The official ceremony marking the declaration of Jerusalem as this year's Arab League choice for the 'capital of Arab culture' was held in the West Bank city of Bethlehem on Saturday evening.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas delivered the opening remarks, emphasizing the Arab and Palestinian connection to the city.
"Jerusalem and its residents are at the top of our priorities. The occupation will be banished forever from
Jerusalem and our lands. The Apartheid will be removed, and so will the racist separation barrier," Abbas said.
The Arab world elects a different city as its culture capital every year, an annual tradition established in 1996. Last year's choice was Damascus. Celebrations were held throughout the West Bank, and the streets of Bethlehem were decorated with flags representing the world's Arab nations.
Israeli Arabs also held special events, some of which were cancelled by the police on the orders of the Internal Security Ministry. According to interim agreements it has signed with Israel, the Palestinian Authority is prohibited from organizing events within Israeli territory.
Abbas equated Israel's actions with that of rival Palestinian faction Hamas, which blocked celebratory events in the Gaza Strip. "Just as Israel prevented the gathering in Nazareth, Hamas prevented it in the Strip."
The celebrations in Jerusalem (Photo: AP)
The Palestinian president went on to say that "there will be no peace without Jerusalem," and lamented the intentions to demolish homes in the Silwan neighborhood, which Israel says were illegally built.
"We ask the world – how much longer will the destruction and killing and slaughtering continue? Do our people not deserve to live in peace and prosperity? Do they not deserve independence? Every new Israeli government must show its commitment to the peace process by honoring the principles of the two-state solution as the foundation for the peace process," said Abbas.
Abbas also addressed the internal Palestinian reconciliation attempts, and reiterated his well-known position that advocates the formation of a wide unity government. He stressed that all the Palestinian organizations must accept the PLO as the sole representative of the Palestinian people.
The events celebrating Jerusalem as "the capital of Arab culture" began a short while after the end of Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, however the official opening ceremony was only held now. In recent weeks conferences and events have been held throughout the Palestinian Authority's territories, in Arab communities in Israel and in various other centers in the Arab World.
Police shut down eight planned events in Nazareth and in east Jerusalem, and have so far detained at least 20 organizers and participants for questioning. Roadblocks were erected around the Temple Mount to prevent youths from converging there.
According to testimonies, police have dispersed protests of dozens of people, confiscating flags and banners. In another incident police scattered an event organized by students, who said the police had popped their balloons and detained several youths for questioning.
But despite police efforts, several events were held in Israel. Jaffa welcomed the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem at a conference titled 'Jerusalem between the threat and the Judaization.' Other guests included the Archbishop Attallah Hanna and Islamic leader Sheikh Jamil Hamami.