Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Article: Israeli Police Close International Literature Festival in East Jerusalem

Monday, 25 May 2009 15:20 Elise Aghazarian, Alternative Information Center (AIC)
"Israeli Police Forcefully Close an International Literature Festival in East Jerusalem"

Israeli police officers forcefully closed the Palestine National Theater in East Jerusalem on Saturday, 23 May, where an event of the Second Annual Palestine Festival of Literature event was scheduled to be held. The festival included the participation of 17 internationally-known literary figures and an audience of local and international participants.

Among the guests at Saturday’s event were Pride & Prejudice (2005) movie screen-writer Deborah Moggach; Swedish writer Henning Mankell, accompanied by his wife Eva Bergman (daughter of world-wide notable film director Ingmar Bergman); Australian writer Carmen Callil (founder of Virago press); Claire Messud (long-listed for the 2006 Man Booker Prize for the novel The Emperor’s Children); Kenyan-Canadian writer M. G. Vassanji, author of The Assassin’s Song and holder of the Commonwealth First Book Prize; and Booker Prize short-listed authors Abdulrazak Gurnah and Ahdaf Soueif.

The police forced all the literary figures and participants to leave the theater.

This move came as a direct order from the Israeli Minister of Internal Security, Yitzhak Aharonovich, currently serving as a member of the Knesset for the right-wing nationalist Yisrael Beitenu party. The decision to stop the event was justified as falling under the scope of the “Jerusalem: Capital of Arab Culture” activities— an initiative undertaken by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), which annually awards this title to what are considered outstanding cities of Arab culture. Due to the current Israeli government’s vision of Jerusalem as a capital of one nation, Israel strictly prohibits any of these events from being conducted in the city.

However, this festival is not directly connected to the “Jerusalem: Capital of Arab Culture” celebrations and is actually a sequel to last year’s International Festival of Literature, which included the visits of international literary figures to different parts of the Occupied Palestinian Territories for literature auditions and poetry recitals. Among the patrons who have supported the starting of the festival last year were acclaimed South African writer Chinua Achebe, (the late) Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, Irish Nobel prize laureate, Seamus Heaney, and (the late) British playwright, actor and screen-writer Harold Pinter.

This year’s International Festival of LIterature had been planned to start in Jerusalem, then move to Ramallah, Jenin, Hebron and Bethlehem, before moving back to Jerusalem on 28 May. The guests and audience, looking forward to the event, were shocked by the direct assault by the Israeli authorities. Despite the forced closure of the festival venue, the event was eventually conducted later that evening in the French Cultural Center, which provided a space for the festival and its literary expression.

From AIC site.

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