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Arab-American group cancels yearly festival in light of Gaza conflict

The Arab American Cultural Center of Oregon has canceled its annual festival at Portland Community College’s Sylvania campus.

Organizers say it wasn’t right to celebrate while people were being killed.

In a statement released Thursday, the center said its fifth annual Mahrajan Arab Festival, which was slated for Sunday at the college, would not be going ahead as planned.

“As Oregonians and Arab-Americans with familial ties to the region, our hearts are breaking, and we cannot celebrate at this somber time,” organizers stated. “The AACCO Arab Festival represents an important opportunity for our community to come together, and it will be back. We thank you for your understanding and support. We know you will keep the victims in your thoughts." The Arab American Cultural Center of Oregon said that the current Israeli offensive in Gaza has left many in the community grieving and unable to celebrate next week's Mahrajan Arab Festival.

The decision comes after Israeli troops entered the Gaza Strip as part of “Operation Protective Edge,” the deadliest military operation in Gaza since the 2008-09 Gaza War, with more than 750 Palestinians and 32 Israelis killed, according to the Gaza Health Ministry.

The day-long festival has been held at PCC Sylvania since 2012, and its goal is to showcase Arab food, traditions and art as a way to celebrate Arab-Americans and their contributions to Oregon’s culture.

Kate Chester, a spokeswoman for PCC Sylvania and the vice president of AACCO, said with the conflict in the Middle East worsening, it didn’t feel right to hold the celebration.

“We were getting a lot of emails and messages on Facebook expressing fears and concerns. People are grieving,” Chester said. “So, when we met this week, we voted whether or not to host it and decided to cancel it this year. This year is not the right time.”

The festival is largely supported by donations. Instead of supporting the festival, the Arab American Cultural Center of Oregon encourages people to consider donations to organizations “that can ease the suffering of the people affected by these tragedies.”



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