Culture of Power attacks Power of Culture, in Jerusalem
ARMED Israeli Border Police invaded a Palestinian theatre in Jerusalem on Saturday evening, just as an internationally-supported literary festival was about to open, and ordered it to close.
A squad of a dozen or so police walked into the Palestine National Theatre in East Jerusalem. They brought with them a letter from the Israeli Ministry of Internal Security which said the festival could not be allowed, because it was supported by the Palestine National Authority.
The week-long festival is being supported by the British Council and UNESCO, and has attracted leading authors from abroad – including Henning Mankell, Michael Palin and Ahdaf Soueif – to do a speaking tour of Jerusalem and the West Bank. Saturday night's opening session was to feature a panel of authors from Britain, Australia, South Africa and Canada.
The ordered the audience and eight speakers - from to leave, but the event was held several minutes later, on a smaller scale, in the garden of the nearby French Cultural Centre. It was interrupted by poweer cuts and police sirens. Israeli police were deployed on the street outside, with five vehicles.
"We're so taken aback. It's completely, completely independent," said Egyptian novelist Soueif, who is chairing the Festival. "I think it's very telling," she told the crowd at the French centre. "Our motto, which is taken from the late Edward Said, is to pit the power of culture against the culture of power."
The French consul attended the event, as did Rafiq Al-Husseini, from the Palestinian president's office. Al-Husseini condemned the Israeli actions, but praised France for stepping up to host the event, viewing it as empowering Palestinian demands for reopening offices in the capital. This year was declared Jerusalem, Al Quds -Capital of Arab Culture year by UNESCO, but events have faced frequent harassment.
Video of the festival team arriving, held up at Allenby Bridge, and starting tour:
Israel has unilaterally annexed East Jerusalem and its environs, and Prime Minister Benyam Netanyahu insists there is no way it would share the city with the Palestinians as part of a peace deal. The Zionist state's apologists like to say Jerusalem shall not be "divided again"; but as Saturday night's police action should remind us, it remains bitterly divided - between occupiers and occupied - and the Israeli authorities are doing everything to deny Palestinian rights in the city.
In Edinburgh a group of protesters were accused of "racism" for interrupting an Israeli dance event as part of the boycott. But the organisers of the film festival have acknowledged they made a mistake accepting money from the Israeli government.
I'm not a great fan of cultural boycotts myself. They can often misfire and hit the wrong people. But for harassment and intimidation, a few students dishing out leaflets can hardly compare with an Israeli army roadblock, or armed police raiding a theatre to close a literary festival. Perhaps all those people who jealously guard what they call "cultural freedom", against boycotters, will raise their voices over this Israeli action?