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December 4, 2009
Jerusalem serves as disputed 2009 Arab ‘culture capital’

The official Capital of Arab Culture poster.

For 2009, UNESCO and the Arab League designated Jerusalem as the year’s Arab cultural hub. Asserting their control over predominantly Arab East Jerusalem, Israeli authorities forbade events associated with the Arab Capital of Culture program.

In response, the festival was driven underground. One organization that coordinated a series of indoor performances in East Jerusalem last month was
Al Quds Underground.

Worldfocus spoke with the project’s organizer, Dutch composer Merlijn Twaalfhoven.

Worldfocus: Did your festival succeed in calling attention to the artistic dimension of Jerusalem — rather than the political side of the city?

Merlijn Twaalfhoven: Indeed, we succeeded to look at what’s behind the surface. Behind politics, history and religion, there is a daily life with intimate stories, living culture and personal connections. We were able to focus on this reality and to leave political discussion behind. I directed the monologues, songs and stories towards the personal.

Worldfocus: UNESCO labeled Al Quds as this year’s capital of Arab culture. What exactly does that mean?

Merlijn Twaalfhoven: Every year, a city in the Arab world has such a title. Last year a lot of international attention was focused on Damascus, for example. [And 2010’s will be Doha, Qatar]. Because of the sensitive issue of the cultural identity of Jerusalem, the Cultural Capital did not succeed in Jerusalem itself. It took place in exile (on the West Bank and in other Arab towns like Amman, Beirut, Damascus).

Worldfocus: Was the festival’s intention also to subvert Israeli claims to sovereignty over the whole city and assert the identity of Palestine’s future capital?

Merlijn Twaalfhoven: The official [Ramallah-based organization’s] website explains it quite well.

In practice, the capital wants to celebrate the culture of diversity in Jerusalem — but not together with the Israelis because of the current situation of occupation and suppression.

Worldfocus: To what extent were Jewish Jerusalemites encouraged to join the festival?

Merlijn Twaalfhoven: Just a few days before the project, there were riots in the city. The tensions were very high and the participants didn’t all trust our intentions at the start. In order to give the house owners a feeling of safety, and to avoid more tensions, we invited only personal connections and relations of the participants and our partner organizations.

The poster that Hamas used in Gaza.

We found out it is too early now to invite Israeli groups when people are still in a shock from the riots around the Temple Mount. Also the situation in Gaza makes many Palestinians very sad and they feel it’s not decent to have tea and invite Israelis in their homes now.

Of course, I regret that and I know there are many Israeli people who want to come in peace. But peace comes in small steps, and to bring Israeli audience now is just a step that is too big at this point.

Also, we don’t want to create symbols or slogans when we cannot make it real. To say we create peace is something we cannot fulfill at this stage. But we can work on a condition for peace and that is: dignity, expression of identity and a healthy cultural life.

To bring Israeli people to Palestinian houses now will create a tension that will derive the project from its goal: to stimulate openness and contact first among the sub-cultures of the Palestinian society.

A project like this can easily become part of a strong lobby’s propaganda. We wanted to keep it intimate and personal. We hope that, in the future, it is possible to invite also Israeli, because it is essential to bring people together and step-by-step work on a situation in which all people are equal in Jerusalem.

Worldfocus: What is your long-term cultural and political outlook for the city that is at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

Merlijn Twaalfhoven: Jerusalem is a symbol of multiculturalism. The real conflict is between people that want to live together and people that want the city for one specific ethnic group exclusively. I hope that Al Quds Underground can happen every year and create more openness in this place. Also, it is mostly outsiders that fight, pay and pray for the faith of Jerusalem.

These outsiders must know that, for ages in Jerusalem, all religions and different people have lived together. A project like this can communicate this diversity. I hope it encourages foreign artists to come to Jerusalem and explore the beauty of diversity themselves.

– Ben Piven

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I think the Zionist imperialists should get out of Jerusalem and return the area to the righteous and rightful owners who came before them – Homo erectus.


Serge and Boris, your grasp of history is lamentably weak. So weak, it sounds like poor memories of Soviet propaganda.

Jerusalem has NOT been the Jewish capital for the past 3,500 years. On the contrary: it is exceptional precisely because it had such a long gap between the Judean Wars under General Titus and 1948. During that time, it was no nation’s capital, though it was a regional capital under both the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires.


JESUS died in jerusalem , the romain fight the jews revolte and destroye the temple 600 years before Mohamet , muslim open you history book before you open your mouth , JERUSALEM is JEWS CAPITAL and will stay that way , that was GOD wish and muslim can not go again history fact and GOD .


Israel take back there land JUDEA from Jordan and before Jordan was born part of the OTTOMAN EMPIRE and AL AKSA was build on the holly site of the jews temple by the SULTAN of TURKEY , Arabe stop to take what is not your and stay in your land , JERUSALEM IS JEWS CAPITAL OF ISRAEL and was longtime ago of the jews , Israel stay strong GOD is on your side.


For over 3,500 years, Jerusalem has been the Jewish capital Jerusalem has never been
the capital of any Arab or Muslim entity, Even when the Jordanians occupied Jerusalem,
They never sought to make it their capital, and Arab leaders did not come to visit city.
Jerusalem is mentioned over 700 times in Tanach, the Jewish Holy Scriptures.
Jerusalem is not mentioned once in the Koran.
King David founded the city of Jerusalem. Mohammed never came to Jerusalem.
Jewish pray facing Jerusalem. Muslim pray with their back toward Jerusalem.


If the Arabs want to consider “Al Quds” their “cultural capital” that’s okay by me, as long as they forget about ever considering it their political capital. That ain’t going to happen.


This item on Jerusalem was yet another example of World Focus’ non-stop punting of Arab viewpoints.

It is to your credit that you asked why Israelis were not invited.

Why did not World Focus point out that:
(1) The riots in East Jerusalem were instigated by the Palestinian Authority to recover prestige after their unpopular handling of the UN Gaza report.

(2) Jerusalem has far more freedom under Israeli rule than it ever had under Jordanian rule. Indeed, Jews were not allowed to visit their holy sites until 1967, but Christians, Muslims can now worship at their sites.

(3) The Jordanian army ripped apart all Jewish synagogues and cemeteries in the Old City after 1948.

(4) Whats is now called “Arab East Jerusalem” had a Jewish majority from at least 1840 until the 1920’s, according to British figures. The Jews were chased out by Arab rioters and mobs in the late 1920’s (at the same time as the Hebron massacre that destroyed the ancient Jewish community there).

(5) The Palestinian Authority’s mufti and many of its ministers repeatedly publicly deny on TV that there was ever a Jewish temple in Jerusalem, or that there is any link to Jerusalem.

(6) This program was designed as nothing more than a propaganda move to deligitimize Israel, and deny Jewish connections to the city. It shows the bankruptness of the UN.


You ‘artists’ better be careful. It is not seen as ‘Islamic’ to paint or sculpture forms. Tell me, are ‘shaheeds’ now to be seen as creative expressionists,- ‘street theater’? What position did you folks take in the Salman Rushdie affair? The very NAME ‘Jerusalem’ is from the Hebrew. If and when there is a ‘Palestinian’ state, will I need a Visa to cross the street in Jerusalem?

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