Who’s Responsible for Threatened Shutdown of Palestinian Theatre in Jerusalem?

In a Reuters story about the impending shutdown of East Jerusalem’s core performance venue, El Hakawati, the theatre company’s problems are put down to a simple matter of money — there just isn’t enough of it. But other commentators, including Abir Kopty, point to how the Israeli government has squeezed the theatre and how closing it down for debt is part of a wider discriminatory process:

hakawatiAccording to a public statement from El Hakawati, director Amer Khalil received a phone call on Thursday morning from the Israeli Enforcement and Collection Authority (ECA). The ECA reportedly notified Khalil of the government’s intention to seize the theatre building in 48 hours for unpaid bills.

The Hakawati has amassed unpaid bills of approximately US$150,000 over the past five years, according to Reuters, with money owed to city hall, the national insurance fund, and the local Israeli electricity company.

Theatre diector Amer Khalil acknowledged political actions against the theatre, but told Reuters: “In this case, we are just facing the problem of debts. In general, there has been a problem with us using this building in the past and having a Palestinian cultural centre in Jerusalem, but now it is just about the money.”

The group has been around in its current form since 1984, when a group of theatre artists took over the burned-out shell of the Nuzha Cinema in East Jerusalem.

The El Hakawati theatre has been no stranger to shutdowns and censorship, both in Israel and in the US. There have been a few large actions against the theatre: In 2008 the Israeli Police deployed its forces at Al-Hakawati and barred it from holding a cultural festival called “Jerusalem, the Arab Cultural Capital for 2009.” Then, in 2013, Israeli authorities made international headlines when they blocked a children’s theatre festival at El Hakawati.

But there have been smaller aggressions as well: In April, for instance, the Freedom Theatre announced that they had to cancel a planned performance at El Hakawati, noting, “We have received strong indications that we will not be able to get the necessary permits [from Israeli authorities] in time.”

El Hakawati is not the only Palestinian theatre facing similar problems. In mid-April, Israel froze funding for Haifa-based Midan Theatre over the staging of Parallel Time. The state later temporarily un-froze funding as it launched an investigation into the theatre’s financing. The Israeli culture ministry also threatened to cut funds for a Jaffa children’s theatre because its Palestinian founder, Norman Issa, refused to perform in a settlement.

Kopty writes that “the threat on Al Hakawati shows how poor the political and (unconditional) financial support, Jerusalem’s Palestinian institutions receive.”

There is an Indiegogo fundraiser seeking to help the theatre stay open: In the first 10 hours, nearly $3,000 was raised, but there is a good deal left to go.

See more from those seeking to save the theatre at https://www.generosity.com/emergencies-fundraising/save-the-palestinian-national-theatre-in-jerusalem.