Jerusalem: Capital of Arabic Culture 2009

Tension vs. Celebrations
By Arwa Aburawa
Freelance Journalist - UK

Bethlehem, West Bank- Israeli police forces have prevented Palestinians in Jerusalem from taking part in celebrations which mark the holy city as the 'Capital of Arabic Culture 2009.' The Israeli authorities refused to allow the program of events scheduled to take place in Jerusalem, forcing the celebrations to be launched from the West Bank instead.

Occupied Jerusalem as Cultural Capital

The city was elected two years ago by the Arab League for Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organizations (ALESCO) with the aim of restoring Jerusalem's prominence as a city of cultural, historical and religious value. The events also hoped to counter the 'Judaization' of Jerusalem and to help preserve the city's Arab cultural identity in the face of Israel's cultural and political dominance. 

Al Jazeera reported that around 20 Palestinians were detained although there were no reports of violence. Police reinforcements on horseback were deployed around the illegally occupied east of Jerusalem and banners and flags to mark the event were confiscated. According to Israeli law, any celebrations organized and funded by the Palestinian Authority are banned within Jerusalem's municipal jurisdiction.

In response to these constraints, the Jerusalem choir who sang the Palestinian national anthem 'Fida'i' as well as recitations of Qu'ran were recorded in Jerusalem two days before the launch and aired in Bethlehem to coincide with live events. Adnan Al Husseini, the governor of Jerusalem also thanked all those who attended the main event in Bethlehem via a satellite link-up from Jerusalem.

Events to celebrate Jerusalem as Capital of Arab Culture 2009 were postponed in January due to the war on Gaza which left over 1,400 dead and 4,000 wounded. President Mahmoud Abbas states that he is working hard on a truce which would guarantee the rights of Palestinians and protect them from future attacks. Planned events for the rest of the year have now been canceled.

Daily threat to Palestinians living in Jerusalem

President Abbas stated that "those who want peace and normal relations with the Palestinians and the rest of the Arabs must stop settlement activities and stop the demolishing of Palestinians homes in Jerusalem."

"We will not be driven out of our homes” insisted Abbas, “We will continue to protect and live in our homes in Jerusalem and everywhere in Palestine." 

Jerusalem's municipality has been criticized for issuing demolition orders for 88 Palestinian homes in neighborhoods such as Silwan and Sheikh Jarrah from January to March 2009 alone. This is seen as part of wider Israeli policy to reduce Jerusalem's Palestinian population and to expand Israeli settlements within the city.

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