Protesting the Israeli police’s disruption of PalFest

This illustrates as clearly as anything the dereliction of any restrictive or punitive policy based on who, rather than what.

Daily Kos:

“Palestinians living under occupation in the West Bank and Gaza struggle to live a normal life while penned in by checkpoints, surveillance, and violence.    Palestinians in East Jerusalem are isolated from their brothers and sisters in Ramallah.  Bethlehem is cut off from Nablus.  The elaborate system of checkpoints and Jewish-settler only roads in the West Bank have barricaded one Palestinian community from another.  In addition the deep economic, educational and personal grief this swiss-cheese prison has produced, Palestinian cultural life struggles to survive despite all the odds.”


“The festival began as a call from Edward Said, to “reaffirm the power of culture over the culture of power.” As participants were gathering, the Israeli policeshut down the theater. The French consul who was in attendance, offered the French Cultural Center as a new venue in the moment, in order for the festival to continue.”

Rory McCarthy, The Observer:

“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.”

“This is the policy being implemented with regard to any events which are either organised or funded by the Palestinian Authority in Jerusalem,” he said.

He added that previous Palestinian events in the city, including the press centre for the pope, had been closed under the same policy.

However, Rafiq Husseini, the chief of staff to the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, who was in last night’s audience, was dismissive of the Israeli actions.

“It shows how the Israelis are not thinking, he said. “This is a cultural event. There is no terrorism, there is nobody shooting. It’s just a cultural event.”

Matthew Rothschild, The Progressive:

“Egyptian novelist Ahdaf Soueif gave this account at

“I saw 10 old friends in the first minute, all the Jerusalem cultural and academic set were there, a lot of Internationals, a lot of press,” she wrote. “We stood in the early evening light, by the tables laden with books and food and flowers, nibbled at kofta and borek and laughed and chatted and introduced new friends to old. . . . Then we started moving towards the auditorium and I heard someone say quietly, ‘They’ve come.’””

Alex Stein, on Harry’s Place:

“…those in the diaspora who campaign long and hard against a boycott of Israeli culture should be raging with anger at this latest disgrace.”

PalFest is ongoing – follow Palfest‘s organiser and author blogs, videos and pictures.

8 Responses to “Protesting the Israeli police’s disruption of PalFest”

  1. PetraMB Says:

    I’ve just popped in here from Harry’s Place, where Alex Stein’s piece to which Mira links here is also posted, plus more than 300 comments. A few of them are from somebody who attended the festival event, and here is some of what he posted:
    Paul Frenkel
    25 May 2009, 6:43 am
    I was at the event described. It was indeed not allowed to take place at the al-Hakawati theater (or Palestinian National Theater), and so took place a hundred meters down the road at the French Cultural Center on Salah al-Din street. The event was as you would expect. A Palestinian man in the audience launched into a long tirade about colonialism and how the Israelis ‘pretend to be natives’, making the nature of the colonialism that the Palestinians suffer a unique example of the phenomenon. The writers read from their own work. One of them said that at the airport he had immediately noticed the colonialist nature of Israel, and felt like speaking in Swahili to the ‘Arab workers’ there, who reminded him of the situation in the African country where he grew up. (Of course, the workers in question were almost certainly Israeli Jews).
    There was no mention of peace. There was no mention of compromise. There was no mention of Israelis or Jews possessing any rights whatsoever. Oh, Mordechai Vanunu was there as well, sitting in the front row with his Norwegian girlfriend.[…]
    Paul Frenkel
    25 May 2009, 9:11 am

    Well the theme of the discussion was ‘departures’, and all the writers read a little from one of their works and then answered questions. I didnt hear Claire Messud’s reading. […] The discussion generally wasn’t bad and tried to stick to the theme of the evening. What characterized the whole event wasn’t overtly anti-Jewish or anti-Israeli anger, but rather something much deeper and more profound, which I think will be recognisable to anyone who has spent a lot of time around Palestinian and broader Arab nationalism – namely, a startlingly complete refusal to accept that there is any validity whatsoever to Israeli or Jewish identity. Israelis were reduced to a kind of cartoon ‘colonialist’, and the fiction was maintained by all present that this ‘colonialist’ figure was recognisable and interchangeable in all times and at all places.
    [End of quote]

    I have argued on this HP thread that if the PA wants to organize cultural events in East Jerusalem, they have to negotiate a peace agreement that will make East Jerusalem part of a Palestinian state – they have been offered this at least twice, both in Camp David/Taba and recently during the Annapolis talks, and turned it down both times.

    Moreover, the background here is of course, as Alex notes, another planned Palestinian festival in March to mark the Arab League’s designation of Jerusalem as “the capital of Arab culture”. Alex notes that these events “were also banned”; according to him: “All this was done in order to promote the fiction that Jerusalem is an undivided city under Israeli sovereignty forever and ever amen.”

    I suggested that it was perhaps done to oppose the fiction that Jews have no legitimate attachment to Jerusalem whatsoever.

