17 December 2009
Bethlehem – Ma’an – Israeli forces arrested several and scuffled with Palestinians while shutting down a cultural festival meant to proclaim attachment to Jerusalem on Thursday.
Organizers, including Prisoners’ Club President Nasser Kaws, were hustled out of the Damascus Gate area of the Old City of Jerusalem and detained by Israeli border police, prompting scuffles at the main entrance into the ancient streets.
Also among those arrested was the secretary-general of Jerusalem’s Fatah movement Omar Ash-Shabi.
Crowds gathered at the site and groups sang traditional wedding songs, gathering in clusters around television cameras stationed on the stairs leading to the gate.
One participant in the event, meant to mark Al-Quds Capital of Arab Culture 2009 which comes to an end at the close of this month, told reporters, “Israel used to say they detain everyone who threatens it with weapons, but look, are these people threatening it? They are just celebrating.”
A performer at the Jerusalem event noted, “Israel is an occupation so it is its job to marginalize Palestinian culture, but we will resist with our willpower. No one can suppress the Palestinian people.”
Intended to be a yearlong event sponsored by the Arab League, Al-Quds Capital of Arab Culture was officially banned by Israel. The festival was marred by arrests and police raids.
Israel occupied East Jerusalem along with the West Bank in 1967 in a move not accepted by the international community.
Israeli forces also broke up a march planned by Palestinian scout troops and closed schools where cultural events were taking place.
Soldiers also surrounded the French Cultural Center and the British Council, where two simultaneous events were planned as the finale of Al-Quds Capital of Arab Culture.
The two events were headed by Rafiq Al-Husseni the head of the Palestinian president’s office and the other by the Ahmad Ar-Ruwedi, the head of the Jerusalem unit in the president’s office.
Israeli officers handed out a written order from the Israeli minister of internal security stating that the cultural activities were prohibited.
Ar-Ruwedi listed the schools that were shut down by Israel: St. George’s School, Freres, At-Tefl Al-Arabi, Az-Zuhour Kindergarten, Dar Al-Awlad, and the Refugees Girls School.
In Nablus, thousands also attended a celebration of Jerusalem as the Capital of Arab Culture, apparently organized by the local branch of Fatah. President Mahmoud Abbas gave opening remarks at the celebration in the northern West Bank city.
Abbas told the demonstration that Jerusalem is the eternal capital of Palestine. “Jerusalem is ours and it will remain ours,” he added.
Also attending the event in Nablus was Sheikh Abdallah Bin Zayid Al-Nahyan, the foreign minister of the United Arab Emirates, and a number of Palestinian Authority officials.