The Palestinian celebrates to mark the Arab League‘s designation of Jerusalem as the capital of Arab culture for 2009. The 23-nation group chooses a different city for the honor each year. The commemorative event entitled "Jerusalem: The Capital of Arab Culture 2009" took place on March 21st. An official launch of the events conducted in the Convention Palace in Bethlehem, Satellite feeds linked Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon and Palestinian communities in Nazareth and Jerusalem with the Bethlehem location. delegations from across the Arab world will attend the opening events. The activities continued all Saturday evening where local and Arab bands played music and poets to the audience.
Celebrations for the year-long event, supported by the Arab League Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization (ALESCO) under the Arab Cultural Capitals program, were set to take place simultaneously in Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Hebron, Nablus, Ramallah, Nazareth and the Mar Elias Refugee Camp in Lebanon.
The Israeli authorities refused to allow the program of events that was scheduled to be held in Jerusalem, but a pre-recorded program of events was shown on satellite in the Irtas Conference Palace, near Bethlehem. On Saturday morning, Israeli authorities broke up a series of Palestinian cultural events in Jerusalem disrupting a children‘s march and bursting balloons at a schoolyard celebration in a crackdown that underscored the emotional battle over control of the disputed holy city. However the threats have not changed plans for the event: the official opening day has been celebrated last Sunday 22nd in Bethlehem, behind the Israeli annexation wall, with the participation of about 1,500 dignitaries, delegates, poets, officials and Palestinian bureaucrats. Amongst the activities also series of traditional children’s games, run by dozens of volunteers, at Damascus Gate - the main entrance to the Old City.
The Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas. He began his speech by thanking all Arab ministers and delegates for coming to the festival, adding that this was an important event to counter the continued Israeli settlement expansion in and around the city. President Abbas said, that Jerusalem is the key of peace to human beings, the Palestinians and Arabs hope, and the symbol of justice and peace that this suffering holy land is in need of. He added, that Israeli policies of racism, oppression, land seizing and demolishing of towns and houses, and the policies of faking the past and present and destroying the future, have to stop, entirely, if there be a real chance for peace on this earth. He also said addressing Palestinians, “I am telling you, as cautious defenders of peace, stand up for Jerusalem, the capital of Palestine, as long as we are ambitious to creating a world free of wars and tragedies.”
Dr. Mohamed Al Azeez Ben Ashour, Director General of the Arab League for Education, Science and Culture, said that he was proud to open this year‘s festival. He thanked the PA for organizing the event, describing the festival as part of the Arab efforts to keep Jerusalem an Arab city in spite of what he described as Israeli attempts to make the city purely Jewish. Earlier in the day, Israeli soldiers stormed and raided several community centers, public and private schools buildings that had planned to host a small, private ceremony commemorating the start of events in the building’s compound.
Planned events for the celebration in Jerusalem, were informal and community-based since Israel refused to grant event permits to organizers. On Friday the events were declared illegal; Israeli police prevented hundreds of Jerusalemite students from entering the Old City and visiting the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound. Hundreds of students headed to Damascus Gate, the main entrance to Jerusalem’s Old City, to take part in the launch of events despite Israel’s decision to ban the events announced Friday.
Planners have devised creative non-event methods of celebrating the city of Jerusalem. On Saturday afternoon young Jerusalemites plan to release 12,000 balloons from various parts of the holy city marking their belief that they should be free to celebrate their culture. Additionally, Israeli police surrounded a group of youth releasing balloons on the occasion of Mother’s Day, celebrated, organizers were launching the colored garlands as a gesture to the steadfastness and central role Palestinian women play in preserving the area’s cultural traditions.