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Israel bans East Jerusalem children's puppet festival

June 24, 2013 7:33 P.M. (Updated: June 27, 2013 9:22 A.M.)
JERUSALEM (AFP) -- Israeli authorities have banned an East Jerusalem theater from hosting a children's puppet festival, police and the venue's director said on Monday.

El-Hakawati theatre was initially ordered closed from June 22 to 30, after a decision by Internal Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch on the grounds that the festival's alleged sponsorship by the Palestinian Authority was illegal.

"Aharonovitch decided on Friday to close the Hakawati theatre for a week because its activities were being organized under the auspices of the Palestinian Authority," police spokesman Luba Samri told AFP.

Theatre director Mohammed Halayiqa condemned the decision as "disgraceful," saying the PA had no involvement in the International Puppet Festival which was funded by donations from abroad and aimed at children.

"Israeli security services summoned me on Thursday and Friday to ask about the source of the funding," he told AFP.

"Their sources, they said, had told them it was being funded by the PA, and I was handed an order to close the theater for that week, preventing the festival from going ahead."

Halayiqa said staff had gone to great efforts to decorate the theater especially for children, and had stressed to Israeli security services that the festival had no political ties whatsoever.

But on Monday, the security services allowed Halayiqa to reopen the theater - on condition the puppet festival would not go ahead.

"An officer called me this afternoon and told me over the phone that we could open our doors to the public, but without holding the festival," Halayiqa said.

It was the first time El-Hakawati theater had been closed for more than three days since it opened nearly 20 years ago, Halayiqa said.

A spokeswoman for Israel's internal security ministry told AFP: "The theater... operated under the auspices of the Palestinian Authority, without a permit as required by law. An announcement to this effect was given to the theater director.

"The internal security ministry is not opposed to artistic and cultural activities for East Jerusalem children, as long as they are conducted according to law," she said.
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