Jerusalem session of Palestinian Literature Festival forced to relocate again — to British Council

Unfortunately, it was predictable.

Israel’s Ministry of the Interior ordered the closure (for tonight, at least) of the Palestinian National Theater (Hakawati) in East Jerusalem, where the final event of the PalFest09, the Palestinian Literary Festival, was due to be held.

Israeli Border Police telling audience to leave Hakawati Theatre at closing event of PalFest09

Photo from PalFest’s photostream on Flikr here

However, as happened in the opening PalFest09 event in Jerusalem last Saturday night, a European institution stepped in to offer its premises as a substitute, in a small but significant show of support. It was also a small gesture of defiance of the current suppression of Palestinian activities in Jerusalem.

This time, it was the British Council in East Jerusalem which hosted the event — and, somehow, it didn’t seem to be a surprise. Everything appeared to be ready and organized in advance for the (predictable) move.

The drama was captured, again, on a video now posted on Youtube here, from PalFest09 closing event.

It is also available on the PalFest09 official website, here.

In the video, a markedly quiet and polite Israeli Border Police officer tells a strawberry-blond European man in a suit that “There is a court order [to close the theatre] … I have the Hebrew one in my pocket … You can see the court order in English hanging on the door of the Hakawati Theater”.

The man in the suit replies: “Well, yeah, my name is Richard Makepeace, I’m the British Consul-General here in Jerusalem. This is a literary festival attended by many great distinguished British writers It seems a strange decision.”

He goes, followed by the camera, to read the court order.

British Consul-General in Jerusalem reads order closing Hakawati Theater to PalFest09

Photo from PalFest’s photostream on Flikr here

Then, he turns to face the camera. Imad Muna, owner of the Educational Bookshop on Salah ed-Din Street [East Jerusalem’s Fifth Avenue or maybe even Champs Elysees] stands beside the British Consul-General, who then says: “I’ve just been informed by the police that this closing event of the literary festival is not to be permitted here. I’m glad to say that it will take place on the premises of the British Council here. I don’t recognize the law referred to in the statement behind me [the court order in English], but I think all lovers of literature will regard this as a very regrettable moment, and a regrettable decision“.

And, as noted by a PalFest09 Twitter [tweet?], the show goes on — here, relocated Thursday night to the garden of the British Council. A photo of the lovely garden as the sun sets is available on PalFest’s Twitter page here or directly here.

Israeli officials have claimed that PalFest09 was, at least in part, sponsored in part by the Palestinian Authority, which Israel says cannot operate in Jerusalem, according to the Oslo Accords. That’s why, according to the Israelis, the two sessions scheduled to take place in East Jerusalem — the opening and the closing sessions — could not take place in the venues where they were originally booked.

But, Ma’an News Agency reminded us that the event organizer Omar Hamilton has contradicted the claim, saying “The PA has nothing to do with PalFest”. This report can be read in full here.

And, the events were held anyway, despite the closure orders — in quasi-diplomatic European sites in East Jerusalem.

One of the PalFest09 participants (Egyptian authoress Ahdaf Soueif) wrote in the first post on the PalFest09 Author’s Blogs, quoting the late Edward Said: “our mission: to confront the culture of power with the power of culture“.

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