The closure of a music studio and the destruction of Palestinian Jerusalem
On the last day of July, Sabreen, the first Palestinian music studio, closed the doors to their headquarters in the Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah. Originally a music band, Sabreen expanded into an association for musical development in 1987.
Focusing on music and community-based projects, Sabreen has been an institutional home for many Palestinian artists. From recording albums to youth music projects, it has been a crucial actor in the Palestinian arts scene. Yet after years of financial struggle and deliberate Israeli regime policies designed to suffocate Palestinian cultural institutions in Jerusalem, Sabreen will no longer be able to operate from its original home.
“The association is being closed as a result of various debts, which is something that affects many cultural institutions in Jerusalem. The cost of operating in Jerusalem is incredibly high… and the problem is that funding rarely covers this core running costs…Currently we have lost our headquarters and we are now trying to keep the association going but it will be hard,” Said Murad, one of the founders of both the band and the association, told me.
"In addition to these systemic policies which make day to day life incredibly difficult for Palestinians in Jerusalem, the Israeli regime has also sought to disrupt Palestinian cultural and political life in the city"
This is happening within the context of the Israeli regime working consistently to sever Jerusalem from Palestinians and their identity and national consciousness since the Nakba in 1948. Nearly two decades later, the entire city was brought under Israeli regime control in what has commonly become known as the 1967 Six Day War.
Palestinians who remained in the city were given “permanent residency” status by the Israeli government rather than citizenship, leaving them effectively stateless. This has allowed the Israeli regime to deny them full rights, including the right to vote, while also forcing them to pay crippling taxes and other municipal fees.
Urban planning has also been a key mechanism through which Israeli authorities have erased Palestinians from Jerusalem, particularly in their explicit efforts to maintain a Jewish demographic majority in the city.
Deprived of statehood in the most traumatic fashion, Palestinians have kept their right of return alive by building a dynamic and thriving national culture. Through literature, art, music, fashion and theatre, the Palestinian dream lives on https://t.co/IoPeCfX4ic— The New Arab (@The_NewArab) June 2, 2022
This includes limiting Palestinians to certain neighbourhoods, denying them building permits, demolishing their homes, and providing inadequate resources and services to Palestinian neighbourhoods. The construction of the separation wall in 2002 was also part of this concrete attempt to make Palestinian life unbearable in the city.
In addition to these systemic policies which make day to day life incredibly difficult for Palestinians in Jerusalem, the Israeli regime has also sought to disrupt Palestinian cultural and political life in the city.
Shortly after the occupation of the eastern part of the city in 1967 and its subsequent annexation, Palestinian cultural and political activity came under intense suppression from the Israeli regime. The application of the Defence Emergency Regulations, first introduced by the British Mandate in 1945, allowed the Israeli regime to enforce widespread censorship and suppression. Books were banned and any words considered potent, such as filastin (Palestine), sumud (steadfastness) and ‘awda (return), were omitted from curriculums, books, radio shows, and plays.
Reflecting on the years following the 1967 occupation, Sliman Mansour, founder of the League of Palestinian Artists, noted that Palestinians “were living in a kind of cultural ghetto, isolated from cultural developments. Movement was difficult. Many artists were banned from travelling. Artists were often arrested and their works confiscated […] It was an attempt to kill any creative and artistic spirit of Palestinians.”
The situation since then has not gotten better. Since 2000, the Israeli regime has shut down more than 42 Palestinian institutions in the city under various pretexts, ranging from “illegal” political affiliation to unpaid bills.
For example, the Palestinian National Theatre, Al-Hakawati, established in Jerusalem in 1984, has constantly fought against censorship and threats of closure. It has had its activities shut down no less than 35 times since its opening, including in 2008 when the theatre attempted to host a festival ahead of Jerusalem being chosen as the Arab Capital of Culture for 2009.
"Today, these organisations remain under threat and constant pressure merely for existing as Palestinian cultural institutions in Jerusalem"
In 2015, the theatre published a public appeal following threats from the Israeli Law Enforcement and Collection Authority which not only froze the theatre’s bank account, but also threatened to seize the building. The Israeli regime used the pretext that the theatre had accumulated massive debts to the municipality, the electricity company, and the national insurance agency.
In reality, payments to these various authorities are purposely kept extortionately high in order to make living conditions for Jerusalemite Palestinians unsustainable. The theatre continues to face imminent closure to this day.
More recently in July 2020, Israeli regime police raided and looted three Palestinian cultural organisations: the Edward Said National Conservatory of Music, the Yaboos Cultural Centre, and the Shafaq Cultural Network. Their offices were ransacked, documents and files were taken, and computers, laptops, and phones were confiscated.
All three directors - Suhail Khoury, Rania Elias, and Daoud Ghoul - were arrested and taken from their homes, which were also raided. Khoury and Elias were held for one day in Israeli detention, while Ghoul spent two weeks incarcerated and interrogated in Moskobiye prison.
The initial accusation against the three cultural institutions in Jerusalem was “tax evasion and fraud,” yet it later became clear that they were also being detained on false charges of financing terrorist organizations, a charge commonly levelled at Palestinian activists and civil society by the Israeli regime.
Today, these organisations remain under threat and constant pressure merely for existing as Palestinian cultural institutions in Jerusalem. Indeed, whilst Sabreen is the most recent example in this ongoing effort to destroy Palestinian Jerusalem, it will not be the last.
This piece is based on a policy brief for Al Shabaka. Read it here.
Yara Hawari is the Senior Analyst of Al-Shabaka, the Palestinian Policy Network.
Follow her on Twitter: @yarahawari
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