Israeli authorities ban Palestinian Cultural Festival

A ceremony celebrating Jerusaelm as the Capital of Arab Culture 2009 in the West Bank city of Tulkarem, 22 March 2009. (Mouid Ashqar/MaanImages)


As an organization dedicated to the promotion and protection of human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT), Al-Haq condemns the repressive actions taken today [Saturday 21 March 2009] by the Israeli authorities in banning peaceful cultural activities organized as part of the Palestinian Cultural Festival marking the declaration of Jerusalem as the “Capital of Arab Culture 2009.”

Coming in the wake of a recent intensification of human rights violations against Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem — most notably in the form of home demolitions aimed at removing Palestinians from East Jerusalem — the decision of the Israeli Minister of Internal Security, Avi Dichter, to prevent and suppress today’s events ties into a broader policy of restriction of Palestinian civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights.

On Thursday 19 March, Israeli police dispersed a meeting at the Ambassador Hotel in East Jerusalem of the organizers of the planned cultural activities, and confiscated related material and computers. The Israeli authorities were consequently fully aware that the activities were intended to take place primarily inside schools, social clubs and community centers. Under instruction from the Ministry of Internal Security, today Israeli police entered a number of schools in East Jerusalem, including St. George’s Boys School and the Schmidt Girls School, as well as community centers such as Burj al-Laqlaq, in order to prevent the performance of sports and cultural activities inside the respective institutions. Initial information gathered by Al-Haq’s fieldworkers indicates that a number of the organizers were arrested; specially designed flags and related material to mark the event were confiscated from schools and individuals; and peaceful gatherings were aggressively dispersed by Israeli police.

The decision to interfere with the Palestinian cultural events was taken by the Minister of Internal Security at the behest of the head of the Legal Forum for the Land of Israel, Nachi Eyal, who described the planned events as an “attempt to demonstrate Palestinian sovereignty in Jerusalem in an illegal manner,” and asserted that Palestinians are obliged “to respect the sovereignty of Israel within the boundaries of the State of Israel, including East Jerusalem.” This patently contradicts clear international legal norms which provide that an Occupying Power is prohibited from extending its sovereignty over the territory it occupies. It is on this basis that the UN Security Council has held Israel’s annexation of occupied East Jerusalem to be “invalid,” and “null and void.” This position has been repeatedly affirmed by the international legal community, including the International Court of Justice, the International Committee of the Red Cross and the High Contracting Parties to the Geneva Conventions.

Indeed, East Jerusalem is incontrovertibly recognized under international law as an integral part of the occupied territory over which the Palestinian people is entitled to exercise its right to self-determination. A foundational principle of international human rights law, the right to self-determination includes the right of peoples to freely pursue their cultural development. The individual rights to freedom of expression, freedom of association and peaceful assembly are also firmly embedded in the lexicon of international human rights law, and have all been violated by the actions of the Israeli authorities in East Jerusalem.

The Israeli authorities have also issued orders preventing related cultural events in Nazareth from taking place, a decision which stands in stark contrast to the permission recently granted by the Israeli High Court of Justice to extremist Israeli settler Baruch Marzel, from the illegal settlement of Tel Rumeida (Hebron), to lead a march through the Palestinian town of Umm al-Fahm on 24 March.

Such double standards show a clear intent on the part of the Israeli authorities to stifle Palestinian cultural identity and expression, while at the same time fomenting provocative manifestations of extremist Israeli ideology.

Al-Haq calls on the international community to:

  • Strongly condemn Israel’s illegal measures aimed at altering the status of occupied East Jerusalem and denying the exercise of Palestinian cultural and political rights towards fulfillment of the right to self-determination; and
  • Take concrete action towards ending the illegal situation created by Israel’s policies in regard to East Jerusalem, including by refraining from providing any direct or indirect assistance to Israeli violations of international law therein.

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