Government 'considering' Jordanian calls for axing Jerash Festival over Gaza genocide

Government 'considering' Jordanian calls for axing Jerash Festival over Gaza genocide
Many are urging the Jordanian Ministry of Culture to cancel the festival or modify its programming citing the massacres carried out by Israeli forces
5 min read
Jordan - Amman
06 June, 2024
Participants engage in cultural performances at the Jerash Festival of Culture and Arts, captured on August 5, 2022. (Photo by Khalil MAZRAAWI / AFP)

The annual Jordanian Jerash Festival for Culture and Arts is facing criticism and calls for cancellation before its summer launch amid the ongoing genocide in the Gaza Strip and accusations of insensitivity s in a country whose majority population is of Palestinian descent.

Many are urging the Jordanian Ministry of Culture to cancel the festival or modify its programming citing the massacres carried out by Israeli forces against civilians in Gaza and the West Bank. A hashtag #cancel_Jerash_Festival has spread across social media networks

However, the call to cancel the festival is not unanimously endorsed by Jordanians.

“I am not in favour of cancelling the Jerash Festival of Culture and Arts, provided that it is a true cultural heritage and has a creative flavour that reflects the local and regional reality. Art has always been the pulse of nations during historical moments. It is a vital and very important expression" one social media user said on Facebook.

In contrast, another user commented on social media, “Cancellation and failure of the Jerash Festival is done by the honourable while continuing with the festival can only be done by the foolish.”

The controversy is taking place amidst a lack of official clarity about the event, which is set to hold its 38th edition. Jordan is in a state of grief and solidarity expressed by protests and boycott campaigns against companies accused of supporting the Israeli occupation in Palestine.

The cancellation demands intensified after a statement by the Jordanian Minister of Culture, Haifa Al-Najjar, confirming the date of the Jerash Festival.

The website of Al-Mamlaka Channel (a public service channel) quoted her as saying, “The festival will be held on its scheduled date this summer (July 24).”

After the controversy caused by the minister's statement, who also holds the position of chair of the festival’s higher committee, she issued a new statement saying that the festival is not a priority given the tragic conditions that the Palestinian people are going through.

The Jordanian Writers Association has also threatened to boycott the festival unless it is transformed into a national programme of solidarity with the Palestinian people through special events.

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A member of the Book Federation, Walid Hosni, told The New Arab, “There are two trends in our organization. The first is represented by the administrative body that calls for allocating the festival’s activities to events related to Gaza.

"There is also another strong trend calling for cancelling the festival, similar to what happened in 1982 when Israel invaded Beirut and in 2006 during the Israeli war against South Lebanon. Today, because of the war, blood, and genocide in Gaza, the festival must be cancelled.”

Poet Akram Al-Zoubi, a former member of the Higher Committee of the Jerash Festival, revealed that some preparations for the festival began at the beginning of this year.

He commented, “In a personal meeting with the executive director of the festival, Ayman Samawi, I asked him about artistic events, specifically singing, and the difficulty of conducting them in light of what is happening in Gaza.

"His answer to me was that we and our people in Gaza are in the same situation, and there is no decision from the Jordanian government to hold artistic events at the moment because we cannot celebrate while blood is flowing.

"If the situation in Gaza calms down sufficiently before the festival date, perhaps we will host those who are committed and supportive of art.

"He suggested inviting well-known singers who support the Palestinian cause, such as Marcel Khalife, Samih Choucair, and Julia Boutros.

"But if the bloodshed continues, we will have no choice but to cancel artistic events and expand cultural events, provided they are directed toward supporting the steadfastness of the people in Gaza.”

Another stream of voices calling for the cancellation of the Jerash Festival comes from those with religious reasons in addition to concerns about the war in Gaza.

Khaled Al-Juhani from the Islamic Movement in Jordan, who is leading a social media campaign, told The New Arab, “The festival, even before the Al-Aqsa Flood, faced social rejection.

"There are religious reasons. The artistic form of what is displayed contradicts Islamic values and does not showcase Jordanian heritage or develop the city of Jerash economically.

“Today, the rejection of the festival and celebration is increasing at a time when the blood of our brothers is flowing in Gaza. We have seen Jordanians cancelling their weddings and offering the cost of the wedding parties to help the people of Gaza.”

The Jerash Festival was first launched in 1980 at the initiative of Yarmouk University, but it became an official festival with its first session in 1981. It is held every summer and includes artistic, literary, and cultural events from all over the world.

The ancient city of Jerash, located about 48 kilometers from Amman, is the main site for the festival’s activities.

A source in the Jordanian Ministry of Culture, the organization behind the festival, told The New Arab, “There has been no talk about holding this year’s Jerash Festival until now, due to the crimes committed by the Israeli occupation in the Gaza Strip. The ministry is studying the issue, and it is expected that a decision will be made in the coming weeks.”

Mohammad Ersan is a freelance journalist and Editor-in-Chief of Radio Al-Balad and

Follow him on X: @JournalistErsan