2009 and that was brought forward once again for the PalFest.
The literature festival was mainly financed by the British Council, the UNESCO and the Sigrid Rausing Charitable Fund, with Yabous Productions as Palestinian partner. The Palestinian Authority does not appear in the sponsor list. Nevertheless, when questioned about a possible financial support to the PalFest, the Chief of Staff of the PA President Mahmoud Abbas, doesn’t fully disclaim this fact. “Even if the Palestinians wished to finance it, it’s a cultural event. There are no weapons, no terrorism, no violence involved”, declares Rafiq Husseini. To him, Israel “has no moral right to do this”.
“They didn’t win. They closed the theatre but we are here”, continues Rafiq Husseini during an interview with BabelMed in the garden of the British Council. He believes that such police interventions can only “lead the Palestinian people to hate Israel as well as all the others that witness them”.
“Honestly, I didn’t think this evening would take place” says Suheir Hammad, the actress of “Sel de la Mer” by Annemarie Jacir. Some days before, she had read her poems in Ramallah in a slam that happily mixed English with Arabic. “Even after a week here, I feel ignorant and powerless”, reveals this Brooklyn resident.
“It’s crazy”, reflects writer and lawyer Raja Shehadeh, who founded in Ramallah the Al-Haq organisation for the defence of human rights. “There’s no excuse for this to happen”, he reacts at the closure of the National Palestinian Theatre. Then he adds smiling: “It’s very flattering for the authors to be taken so seriously as to mobilise so many police cars.”
Among the other participants to the PalFest were: Souad Amiry, author of “Sharon and my Mother-in-law”, which describes daily episodes of the absurdity of the Occupation; novelist Jamal Mahjoub, born in the UK, grown in Sudan and presently living in Spain whose work “Travelling with Djinns” received the Astrolabe award; the author of Swedish thrillers Henning Mankell, the “father” of captain Kurt Wallander; British humorist Michael Palin, member of Monty Python and script-writer among others of the “Life of Brian”.