Top the­atre in Jerusalem risks clo­sure

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

JERUSALEM: The Pales­tinian Na­tional The­atre, for three decades the lead­ing per­form­ing arts and cul­tural cen­tre for Arabs in Jerusalem, is fac­ing po­ten­tial clo­sure af­ter run­ning up large mu­nic­i­pal debts, its di­rec­tor said yes­ter­day. Known as “Al Hakawati” (The Sto­ry­teller), the the­atre has amassed un­paid bills of $150,000 over the past five years, with money owed to city hall, to the na­tional in­sur­ance fund and to the lo­cal Is­raeli elec­tric­ity com­pany.

Opened in 1984 in pre­dom­i­nantly Arab East Jerusalem, Al Hakawati has re­ceived in­ter­na­tional ac­claim for its per­for­mances and its train­ing of young ac­tors. It of­ten puts on pro­duc­tions with groups from the United States, Bri­tain and France. “We are the only pro­fes­sional the­atre in East Jerusalem,” di­rec­tor Amer Khalil told Reuters. “I hope we can man­age to get at least half the money we owe by Sun­day or Mon­day, oth­er­wise we will be closed down.”

Ad­nan Al-Hus­seini, the Pales­tinian Author­ity gov­er­nor of Jerusalem told Reuters he ex­pected Pales­tinian Pres­i­dent Mah­moud Ab­bas would step in and pre­vent the the­atre’s clo­sure. “The Pres­i­dent has given or­ders and the money needed will be given. On Mon­day the is­sue will be re­solved and over,” he said. The the­atre op­er­ates as an NGO and has re­ceived do­na­tions from Europe, the United States and oth­ers in the past. Khalil said donors and friends had been call­ing and he hoped they would pledge enough to pay off the debts.

There has been fric­tion be­tween Al Hakawati and Is­rael in the past. In 2008, Is­raeli po­lice de­ployed at the the­atre to stop it hold­ing a fes­ti­val en­ti­tled “Jerusalem, the Arab Cul­tural Cap­i­tal for 2009”. Is­rael refers to Jerusalem as its “eter­nal and in­di­vis­i­ble” cap­i­tal and re­gards the city as a lead­ing cen­tre of Jewish cul­ture and tra­di­tion. Pales­tini­ans want East Jerusalem - cap­tured and oc­cu­pied by Is­rael in 1967 - as the cap­i­tal of an in­de­pen­dent Pales­tinian state.

Some Pales­tinian com­men­ta­tors de­scribed the squeeze on Al Hakawati as part of a wider push by Is­rael to marginal­ize Ara­bic cul­tural and arts in­sti­tu­tions. But Khalil said he didn’t think that was the case in this in­stance. “In this case, we are just fac­ing the prob­lem of debts,” he said. “In gen­eral, there has been a prob­lem with us us­ing this build­ing in the past and hav­ing a Pales­tinian cul­tural cen­tre in Jerusalem, but now it is just about the money.”

In June this year, Is­rael’s cul­ture min­is­ter froze fund­ing to an Arab the­atre af­ter it per­formed a play about Pales­tini­ans jailed by Is­rael. She also threat­ened to cut fund­ing to an Arab-Is­raeli the­atre that re­fused to per­form in a Jewish set­tle­ment in the oc­cu­pied West Bank. Is­raeli artists have even protested against the cul­ture min­is­ter, Miri Regev, a for­mer army spokes­woman from the rightwing Likud party, say­ing she has no un­der­stand­ing or ap­pre­ci­a­tion for the arts. — Reuters

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