Israeli forces storm two Palestinian cultural centres in East Jerusalem
Israeli police and intelligence officers stormed two Palestinian cultural centres in occupied East Jerusalem on Wednesday, seizing records and documents and detaining employees, official Palestinian news agency Wafa reported.
The Yabous Cultural Centre and the Edward Said National Conservatory of Music (ESNCM), also known as the Edward Said Institute, are at the heart of the musical and cultural scene in East Jerusalem.
The residence of Suhail Khoury, the ESNCM director, and Rania Elias, the director of Yabous, was also stormed by Israeli forces, who escorted them to the offices of both centres for the search and seizure of documents. Both Khoury and Elias were detained by the Israeli police.
Khoury and Elias, who are married, are the organisers of festivals and events in the Palestinian cultural scene.
The news agency also reported that the residence of Daoud al-Ghoul, the director of the Jerusalem Arts Network (Shafaq), was stormed and ransacked as well.
Shafaq acts as an umbrella network for cultural centres in East Jerusalem, including Yabous; ESNCM; Al-Ma’mal Foundation for Contemporary Art; the gallery of The Palestinian Art Court (Al Hosh); and the Palestinian National Theatre (Al-Hakawati).
Israeli police said that it detained three suspects for alleged tax evasion and fraud, and that it confiscated materials for an ongoing investigation.
Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the PLO Executive Committee, said in a statement that Israel's campaign against Palestinians in Jerusalem "aims to erase the Palestinian presence and alter the demographic and cultural make-up of the city through numerous home demolitions, forced evictions and targeting the daily livelihoods of Palestinian Jerusalemites”.
The Palestinian Authority’s Ministry of Culture condemned the storming of Yabous and ESNMC.
“The attack on these institutions is an attack on the Palestinian national culture and cultural heritage,” the ministry said in a statement.
Over a thousand students are currently learning music at the Edward Said National Conservatory of Music, with branches in Jerusalem, Nablus, Gaza, Ramallah and Bethlehem.
In 2013, ESNCM Palestine Strings performed in the BBC Proms musical event at the Royal Albert Hall in London.
The conservatory was founded under the auspices of the University of Birzeit in 1993, north of Ramallah, and was renamed after the acclaimed Palestinian writer Edward Said in 2004. The Yabous Cultural Centre was founded in 1995.
Israeli authorities have been tightening their grip over Palestinian institutions in the occupied city.
Over the weekend, Adnan Ghaith, the Palestinian governor of Jerusalem, was arrested over “suspected terrorism”, according to his lawyer.
Ghaith has been arrested more than ten times in the past two years over his activities in East Jerusalem and each time would be released after a day or two.
Mohammed Mahmoud, Ghaith’s lawyer, told AFP that this time his client is not expected to be released soon, as he is being investigated over "planning an act of terrorism”.
In November, Israeli authorities closed down several institutions in East Jerusalem, claiming that they are funded and belong to the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority.
The Palestinian Authority claims East Jerusalem as the future capital of a Palestinian state, but this hope had been dashed by US President Donald Trump's decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital, and Israel's plan to annex the West Bank.