Update of 23 July: Rania Elias and Suhail Khoury have been released; Daoud Ghoul remains detained. Freedom for Daoud al-Ghoul!
On Wednesday, 22 July, Israeli occupation forces attacked the Yabous Cultural Center in Jerusalem, an active center for cultural and performing arts, ransacking files and seizing property belonging to the center; they abducted the director of the Yabous Cultural Center, Rania Elias, from her home along with her husband, Suhail Khoury, the director of the National Music Institute. Occupation forces also attacked the home of the Jerusalem Arts Network, Shafaq, and seized its director Daoud al-Ghoul.
Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network notes that these arrests are part and parcel of an ongoing Israeli campaign to shut down Palestinian institutions and attempt to eradicate Palestinian culture and existence in Jerusalem. They come hand in hand with the pursuit of ethnic cleansing and genocide in Jerusalem through home demolitions, land confiscation, extrajudicial killings and residency revocations in an attempt to erase the Palestinian and Arab character of the city.
The arrests of Rania Elias, Suhail Khoury and Daoud al-Ghoul make clear that Israel is once more escalating its attacks on Palestinian cultural institutions and Palestinian culture itself in the city. We urge all artists of conscience to speak out and join the call for their immediate release.
The Yabous Cultural Center is a Palestinian cultural institution in occupied Jerusalem that organizes film screenings, theater performances, storytelling festivals and other cultural events to celebrate the deep Palestinian heritage of Jerusalem. Recently, Suhail Khoury composed this song performed remotely by the Jerusalem Girls’ Band, filmed on mobile phones amid the COVID-19 pandemic, in commemoration of the Nakba:
These arrests of prominent Palestinian cultural figures in Jerusalem also comes amid an ongoing attack on Palestinian civil and social institutions by the Israeli occupation that has included arrests and forced closure of organizations as well as an international campaign of defamation that attempts to cut off resources, funding and even moral and political support for independent Palestinian organizations. The Israeli “Ministry of Strategic Affairs,” also known as the “anti-BDS ministry,” has targeted Palestinian human rights defenders and Palestine solidarity organizations in an attempt to cut off the economic support for work defending Palestinian rights, culture and people from Israeli colonization.
The European Union has been complicit in these attacks, altering its funding guidelines and contracts to impose conditional political standards on Palestinian organizations that aim to prevent them, essentially, from working with anyone who is part of a Palestinian political party. This not only serves the aim of the Israeli occupation to besiege Palestinian human rights defenders but also, in the words of Lubnah Shomali of Badil, “Palestinians are being required to follow an agenda designed to please our oppressors – the State of Israel.”
The Yabous Cultural Center and the Shafaq Jerusalem Arts Network have both expressed their support for the Palestinian National Campaign Against Conditional Funding. The Campaign issued a statement about the arrests, noting that these arrests and attacks on Palestinian institutions are a “form of intellectual and cultural terrorism practiced by the occupying power against Palestinian existence and identity in Jerualem.”
Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network demands the immediate release of Rania Elias, Suhail Khoury and Daoud al-Ghoul. Further, we urge international action and solidarity to secure the release of Palestinian artists and writers and to hold Israel accountable for its crimes against the Palestinian people.
To that end, we urge:
1. Statements, solidarity photos and performances from performing arts groups and musicians around the world. Show your solidarity with these three detainees – Rania Elias, Suhail Khoury and Daoud al-Ghoul – and all Palestinian artists who continue to perform and create music, theatre and cultural expression despite occupation, colonization, siege and exile.
2. Adopting and implementing the cultural boycott of Israel. International performers and artists must not travel to Israel or participate in programs funded by the Israeli embassy and other Israeli institutions while those same institutions are directly complicit in the violent silencing, arrest, imprisonment and assault of Palestinian artists and cultural institutions.
We urge artists of conscience to join the call to free imprisoned Palestinian artists – and for a free Palestine, from the river to the sea!