Israel scraps festival at France-linked site over Palestinian 'funding'

AFP , Wednesday 27 Oct 2021

Israel has cancelled a cultural festival at a French-protected site in annexed east Jerusalem, claiming it was sponsored by the Palestinian Authority without Israeli permission, which organisers denied Wednesday.

A file photo, Palestinians attend a rally organized by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), in Gaza City. Israel on Friday, Oct. 22, declared six prominent Palestinian human rights groups to be terrorist organizations, saying they were secretly linked to a left-wing militant movement. It was not immediately clear what the distinction would mean for the groups, most of which also protest rights violations by the Western-backed Palestinian Authority. AP

The scheduled three-day festival at the Abraham's House for religious pilgrims, with performances by Palestinian arts groups, was supported by the United Nations Development Programme, Finland and Austria.

Abraham's House manager Bernard Thibaud told AFP that performances had already begun for children on Tuesday when police arrived and shut it down, adding that he was "shocked and ashamed" by the cancelation.

The French consul general in Jerusalem as well as the consulate's religious affairs advisor had also already visited the festival, diplomatic sources told AFP.

In the cancellation order, Israel's Minister of Public Security Omer Barlev wrote the event was being held "with sponsorship and funding of the Palestinian Authority, and this is without written permission".

Police who came to the venue wore plain clothes and travelled in unmarked cars, the diplomatic sources said.

Abraham's House is managed by a religious charity, Secours Catholique-Caritas France. It is under the protection of the French Consulate in Jerusalem, similar to the Church of Sainte-Anne in the Old City, which President Emmanuel Macron visited last year.


 'A little joy'


"The purpose is to bring a little joy and leisure to kids and adults of these surroundings who are experiencing lots of poverty and violence," Thibaud said.

"Having the police stop these cultural events is just bringing more violence to the district."

Israel captured east Jerusalem in the 1967 Six Day War and annexed it, a move not recognised by most of the international community.

Israel prohibits official Palestinian activity in east Jerusalem, where Palestinians hope to establish the capital of their state.

The festival was organised by the Edward Said National Conservatory of Music, El-Hakawati Palestinian National Theater and the Qafilah mobile theatre in Jerusalem.

Asked if the PA supported his organisation or the festival, conservatory director general Suhail Khoury told AFP, "no, not at all".

Amer Khalil, director of el-Hakawati, also told AFP the PA was "not at all" supporting his group or the festival, adding that it was a UNDP programme.

Imad Mitwalli, director of Qafilah, said his organisation "never ever" received money from the PA.

Barlev did not immediately reply to AFP questions.

The arts groups publicised the event with the help of a local association in Silwan, a Palestinian neighbourhood at the edge of Jerusalem's Old City.

Hundreds of residents there face potential eviction as Israeli settlers mount legal challenges to claim property that Jews owned before the 1948 war for Israel's independence.


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