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Armed Israeli police close theatre on first night of Palestinian festival

Rory McCarthy,  Jerusalem, Guardian, May 24th 2009

Shortly before the opening event was due to begin, a squad of around a dozen Israeli border police walked into the Palestinian National Theatre, in East Jerusalem, and ordered it to be closed.  Police brought a letter from the Israeli minister of internal security which said the event could not be held because it was a political activity connected to the Palestinian Authority.

Israeli police blocking participants and audience from entering the Palestine National Theater in E. Jerusalem Israeli police blocking participants and audience from entering the Palestine National Theater in E. Jerusalem
Officers walk in to Palestinian National Theatre in East Jerusalem and order it to be closed on opening night of literary event

Armed Israeli police last night tried to halt the opening night of a prominent Palestinian literary festival in Jerusalem when they ordered a Palestinian theatre to close.

The week-long festival, supported by the British council and Unesco, has brought several high-profile international authors – among them Henning Mankell, Michael Palin and Ahdaf Soueif – on a speaking tour of Jerusalem and the West Bank.

Shortly before the opening event was due to begin, a squad of around a dozen Israeli border police walked into the Palestinian National Theatre, in East Jerusalem, and ordered it to be closed.

Police brought a letter from the Israeli minister of internal security which said the event could not be held because it was a political activity connected to the Palestinian Authority.

Members of the audience and the eight speakers were ordered to leave, but the event was held several minutes later, on a smaller scale, in the garden of the nearby French Cultural Centre.

Israeli police were deployed on the street outside.

"We're so taken aback. It's is completely, completely independent," Egyptian novelist Soueif, who is chairing the Palestine Festival of Literature, said.

"I think it's very telling," she told the crowd at the French centre. "Our motto, which is taken from the late Edward Said, is to pit the power of culture against the culture of power."

Israel regularly prevents political Palestinian events in East Jerusalem, but has recently also started to clamp down on cultural events in an apparent attempt to extend control over the city.

The development comes at a time of growing international concern over the Israeli government's demolition of Palestinian homes and the continued growth of Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem.

In March, the Israeli authorities banned a series of Palestinian cultural events in Jerusalem, including a children's march, intended to mark the Arab League's designation of Jerusalem as the capital of Arab culture for this year.

Israel said the events breached its ban on Palestinian political activity.
Full article in Guardian May 24th, 2009