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Leading Artists Condemn Israeli Raids on Palestinian Cultural Centers

Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Brian Eno, and Tai Shani are among 60 musicians, artists, writers, and filmmakers who signed a recent open letter condemning an Israeli police raid of three cultural centers.

The Edward Said National Conservatory of Music in Jerusalem (courtesy of PalMusic UK )

Brian Eno, Peter Gabriel, Ahdaf Soueif, and Turner Prize winners Lawrence Abu Hamdam and Tai Shani are among more than 60 international musicians, artists, writers, and filmmakers who signed an open letter condemning Israel’s crackdown on three Palestinian culture centers in East Jerusalem.

On July 22, Israeli police raided the Edward Said National Conservatory of Music (ESNCM), Yabous Cultural Centre, and the Shafaq Cultural Network in East Jerusalem. The buildings of these institutions were ransacked; documents and equipment were confiscated; and their respective directors — Suheil Khoury, Rania Elias, and Daoud al-Ghoul — were detained.

Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said in a statement that police detained the three directors on suspicions of “tax evasion and fraud” in a joint operation with tax authorities.

Released yesterday, August 12, the open letter says:

These attacks threaten to extinguish cultural life for thousands of artists, students and people in wider society They are part of a well-documented campaign of harassment and intimidation, arrests, home demolitions and forced evictions of indigenous Palestinians by the Israeli government.

A graduation concert at the Edward Said National Conservatory of Music in 2016 (courtesy of Ahdaf Soueif/PalFest)

In a tweet on July 23, the British Consulate General in Jerusalem, Phillip Hall, wrote he was “concerned” over the detention of the three directors.

“It must go further than this,” the authors of the open letter responded to the Consulate General’s tweet. “Israel’s policies must be brought to a halt.”

The letter called on the British government “to condemn the raids and to take action to stop Israel’s ongoing annexation.” The authors also joined Palestinian calls for “targeted and lawful sanctions” against Israel, focusing on trade, arms sales, and security co-operation.

In a statement after his release from detention, Khoury wrote, “Other than the ongoing daily policies the Israelis are trying to enforce in East Jerusalem, we do not know what triggered the attack. Loving Beethoven and your country seem to be a dangerous combination.”

“They have chosen to attempt to smear our reputation by falsifying evidence of money laundering, an outrageous and baseless accusation,” the composer and director of ESNCM continued. “The aim of this smearing attempt is severe and might lead to shutting us down.”

Khoury is married to Elias, who heads the Yabous Cultural Centre, the largest Palestinian venue for music, performance arts, and film in Jerusalem. The two were arrested together in their apartment in East Jerusalem on the morning of the raid.

A joint statement by the boards of the ESNCM and the Yabous Cultural Centre described the couple’s arrest, saying: “Their children were ordered to stay put in a room while the police searched their bedroom and confiscated their passports, their documents, their computers, phone and car, after which they led Rania to the Yabous Centre and Suheil to the interrogation center in Jabal Abu Ghneim.”

Novelist and Palfest chair Ahdaf Soueif  at an event in Rammalah in 2017 (photo by Rob Stothard/Palfest)

The two organizations vehemently denied the charges and allegations against them, adding that their financial accounts are audited by the international auditing firms Pricewaterhouse Coopers PwC and Deloitte. They called on international human rights organizations, UNESCO, the European Union, and governments worldwide “to hold to account the occupying forces for their daily violations of the rights of the Palestinians and their organizations and to stop all attacks on scholars, artists and musicians and those involved in the cultural life.”

The Palestinian Ministry of Culture in Ramallah has also condemned the raids, saying, “The attack on these institutions is an attack on the Palestinian national culture and cultural heritage.”

Soueif, an Egyptian-British novelist and founder of the Palestinian Festival of Literature (PalFest), said in a statement: “Israel is using the familiar tactics of an authoritarian state — night-time raids, trumped-up charges, arbitrary arrests — to kill the cultural institutions that Palestinians have created.”

Soueif, who resigned from her post as a British Museum trustee last year for the museum’s ties to British Petroleum (BP) and its inaction regarding the restitution of cultural artifacts, continued: “Western governments have the power to stop this intolerable use of force. They should use it.”

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