Burj al-Luqluq


Khalil Assali for Jerusalem Story

Blog Post

Palestinian Cultural Organizations in East Jerusalem Face Hardships and Uncertain Future

When the renowned Jerusalem oud player Mustafa al-Kurd passed away in his home on February 19, his funeral was quite simple, attended by a few Jerusalem intellectuals. The Palestinian Ministry of Culture issued a short eulogy carried by the official Wafa news agency. One might have expected the death of the 79-year-old popular nationalist musician to create more of a stir: his songs against the occupation and settlements in the 1970s and 1980s brought him to popular consciousness. One song dedicated to his son Darwish includes a line that is immediately recognized by Palestinians everywhere:

          هات السكة هات المنجل اوعى بيوم عن ارضك ترحل

          Give me the plowshare and sickle and be sure never to leave your homeland.

Mustafa had been a key figure in the national music scene in Palestine and created many of the musical accompaniments to plays produced by the famous Palestinian National Theatre (popularly referred to as el-Hakawati) in East Jerusalem, which he had helped establish. He also performed widely in European capitals, in concerts that combined the oud with the flute.

The low turnout at his funeral is consistent with the huge decline in Palestinian cultural activities in East Jerusalem, especially since the al-Aqsa Flood Operation on October 7, 2023, and Israel’s war on Gaza that followed.

On October 7, the theater had planned to relaunch its Children’s Festival. This formerly annual event had not been held for a few years, in part because of the coronavirus pandemic. The theater administrators had hoped to revive that tradition and worked tirelessly to plan a memorable opening event.

Theater Director Amr Khalil met with Jerusalem Story and lamented: “We woke up to a new reality on this day that led us to cancel the opening ceremony show, then cancel the entire festival. We have since entered a state of intense anticipation and fear of what is coming.”1

The Palestinian National Theatre El-Hakawati

The first (and until the early 1990s, the only) Palestinian public theater and cultural center in Jerusalem

El-Hakawati Director Amr Khalil

El-Hakawati Director Amr Khalil


Khalil Assali for Jerusalem Story

Amr adds that there was so much hope that the well-loved children’s theater festival would revive Palestinian cultural life in Jerusalem. “We had pinned a lot of hope that it would be a catalyst for a serious relaunch of the theatrical and cultural work of the National Theatre after the absence of many years. Those dreams vanished as we entered a real, suffocating crisis at all levels. This crisis has continued since October 7.”

“We had pinned a lot of hope that it would be a catalyst for a serious relaunch . . . Those dreams vanished as we entered a real, suffocating crisis at all levels.”

Amr Khalil, director, el-Hakawati Theatre

Since then, Palestinians have not been able to think about anything but Gaza. The psychological state of Palestinian Jerusalemites who saw the images of the massive killing, displacement, and destruction in Gaza was compounded by the unprecedented campaign of intimidation against Palestinian Jerusalemites by the Israeli authorities, with the legal sanction granted by sweeping emergency laws passed by Israeli authorities on October 7, 2023.

During the interview, Amr tried hard to smile from time to time, but he was clearly exhausted, worried, and frustrated. Sitting in his office in the theater, he recalled that the theater had been founded by a group of Palestinian artists enthusiastic about theatrical work who hoped to create a crucible for Palestinian national art and cultural creation and engagement.

Amr recalled those memories to motivate himself to remove the dust and cobwebs from this theater, which houses the city’s cultural memories.

But those early years were also a time when Palestinian East Jerusalem was open and freely accessible to the rest of the West Bank, a reality which all began to shift in the late 1990s and accelerated dramatically with the completion of the Separation Wall, the checkpoints, and the permits regime (see Jerusalem: A Closed City and The Separation Wall).

As part of this effort to renew life in the theater, at the time of the interview work was underway in the main hall to prepare for the relaunch of the Children’s Theater Week originally scheduled for October 7; it was then held successfully from January 25 to February 13, 2024. The theater staff agree that the theater needs a new strategy and vision that can help bring Jerusalem’s audience back to theater, art, and culture once the war and its horrors end and the public mood changes.

But funding is a real challenge. Amr alluded to external funding as a sword hanging over the necks of East Jerusalem’s cultural institutions. The absence of funding has plunged the theater into an unprecedented and stifling fiscal crisis.

