Saturday, March 21, 2009

Israel Police ban Arab Culture day in Jerusalem

Usually we see Israel looking to cater to the demands of the Palestinians and the rest of the Islamic world. Today they are doing what is best for them.

Israel police ban Arab culture day in Jerusalem

JERUSALEM – Israeli authorities broke up a series of Palestinian cultural events in Jerusalem on Saturday, disrupting a children's march and bursting balloons at a schoolyard celebration in a crackdown that underscored the emotional battle over control of the disputed holy city.

Elsewhere in Jerusalem, hundreds of Israelis gathered outside the residence of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to mark the 1,000th day in captivity of an Israeli soldier held by Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip. The demonstration took place at a protest tent set up by the soldier's family, and many in the crowd quietly waved yellow glow sticks in a show of solidarity.

Palestinian activists called for Saturday's celebrations to mark the Arab League's designation of Jerusalem as the capital of Arab culture for 2009. The 23-nation group chooses a different city for the honor each year.

But Israel said the events violated a ban on Palestinian political activity in Jerusalem. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas criticized the crackdown.

Announcing the ban on Saturday's events, Israel's internal security minister, Avi Dichter, accused Abbas' Palestinian Authority of being behind the activities. Israel does not allow the Palestinian government to have a presence in Jerusalem, saying it undercuts Israel's claim to the city.

At one event, teenage girls at an east Jerusalem Catholic school released a few dozen balloons in the red, white, green and black colors of the Palestinian flag over the walled Old City. Israeli military police and soldiers quickly moved into the schoolyard and popped the remaining balloons, students said.

Zein, an 18-year-old student, said the police popped them with their hands and told them they weren't allowed to release them into the air. She asked not to use her last name, fearing further problems with the police.

An Israeli intelligence official at the school who refused to give his name said the balloons were burst "because they are Palestinian."

Police spokesman Shmuel Ben Ruby said 12 people were detained. Police also broke up attempts by Palestinian school children to march into the Old City.

The dispute over Jerusalem lies at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and has been the most sensitive issue in peace talks.

Israel says the entire city of Jerusalem is its undivided capital. Palestinians want east Jerusalem — captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war and site of key Jewish, Muslim and Christian holy sites — as the capital of a future state.

Israel annexed the eastern part of the city after the 1967 war, and today, some 180,000 Jewish Israelis live in east Jerusalem neighborhoods. The annexation is not internationally recognized.

Speaking in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, Abbas said Israel's policies in Jerusalem were undermining the chances for peace.

"The policy of discrimination, suppression, stealing the land, destruction of neighborhoods, and homes, the policy of falsifying the past, destroying the present and stealing the future should all stop if peace is to have a real opportunity in this land," he said.

He urged the incoming Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, to resume stalled peace negotiations on all issues of dispute, including Jerusalem. The conservative Netanyahu rejects any division of the holy city.

Olmert had hoped to arrange a prisoner swap with Hamas that would bring home the captured soldier, Sgt. Gilad Schalit, before he leaves office. Netanyahu is putting together a coalition government following elections last month and has two more weeks to complete the task.

But earlier this week, Olmert said Hamas' demands were excessive, strongly signaling he would turn over the matter to Netanyahu. Hamas is seeking the release of some 450 imprisoned militants, including dozens convicted of killing Israelis, in exchange for Schalit.

Schalit's father, Noam, urged Olmert to continue his efforts. "We want Gilad Schalit back home immediately — immediately, not in another 1,000 days, not even in another 100 days," he told the crowd Saturday night.

Schalit's family set up the protest tent two weeks ago to push for a last-minute deal. In a country where military service is mandatory, the case has gripped the nation's attention, and thousands of people have stopped by the tent to support the family.

The family planned to return home to northern Israel later Saturday, but his father said their struggle would go on. "This hasn't ended, dear Gilad," he said.

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