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Israel shuts down culture festival in East Jerusalem, claiming PA funding

But organizers of festival at French-protected site deny any financial involvement by Palestinian leadership

Illustrative: An Israeli policeman walks near cement cubes placed as a roadblock by Israeli security forces on a road linking the East Jerusalem Arab neighborhood of Beit Hanina with West Jerusalem on September 15, 2021 (Ahmad GHARABLI / AFP)
Illustrative: An Israeli policeman walks near cement cubes placed as a roadblock by Israeli security forces on a road linking the East Jerusalem Arab neighborhood of Beit Hanina with West Jerusalem on September 15, 2021 (Ahmad GHARABLI / AFP)

Israel has blocked a cultural festival at a French-protected site in East Jerusalem, claiming it was sponsored by the Palestinian Authority without Israeli permission, an assertion organizers denied Wednesday.

The scheduled three-day festival at Abraham’s House for religious pilgrims, with performances by Palestinian arts groups, was supported by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), Finland and Austria.

Abraham’s House manager Bernard Thibaud told AFP that performances had already begun for children on Tuesday when police arrived and shut it down, adding that he was “shocked and ashamed” by the cancellation.

The French consul general in Jerusalem as well as the consulate’s religious affairs adviser had also already visited the festival, diplomatic sources told AFP.

In the cancellation order, Israel’s Public Security Minister Omer Barlev wrote that the event was being held “with sponsorship and funding of the Palestinian Authority, and this without written permission.”

Police who came to the venue wore plain clothes and traveled in unmarked cars, the diplomatic sources said.

Abraham’s House is managed by a religious charity, Secours Catholique-Caritas France. It is under the protection of the French Consulate in Jerusalem, similar to the Church of Sainte-Anne in the Old City, which President Emmanuel Macron visited last year.

“The purpose is to bring a little joy and leisure to kids and adults of these surroundings who are experiencing lots of poverty and violence,” Thibaud said.

“Having the police stop these cultural events is just bringing more violence to the district.”

Israel prohibits official Palestinian Authority activity in Jerusalem, viewing it as an infringement of its sovereignty in the capital. The Palestinians hope to establish the capital of their future state in East Jerusalem.

The festival was organized by the Edward Said National Conservatory of Music, El-Hakawati Palestinian National Theater and the Qafilah mobile theater in Jerusalem.

Asked if the PA supported his organization or the festival, conservatory director-general Suhail Khoury told AFP, “no, not at all.”

Amer Khalil, director of el-Hakawati, also told AFP the PA was “not at all” supporting his group or the festival, adding that it was a UNDP program.

Imad Mitwalli, director of Qafilah, said his organization “never ever” received money from the PA.

Barlev did not immediately reply to AFP questions.

The arts groups publicized the event with the help of a local association in Silwan, a Palestinian neighborhood at the edge of Jerusalem’s Old City.

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