    So no, this is not some innocuous cultural event to provide a little relief from all the oppression and occupation, it’s just another event to delegitimize Israel. If Palestinians just wanted to celebrate their culture — as opposed to demonizing Israel –, they could have found ample venues on the Westbank and, with a bit of trying, even uncontroversial ones in East Jerusalem.

    • Mira Vogel Says:

      I had no intention of giving the impression the event was innocuous, or that its organisers wouldn’t have welcomed the controversy. I get the impression it is very much an expression of Palestinian defiance of the occupation. But it is, in the end, a literary festival. Doesn’t the fact remain that if the PA hadn’t been involved, the Israeli minister wouldn’t have had the pretext for breaking up the event. In other words, it wasn’t breaking Israeli regulations in any qualitative respect. Perhaps this is why it wasn’t ultimately cancelled, just spoiled.

  2. Stan Bantu Says:

    petra: “Oh, Mordechai Vanunu was there as well, sitting in the front row with his Norwegian girlfriend.[…]”

    and the […] means what exactly, Petra? I hardly think that reminding us of one of the most egregious acts of international criminality by the Israeli government really helps to make your point.

  3. MITNAGED Says:

    Mira, may I suggest you read the various contributions about this on Harry’s Place?

    As I wrote there, Paul Frenkel’s post, and in particularly this part:

    “..What characterized the whole event wasn’t overtly anti-Jewish or anti-Israeli anger, but rather something much deeper and more profound, which I think will be recognisable to anyone who has spent a lot of time around Palestinian and broader Arab nationalism – namely, a startlingly complete refusal to accept that there is any validity whatsoever to Israeli or Jewish identity…

    echoed a very profound contribution to the debate by Yossi Klein Halevi about his interactions with Palestinians before the terror war, in all strata of Palestinian society. One of Halevi’s interlocutors pointed up the following:

    ” …Let us assume, I said, that Israel withdraws to the 1967 borders, uproots the settlements and redivides Jerusalem: What then? He replied that, once the refugees begin returning to the area, so many would gravitate to those areas in Israel where their families once lived, that eventually we would realize there was no need for an artificial border between Israel and Palestine.

    “The next step, continued the general, was that the two states would merge. ‘And then weill invite Jordan to join our federation. And Iraq and Syria. Why not? We’ll show the whole world what a beautiful country Jews and Arabs can create together.’

    ” ‘But, I asked the general, aren’t we negotiating today over a two-state solution? Yes, he replied, as an interim step. And then he added, ‘You aren’t separate from us; you are part of us. Just as there are Muslim Arabs and Christian Arabs, you are Jewish Arabs.’

    “This story is particularly relevant because General Youssef is widely known as a moderate, deeply opposed to terror as counter-productive to the Palestinian cause. And so what I learned in my journeys into your society is that moderation means one thing on the Israeli side and quite another on the Palestinian side….”

    And nothing has changed has it? There is still, even this rare benign form, a refusal to accept Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish country, no matter how many compromises she may make. Indeed, it seemed that General Youssef, perhaps in common with many other Palestinian moderates, was not even aware of the impact on an Israeli of what he said, or what he was proposing – that Israel would lose her identity because he believed that a two state solution was an interim step.

    • Mira Vogel Says:

      I’m not able to go and read the HP thread, but what was Paul Frenkel trying to say (i.e. what are you trying to say)? Do you mean that this event was seditious? But that’s going further than the Israeli authorities went. They allowed it to go ahead, so it can’t have been felt to be a threat. The police spokesperson said that the problem was PA involvement. It was this that contravened the regulations. It was a technicality, wasn’t it – seems to me that they were showing the PA who’s boss. There was nothing else about the event that would have been a legal pretext for its prevention.

      What you seem to be advocating is outlawing gatherings of people solely on the basis of their political beliefs. I disagree, and I think you have to have a very authoritarian mindset to feel that way.

  4. MITNAGED Says:

    No, Mira, Frenkel (Paul,) was saying nothing of the sort. He was merely commenting on the flavour of the event as he saw it and he raised the point about the lack of awareness or deliberate ignoring of Israel’s right to exist, in the context of remarks made at the event about Israel’s “colonialism” (viewed from the mistaken perception that Israeli Arabs were servants at the airport, or something like that).

    Read my post again. I was and am advocating nothing of the sort, but I was agreeing with Petra and still do.

    • Mira Vogel Says:

      The reason I hazarded a connection is because you didn’t make one. What has this bad outlook on the part of some (or even most) of the participants got to do with actions of the Israeli authorities with regards to a festival of Palestinian literature?

  5. MITNAGED Says:

    I believe that it is all of a piece, and you should also be looking at the subtext of this – at what it was meant to convey. This, rightly or wrongly, was what I believe the Israeli authorities were looking at.

    As Petra has said above, if the PA wants to organize cultural events in East Jerusalem, they have to negotiate a peace agreement that will make East Jerusalem part of a Palestinian state.

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