Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Literary festival opens rough in Jerusalem

In case the pen really is mightier than the sword, Israeli officialdom isn't taking any chances. Dozens of machine gun-toting soldiers tried to shut down the gala opening of PalFest'09, a traveling international literary festival, and shooed the literati and diplomats out of the Palestinian National Theatre in East Jerusalem.

The organizers, who include the British Council and the U.N., quickly attempted to regroup at a French Cultural Centre nearby, but the evening lost its focus.
Though Michael Palin, of Monty Python fame, was one of the 20 featured writers of PalFest'09, he had nothing to do with scripting the ensuing chaos. The government of Israel, which bans Palestinians from holding official events inside "United Jerusalem" rather then in their de facto capital, Ramallah, had erroneously assumed that this festival, now in its second year, was sponsored by the Palestinian Authority. And that was that.

The latest interpretation of the law, which recently had shuttered a press center in East Jerusalem run by Arab Christians during Pope Benedict XVI's pilgrimage, apparently does not tolerate any assertion of Palestinian cultural life in East Jerusalem. This makes the notion of "Al-Quds, Capital of Culture 2009" a non-starter.

Last spring was marked by two rival literary festivals, when the Israeli government flew in Nobel laureate Nadine Gordimer and a handful of other distinguished foreign authors to address audiences in West Jerusalem. They were joined by local writers, as well. Because Palestinian audiences often encounter unpredictable hurdles on the road, the authors, poets and filmmakers who participated in the smaller festival had to be willing to cross checkpoints and travel around the West Bank to hold their series of lectures and workshops. Many later wrote up their experiences and this seems to have "politicized" the event in the minds of the Israeli authorities.

This year's authors are just as game and are pressing ahead with the schedule in Ramallah, Bethlehem, Jenin, and Hebron. Advertising is very low-key, and there has been virtually no coverage of this second annual Palestinian literary festival in the Israeli press, despite the kerfuffle on opening night.

Izzy Bee wonders whether to attend the final event in East Jerusalem, which is set for Thursday evening. It could prove to be rather Orwellian. Or Kafkaesque. Israelity bites.


Izzy Bee said...

Well, the grand finale of PalFest 09 was not cancelled because the venue was closed, but it got shifted to the British Council.

Lame and shaming, all this kerfuffle. I love the comments of the hopefully named British diplomat, Mr Makepeace.

A border police notice said the closure was on the orders of Israel's internal security minister on the grounds of a breach of interim peace accords from the 1990s.
The final status of Jerusalem is to be determined by further meanwhile, the residents of the Eastern portion are supposed to knuckle under to the demands of the West.

Dimona said...

They must have been cops, not soldiers. Not much diff, though.

feral beast said...

Check out the authors' blogs from the
PalFest here-