Art And Culture

Acclaimed Palestinian Theatre in Beit-ul-Moqqadas Risks Closure

Acclaimed Palestinian Theatre in Beit-ul-Moqqadas Risks ClosureAcclaimed Palestinian Theatre in Beit-ul-Moqqadas Risks Closure

The Palestinian National Theatre, for three decades the leading performing arts and cultural center for Arabs in Beit-ul-Moqqadas, is facing potential closure after running up large municipal debts, its director says.

Known as “Al Hakawati” (The Storyteller), the theatre has amassed unpaid bills of $150,000 over the past five years, with money owed to city hall, to the national insurance fund and to the local electricity company.

Opened in 1984, Al Hakawati has received international acclaim for its performances and its training of young actors. It often puts on productions with groups from the United States, Britain and France.

“We are the only professional theatre in Beit-ul-Moqqadas,” director Amer Khalil told Reuters. “I hope we can manage to get at least half the money we owe soon, otherwise we will be closed down.”

Adnan Al-Husseini, the Palestinian Authority governor of Beit-ul-Moqqadas, said he expected Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas would step in and prevent the theatre’s closure. “The president has given orders and the money needed will be given.”

The theatre operates as an NGO and has received donations from Europe, the United States and others in the past. Khalil said donors and friends had been calling and he hoped they would pledge enough to pay off the debts.

There has been friction between Al Hakawati and Israel in the past. In 2008, Israeli police deployed at the theatre to stop it holding a festival entitled “Beit-ul-Moqqadas, the Arab Cultural Capital for 2009.”

Palestinians want Beit-ul-Moqqadas - captured and occupied by Israel in 1967 - as the capital of an independent Palestinian state.

Some Palestinian commentators described the squeeze on Al Hakawati as part of a wider push by Israel to marginalize Arabic cultural and arts institutions”.

In June this year, Israel’s culture minister froze funding to an Arab theatre after it performed a play about Palestinians jailed by Israel. She also threatened to cut funding to an Arab-Israeli theatre that refused to perform in a Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank.

Israeli artists have even protested against the culture minister, Miri Regev, a former army spokeswoman from the right-wing Likud party, saying she has no understanding or appreciation for the arts.