23 May 2009
Israeli police and armed border officials shut down the Palestinian National Theater in East Jerusalem on Saturday, in an effort to quash the Palestine Festival of Literature and prevent international writer and poets from addressing Palestinians.
The weeklong festival, sponsored in part by the British Council and UNESCO, was scheduled to begin at 6:30 with two panel discussions by authors from Canada, Britain, South Africa and Australia. The second annual festival will travel around Palestine and decided to begin and end events in Jerusalem in honor of Al-Quds Capital of Culture 2009.
In a last minute effort to let the show go on, organizers moved the event to the French Cultural Center also in East Jerusalem. Audience members crowded on the lawn outside the building as book readings and discussions on the theme of displacement in world literature were interrupted by power cuts and police sirens.
The spectators and litterateurs were greeted at the new event by five Israeli police vehicles stationed outside the garden wall.
According to some reports the initial decision to close down the performance at the National Theater was made at the request of the Israeli Interior Ministry. The move mirrors efforts to quash celebrations of Jerusalem culture for the 2009 Capital of Culture events.
The French consul, as well as Head of the Palestinian President’s office Rafiq Al-Husseini, attended the event. Al-Husseini, as well as the six authors who spoke in an abbreviated format, condemned the Israeli actions.
Al-Husseini also praised France for stepping up to host the event, viewing it as empowering Palestinian demands for reopening closed offices in the capital.