Israeli Police Target Palestinian Cultural Community in East Jerusalem
By HG Masters
On July 22, Israeli police and intelligence officers targeted leading Palestinian cultural figures in East Jerusalem in a series of raids of their residences and offices.
Rania Elias, director of the Yabous Cultural Centre, and Suhail Khoury, director of the Edward Said National Conservatory of Music (ESNCM), were detained at their home. Separately, police raided the home of Daoud al-Ghoul, director of the Jerusalem Arts Network – Shafaq, an umbrella network which includes the Yabous, the Conservatory, the Palestinian National Theatre (Al-Hakawati), the Al-Ma’mal Foundation for Contemporary Art, and the gallery of The Palestinian Art Court (Al-Hosh).
The police also seized records and documents from the offices of the Yabous and ESNCM. After the raids, an Israeli police spokesperson claimed that three unnamed suspects were being investigated for “tax evasion and fraud,” while a lawyer for Elias and Khoury told the AFP that they are being accused of “financing terrorist organizations.” Elias and Khoury were released later on Wednesday.
The Palestinian Ministry of Culture strongly condemned the Israeli police raid against the Jerusalem cultural centers and the detention of the directors, stating: “The attack on these institutions is an attack on the Palestinian national culture and cultural heritage.” The Palestinian Liberation Organization also condemned the raids in East Jerusalem, which Palestinians envision as the future capital of an independent state.
The Yabous Cultural Centre was founded in 1995 and hosts theatrical performances, musical events, art exhibitions, and film screenings throughout the year. The ESNCM was originally founded in 1990, and was renamed in 2004 after the Palestinian historian and writer. Based at Birzeit University, the ESNCM works primarily in education, offering musical courses to more than 1,000 students. It has branches across Palestine, from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, Ramallah, Nablus, and Gaza.
The detainments and investigations into these prominent Palestinian cultural organizations come amid increasing pressure on Palestinian communities in Jerusalem, occupied by Israel since 1967. In recent weeks, Israeli officials arrested the governor of Jerusalem, Adnan Ghaith, and Jerusalem minister, Fadi al-Hidmi, both on terrorism-related allegations. In November 2019, many Palestinian schools were shut down because they received funding from the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah. The increased targeting of Palestinian civil society and its public role in Jerusalem correlates with the United States’ support, under the Trump administration, of Israel’s claims to the entire city, and Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s announcement of pending plans to annex large portions of the West Bank.
HG Masters is the deputy editor and deputy publisher of ArtAsiaPacific.
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