JERUSALEM — Children’s paintings of flowers and butterflies are up on this East Jerusalem theater’s walls, and the venue is colorfully garlanded.
Everything is in place for the opening of its annual puppet festival today — except the El-Hakawati theater has been ordered closed by Israeli authorities.
For the first time in twenty years, Israel’s public security ministry temporarily shut down the theater. Police spokesman Luba Samri told AFP the puppet festival’s activities “were being organized under the auspices of the Palestinian Authority.”
The venue's director Mohammed Halayiqa has filed an appeal that will be heard at Israel’s Supreme Court on Thursday, arguing that an event cannot be cancelled because the PA funds it.
He says Norway, a longtime supporter of Palestinian cultural events, actually provided the resources for the puppet festival, through the offices of a local cultural fund.
"I am completely shocked," Halayiqa told GlobalPost, after the ministry summoned him to receive the closure notice.
El-Hakawati is a central cultural venue in East Jerusalem, where the majority of the city’s Palestinian population lives.
Two months ago, it hosted the Ramallah Contemporary Dance Festival, funded by French, Swiss, British, and Palestinian donors.
Israeli and Palestinian activists say they are planning a protest Thursday.
“It just breaks your heart,” Tzaphira Stern-Assal, an Israeli activist with the left wing Meretz party, said in front of the theater today. She is helping organizing the protests tomorrow.
Apparently the authorities decided “too many people gathering here would pose a risk to the state,” she sarcastically quipped.