Lebanon is to mark occupied Jerusalem’s appointment as “Arab Culture Capital 2009” with events across the country for the Palestinian diaspora next month, as Israeli authorities quash celebrations at home.

The much-contested capital Jerusalem was chosen by UNESCO and the Arab League this year to receive the annual award for its unrivalled contribution to Arab culture, despite Israeli protestations that the holy city is its own.

A Palestinian girl celebrates the Al-Quds honour

With Lebanon home to almost half a million Palestinians, the Culture Ministry has decided to celebrate the achievement with two months of cultural and artistic events to begin next week in Beirut, which was itself last awarded the honor in 1999.

The ministry’s coordinator of the Arab Culture Capital events, Dima Raad, said that with large number of Palestinian refugees living in Lebanon it was important the country mark the occasion.

“What we are doing with the events is highlighting the Palestinian cause. Its people should be allowed back, but because they are not we have to make it like home for them here in Lebanon,” Raad said.

“We plan to start the events now and carry on until the last day of 2009, so that every moment until then is a celebration for Palestinians in Lebanon.”

The first event is scheduled for November 9, which will see a week of film screenings at ARESCO Palace on various Palestinian themes, produced by Lebanese directors.

International touring dance troupe “Wishah” will then perform at Palestinian refugee camps across the country, aimed at sharing the Arab cultural history with those unable to return.

The last event on the agenda, “Made in Palestine,” will exhibit installation work, famous paintings and poetry readings in early December. The event will explore the modern history of Palestinians and their national struggle to liberate, as told by artists living in the occupied West Bank and Gaza.

Israel claims Jerusalem as its capital, however it is recognised by all members of the Arab League as the Palestinian capital.

Most of the celebrations in the capital have either been dispersed or banned in advance, as according to Israeli Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter, the events would constitute a violation of the interim agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, which includes a clause that forbids the Palestinian Authorities from organizing activities in Israeli territory.

Many Palestinians living in the occupied territories are now making the trip to Lebanon to join with the some-400,000 refugees in the country’s festivities.

Raad, however, expressed regret that two top visiting speakers have been stopped from leaving Israel to attend the events.

Lecturer Mohammad Atta and Islamic history professor Nazmi el-Jabah of Birzeit University in Palestine were programmed to speak during a series of talks, but have been forced to pull out.

“They stopped them just at the last minute which is a shame because it is people like these that have given Jerusalem its culture.”

However, Raad stressed that the 60-day-long series will not be dampened by the travel ban. “The celebrations must go on and the Palestinians are very grateful for these events. It is something for their destiny, something to show they will exist always.”

Simultaneous ceremonies took place in Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Gaza, Nazareth, and Al-Rashadiyeh and Mar Ilias refugee camps in Lebanon via satellite link at the official opening back in March, after its January start was delayed by the 22-day Israeli offensive on Gaza.

The synchronized celebrations were aimed at building a cultural bridge between Palestinian people in the territories and those living in the diaspora.

Memorial postage stamps bearing the Arab Culture Capital motif, designed and created in honor of Jerusalem’s appointment, have also been released in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Qatar.

A celebration was held earlier this month under the auspices of President Michel Sleiman at the headquarters of UNESCO in Beirut to launch the program for the Jerusalem Arab Capital of Culture 2009.

The general director of the Lebanese Culture Ministry Omar Halablab gave a speech in which he described the city of Jerusalem as “the true representative” of Arab culture and praised the Arab League’s choice.