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Jerusalem Festival 2022: For Yabous cultural center, it’s Mission Possible

Jerusalem24 – Yabous – the first name given to the city of Jerusalem by the Jebusites. The Jebusites were a Canaanite tribe who built the city of Yabous on the location of present-day Jerusalem. Today and after more than 5000 years, the descendants of the Jebusites still live in Jerusalem, and continue to revive their city culturally and artistically by organizing activities in the field of performing arts.

Yabous cultural center is a Palestinian NGO based in Jerusalem. It was established in 1995 when a number of artists and culture enthusiasts and entrepreneurs from Jerusalem decided to create a body offer patronage to the performing arts in Jerusalem.

Director-General of Yabous Rania Elias joins us on Vibes to talk about the 2022 edition of the Jerusalem Festival which runs from 12 to 18 August, details of which can be found on the Yabous cultural center Facebook page.

Rania tells us how Yabous ended up running the largest cultural center in Jerusalem. “There was a dream to have a cultural center in the heart of Jerusalem, trying to revive the cultural life, preserving Palestinian cultural identity, as well as having a place for people to go out and enjoy their time.”

Rania says Yabous’ entire efforts are focused on Jerusalem: “This is the place where at 5pm there is no life. Everything is closed, shops are closed, people go to their homes. You don’t have a cultural life in the city.”

To remedy this, Yabous organizes hundreds of events every year reaching different segments of society in Jerusalem. The Jerusalem Festival is its crowning jewel.

Rania says through this year’s program they tried to throw a light on the situation faced by artists and cultural institutions – especially in Jerusalem, but also in Ramallah “or any other place […] with the restrictions that we face and the shrinking of space that we are working in within.”

The festival also wants to examine “how free we are to talk about different issues in culture.”

Highlights of the festival include standup comedy workshops for budding comedians; concerts of Arabic music by Arab composers; internationally-renowned pop group 47SOUL; a monodrama by Raeda Taha presenting Jerusalem stories; and South African artist Nomcebo, the singer behind the hit song “Jerusalema” that became a global viral sensation during the 2020 Covid-19 lockdowns.

Nomcebo will also be performing in Dheisheh refugee camp in Bethlehem on 16 August as part of the festival.

Rania says the festival – as all cultural events and institutions do in Jerusalem – face a special set off difficulties due to Israeli laws imposed on Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem. “There are so many obstacles and restrictions we are facing.”

Rania points to the difficulties in hosting West Bank artists as they often cannot get permits to perform in Jerusalem. She says this restricts them in the variety of artists they can showcase. More pressing, though, is the issue of funding, which was not only affected by Covid-19 but is also subject to new measures imposed by international donors such as the EU, which cultural institutions sometimes find hard to adhere to.

“I always say that having a concert in Jerusalem is becoming like Mission Impossible.”

However, Yabous has once again managed to pull it off this year, and Rania invites everyone, young and old, parents and children – for whom there are dedicated volunteers on hand to entertain, if parents want to catch a breath – to enjoy this year’s festivities and help “revive together the life in Jerusalem.”

Listen to the full interview on Vibes.

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