On the Palestinian Cultural Festival in Jerusalem

Opening a dialogue is important not in order to accept existing conditions but in order to change them.

The Palestinian Cultural Festival recently declared Jerusalem “the capital of Arabic culture for 2009.” The Jerusalem police recently arrested twenty people attempting to organize the  festival.

In the past I have often been vocal about the injustice of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory and the ongoing creation of Israeli settlements. The mere injustice of occupying a land and its people can only lead to a never-ending cycle of more injustices. I have often described Israeli and Palestinian destinies as being inextricably linked. For this reason there can be no military solution, and it is illusory to believe that there is a solution to this conflict that benefits one side only. What will be beneficial for the Palestinians will also be beneficial for Israel, and what is detrimental to one is also detrimental to the other. Israel keeps talking of security, but only Palestinian acceptance of Israel will bring about this security. In order to achieve this, there has to be a clear recognition of the sins of injustice felt by all Palestinians.

I have often called for cultural initiatives that can build bridges of communication where politics has the tendency to destroy them. Opening a dialogue is important not in order to accept existing conditions but in order to change them. Our governments are not capable of fostering understanding between peoples, even if they were to someday be capable of peaceful negotiations. On a cultural level, dialogue is always possible even between mutually hostile parties, and this has been proven by the example of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, which Edward Said and I founded precisely in order to begin a dialogue between Israelis, Palestinians, and other Arabs.

This is why the Israeli suppression of Palestinian cultural activity is particularly painful for me to witness. The Israeli government has no right to stop the Palestinian celebration, which was in fact proposed by the municipality of Nazareth. All citizens of Israel should enjoy the same rights and privileges, regardless of their religious or ethnic backgrounds. By hindering a cultural festival, Israel reveals its fatal weakness: the fear of allowing its opponent the right to self-expression. This course of action is worse than counterproductive; it portrays the Israeli government as an enemy of culture, of all places in Jerusalem.