Israeli Minister Shuts Down Church Event in East Jerusalem, Citing Palestinian Authority Links

The move by the Public Security Minister seems to indicate continuity with his predecessors, who prevented almost all Palestinian cultural events in East Jerusalem from taking place under the same pretext

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Omer Bar-Lev at the President's residence in Jerusalem in May
Omer Bar-Lev at the President's residence in Jerusalem in MayCredit: Ohad Zwingenberg
Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson

Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev signed an order banning a cultural festival at an East Jerusalem Catholic Church on Tuesday, claiming the event is directly connected to the Palestinian Authority.

The move seems to mark a continuation from Bar-Lev's predecessors, Amir Ohana and Gilad Erdan, who prevented almost all Palestinian cultural events in East Jerusalem from taking place under the same pretext.

The three-day festival was supposed to occur at the Beit Abraham compound, which was originally established at the top of the Mount of Olives following the Pope's visit to the area in 1964. Police, however, arrived at the site on Monday to inform the manager of the ban.

According to Bernard Thibaud, who runs Beit Abraham, the entire festival is sponsored by the governments of Austria and France through the United Nations Development Programme and has no connection to the Palestinian Authority. The event is co-managed with the El-Hakawati theater group.   

On Tuesday, a performance took place as part of the festival for two East Jerusalem schools. The French consulate general to Jerusalem, M. René Troccaz was also in attendance when police showed up showing Thibaud the ban Bar-Lev signed. 

The warrant read: "It was brought to my attention that there is an intention to hold an event in the Yad Ibrahim complex in the Ras al-Amud neighborhood of Jerusalem under the auspices and funding of the Palestinian Authority, without permission being granted."

Bar-Lev used a law from the Oslo Accords, which prohibits all Palestinian Authority activities in Jerusalem.

Thibaud says he will cancel the planned events. "We are in shock, we will take this to the French consulate and to the Foreign Ministry, and we will take this to court. At six this evening I'll walk out of the gate and tell people that the event is over because of the police."

In the last few years, many events have been shut down, sometimes by force. These include a soccer tournament between families in the Old City, book launches, festivals for children, a Women's Day event, as well as others.

“We manage to score an own goal every time anew,” says Yisca Harani, a researcher of Christianity who is in close contact with the Beit Avraham managers and hosts Jewish groups there. “There is now in Israel a delegation from France being hosted by the Tourism Ministry. After they enjoy themselves and hear good things about Israel all day, they will hear in the evening that the police have broken up an event at a place that is owned by the Catholic Church and paid for with Catholic money to maintain, and I am just waiting for the political ricochets from this story.”

Omer Bar-Lev's office responded to the incident: "There is well-founded information that there is a link between the Palestinian Authority and the festival. As this is an event taking place in Israeli territory, the event is not allowed."

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