Police Disperse 'Palestinian Culture Festival' Events

Gatherings blocked, 20 organizers arrested; Festival meant to declare Jerusalem 'capital of Arab culture.'

Jonathan Lis
Jack Khoury Haaretz Service
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Jonathan Lis
Jack Khoury Haaretz Service

Jerusalem Police on Saturday dispersed a number of small events staged as part of the Palestinian Culture Festival, meant to declare the city "the capital of Arabic culture for 2009."

As of Saturday afternoon, police had shut down eight events and arrested 20 people, believed to be the events' organizers.

Among the people detained were two employees of Al-Quds University, who were planning to hand out T-shirts promoting the festival. Police also prevented students from entering the university's campus.

At a school on Nablus Road, police broke up a soccer game affiliated with the culture festival. They also dispersed a gathering of young girls at the al-Hiyala club, blocked a group of students bearing PLO flags from reaching the Temple Mount and prevented a similar event on Haroun el-Rashid road.

In the neighborhood of Ral al-Amud, police confiscated a torch, brought in from Syria, which was to have been lit at an inauguration rally at sundown, an Israeli official said.

Police also dispersed crowds on Salah al-Din Street and in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Wadi al-Joz.

Despite the confrontations, no violence or injuries were reported.

Public Security Minister Avi Dichter had instructed police to act forcefully against any attempts by the Palestinian Authority to stage events in Jerusalem or other parts of Israel.

Israel Police and Border Police increased their presence in the Old City and Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem on Saturday in preparation for possible clashes relating to the Palestinian Culture Festival, organized by the Palestinian Authority and scheduled to take place Saturday.

Jerusalem Police announced on Friday they would prevent the so-called Palestinian Culture Festival the Palestinian Authority plans to organize in the city.

MK Mohammed Barakeh (Hadash) harshly criticized Dichter for cancelling the event in Jerusalem and Nazareth.

"The event planned for Saturday evening was initiated by the municipality of Nazareth and sponsored by the Palestinian Authority and was meant to be a cultural event," said Barakeh.

"This government is not only an enemy of any hope for peace, but also an enemy of culture and all that is humane," Barakeh added. "There is a fact that all of Israel's deluded efforts cannot change, and that is that Al-Quds [Jerusalem] will be the capital of Palestine."

The PA were planning to fly a glider plane painted in the colors of the Palestinian national flag over the walls of the Old City as part of the festival, meant to declare the city to be "the capital of Arabic culture for 2009."

The police said that they were determined to enforce the law, whereby any event organized and funded by the PA is prohibited within Jerusalem's municipal jurisdiction.

The head of the Legal Forum for the Land of Israel, Nachi Eyal, on Wednesday urged Dichter and Police Commissioner David Cohen to thwart the staging of the event.

"To the best of my understanding, this is an attempt to demonstrate Palestinian sovereignty in Jerusalem in an illegal manner," said Eyal.

"The law...obligates the Palestinian Authority to respect the sovereignty of Israel within the boundaries of the State of Israel, including East Jerusalem."

Since early Friday morning, large police forces, including Border Police, have arrived at the city and were slated to deploy to East Jerusalem and the surrounding Arab villages on Saturday.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, meanwhile, was scheduled to kick off the celebrations from his headquarters in Ramallah. Events were also due to be held in Gaza, Lebanon, Nazareth and Bethlehem.