Simon Koba, an engineer who is also chairman of the board of directors of the National Conservatory of Music in Jerusalem (the Jerusalem branch of the Edward Said Conservatory of Music), told Jerusalem Story that external funding often comes with unacceptable conditions. “Institutions have fallen into ongoing financial crises, which has been continuing since the pandemic, and then the Gaza war came and destroyed the hope of revival, even if temporarily.”

Graphic The Unreachable City

How many millions of Palestinians in historic Palestine and beyond are unable to enter Jerusalem without Israeli permission?

Simon Koba, chairman of the board of directors of the National Conservatory of Music in East Jerusalem

Simon Koba, chairman of the board of directors of the National Conservatory of Music in East Jerusalem


Khalil Assali for Jerusalem Story

Not only is there a lack of funding, but even when it is offered, it comes with onerous conditions, which leave many institutions no choice but to decline.

Simon is considered by many to be one of the most successful administrators in the culture and youth sector. He has helped guide the management of the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) in Jerusalem and many other institutions; he is clearly saddened by the current decline of cultural output and calls for a strategic rethink. “The [East] Jerusalemite cultural institutions must intensify cooperation and coordination among themselves and develop a strategic framework for their work together to confront the Arab and international financiers so they can emerge from the current crisis from which all our cultural institutions are suffering, which threatens to erase some of them from the Palestinian cultural scene.”2

Young Men’s Christian Association — East Jerusalem (YMCA)

A Christian association that promotes holistic youth development

“The [East] Jerusalemite cultural institutions must intensify cooperation and coordination among themselves and develop a strategic framework for their work together.”

Simon Koba, chairman of the board of directors, National Conservatory of Music, East Jerusalem branch

Since the early 1990s, the number of functioning Palestinian cultural institutions in East Jerusalem has steadily declined. Today, only eight can be considered active and effective; the rest exist on paper only.

Simon call for a strategic framework is strongly supported by Muntaser Idkedek, director of the Burj al-Luqluq Social Center Society, the most active and interactive institution for the Palestinian community within the Old City.

Burj al-Luqluq Social Center Society

A sports and play area that provides a breathing space for residents in the Old City

Muntaser Idkedek

Muntaser Idkedek


Khalil Assali for Jerusalem Story

Burj al-Luqluq has been skillfully administered by Muntaser for many years. He tells Jerusalem Story that he has received several calls from project funders, the vast majority of whom are Arab funders, who informed him that they will stop funding al-Luqluq so that they can help Gaza instead. “If this funding for Burj al-Luqluq Foundation stops, we will be forced to stop many vital programs that benefit Palestinian youth and children in the city, such as kindergartens and sports activities, which will also mean laying off many employees and reducing our activities.”3 Muntaser is proud of his organization’s achievements, including an application that alerts people to the conditions of checkpoint-induced roadblocks and traffic jams around Jerusalem (known as “Crisis”), in addition to other achievements in the field of sports. “The indicators coming from donors do not bode well for the cultural institutions in East Jerusalem. Even some international institutions that used to sign contracts with us for a period of one or two years now prefer to sign short-term contracts for only three months.”

During his interview with Jerusalem Story, Muntaser received a phone call from the director of one of the Arab-funded institutions asking him to amend the budget of a key project to be funded by this institution.

Muntaser is also the coordinator of the National Cultural Committee in Jerusalem, and he asserted that Burj al-Luqluq’s annual budget is less than a quarter of the budget of one of the smallest public centers affiliated with the Jerusalem Municipality that operates in the Old City.

Everyone we spoke to agreed that cultural institutions in East Jerusalem, including theater, music, and art, were unable to create a Palestinian Jerusalemite audience that would sustain their work. They called for a comprehensive, focused, and coordinated awareness campaign by these institutions to encourage public funding and a new strategy to attract young audiences and preserve the distinctive cultural character and heritage of Palestinian Jerusalem.



Amr Khalil, interview by the author, February 8, 2024. All subsequent quotes by Khalil are from this interview.


Simon Koba, interview by the author, February 8, 2024.


Muntaser Idkedek, interview by the author, February 8, 2024. All subsequent quotes by Idkedek are from this interview.

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