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Jerusalem Festival postponed in response to ‘discriminatory’ policies at Al-Aqsa

July 18, 2017 6:36 P.M. (Updated: Aug. 29, 2017 10:38 A.M.)
"Jerusalem Festival 2017 postponed" (Yabous Cultural Center)
By: Lily Leach

BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- A highly-anticipated Palestinian cultural festival that was set to launch in Jerusalem on Tuesday has been indefinitely postponed as a result of what organizers called an escalation of “oppression and violence” targeting Jerusalemites in the occupied city.

In the wake of an armed confrontation between Palestinian gunmen and Israeli border police inside the Old City’s Al-Aqsa Mosque compound on Friday, the Israeli government has been accused of enforcing a policy of collective punishment, after unprecedented security measures were imposed at the site.

Israeli authorities closed Al-Aqsa completely for nearly three consecutive days, the first time the site was closed since 2014, which also marked the first time since 1967 the mosque was closed for Friday prayers.

When the mosque reopened on Sunday, new metal detectors were installed at its entrances, and Palestinian worshipers have since refused to pass through them, praying outside the compound and in surrounding streets instead, in protest of the Israeli attempts to further control the holy site and Jerusalem at large.

As a result of the increasingly tense situation in Jerusalem, the Yabous Cultural Center, the organizers of Jerusalem Festival 2017, announced Tuesday the event would be cancelled until further notice.

“After almost one year of preparations for a distinctive festival to revive the cultural life in Jerusalem, and as we were preparing to host internationally renowned performers, the Israeli discriminatory measures towards Palestinians in Jerusalem have increased to even prohibit freedom of worship,” a statement released by Yabous said.

“Now the holiest sites are surrounded with discriminatory metal detectors with the aim of humiliating our people, and anyone wishing to pray at Al-Aqsa Mosque, following a systematic strategy to empty Jerusalem.”

Palestinians have repeatedly charged that restrictions faced at Al-Aqsa and other Israeli policies are part of a larger strategy to "Judaize" occupied East Jerusalem and deny the Palestinian right to live and pray in the holy city.

Later on Tuesday, Jordanian singer Omar Abdallat and the Palestine International Festival, headlined by Jordanian band Jadal, each announced on Facebook that their upcoming concerts in the occupied West Bank would also be postponed in an act of solidarity with Jerusalem.

Yabous Director Raniya Elias told Ma’an that organizers had deliberated over the past three days before eventually reaching the difficult decision to postpone the festival, despite nearly a year of preparations with the help of more than 100 volunteers, not to mention the financial consequences.

A number of international acts including the Serano Dance Group, a flamenco group from Spain, had already arrived to Jerusalem to perform alongside local artists such as Palestinian citizen of Israel Simon Shahin, regarded as one of the most significant oud players in the region.

According to Elias, Yabous had previously postponed the Jerusalem Festival twice since it first launched in 1996: in 2006 in response Israel's war in Lebanon, and in 2014, following unrest stemming from the kidnapping and murder of 16-year-old Muhammad Abu Khdeir that in part led to Israel’s devastating military offensive in the Gaza Strip.

“The whole situation is very tense and stressful, and what happened at Al-Aqsa demands that we stand against the decision to install the metal detectors in respect to the situation,” she said.

“This is a demand that everyone be granted freedom of worship and expression. People continue to go to church and pray (in Jerusalem) without checkpoints. It should be the same for the mosque or places of worship for any religion.”

Amid ongoing protests in the Old City against the metal detectors and the heightened security presence, dozens of Palestinians have been wounded in clashes with Israeli forces, who have also conducted overnight detention raids into neighboring Palestinian communities.

“There are a lot of young people injured -- one young man in particular is in a very dangerous situation in the hospital. This is not a time to celebrate,” a local Palestinian activist involved in planning the Jerusalem Festival, who asked to remain anonymous, told Ma’an.

He noted that, while the postponement of Jerusalem Festival 2017 came as an independent decision by its organizers, several other Palestinian cultural events have been forced to shut down by Israeli authorities in recent months, in part due to the complicated bureaucratic procedures imposed by the Israeli Jerusalem municipality on organizers.

Meanwhile, as freedom of movement, worship, and expression have become increasingly restricted for Palestinians, Israeli authorities continue to support a wide variety of festivals and cultural events promoting Jewish Israeli culture in East Jerusalem, which was annexed by the Israeli state in 1980 in a move never recognized by the international community.

“They try to control the content and every detail related to an event, in an attempt to convince visitors that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, while burying any information about Palestinians and our history in Jerusalem,” the activist highlighted.

Last month, between 27 and 37 Palestinian cultural institutions, including Yabous, were ordered by Israeli authorities to close their Israeli bank accounts. The organizations are all currently fighting the orders in court.

As Israeli authorities require an Israeli bank account in order to open an association in Jerusalem, if the municipality succeeds in forcing the bank accounts to close, the institutions will also have to shut down completely.

Despite the challenges, which have influenced some Jerusalemite artists to simply leave the city for the occupied West Bank to avoid the discriminatory Israeli bureaucracy, the local activist asserted that Palestinian cultural institutions will remain committed to continue working in Jerusalem.

In Yabous’ statement announcing the festival's postponement, the center wrote: “The Jerusalem Festival was and will remain a space for free expression, for people who appreciate culture and life and seek everything that is beautiful and humane.”
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