The first International Writers Festival was scheduled to take place 11-15 May 2008 in Jerusalem, just three days after Israel’s official celebrations of 60 years of independence. Substantially financed by the Israeli Foreign Ministry, this festival must necessarily be seen in the context of the Israeli government’s wider public relations campaign to bring international artistic, cultural and political figures to brighten the state’s image on the international stage.
It is not possible that Israel continues to deny the human and national rights of the Palestinian people, to impose a deadly siege on the Gaza Strip and publicly flaunt its international political commitments by building additional settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, while its authors and cultural figures are honored with visits by distinguished international authors. Israeli society must be told loudly and clearly that it cannot act with complete impunity toward the Palestinian people and still enjoy privileges and honours of a law-abiding state.
The Alternative Information Center (AIC) has called on those who are working for social justice, along with Palestine solidarity groups from around the world to contact the participating authors, particularly those from their home countries, and encourage them to boycott this event in solidarity and support of a just peace for Palestinians.
Tadamon has followed this call by writing several authors and encouraging them to boycott the event. Below are letters to Erri de Luca (in french) and Nadine Gordimer (in english), as well as links to other such letters written by other groups or individuals.
Letters from Tadamon to Erri de Luca and Nadine Gordimer:
Cher Erri de Luca,
Si nous prenons la plume pour vous écrire c’est que nous sommes avant tout des lecteurs de vos livres, qui apprécions beaucoup votre travail ainsi que votre parcours, si nous en croyons les articles que nous avons lus à votre sujet.
Nous croyons savoir que vous êtes un homme épris de justice. Nous savons aussi que vous vous intéressez à la Bible et au judaïsme, et que vous avez appris l’hébreu. Cette curiosité vous honore. Toutefois l’histoire du judaïsme, qui comporte de très belles pages dépasse, et de loin, celle de l’Etat d’Israël qui ne comporte que des pages tachées de sang. C’est parce que nous avons peur que vous confondiez les deux que nous vous demandons de reconsidérer votre participation au prochain Festival International des Ecrivains de Jérusalem, au mois de Mai.
Le boycott organisé contre ce genre de manifestation n’est pas un boycott de la culture ni des écrivains israéliens et encore moins juifs. C’est bien un boycott institutionnel visant à ne pas légitimer l’Etat d’Israël et sa propagande alors qu’il célèbre dans la joie 60 ans d’occupation illégitime d’une terre, qui correspondent également à 60 ans de dépossession du peuple Palestinien et de vie en exil, sous occupation militaire ou en tant que citoyens de seconde zone en Israël, discriminés, entravés dans leurs déplacements etc…
Ce boycott répond à l’appel désespéré des Palestiniens qui espèrent ainsi faire pression de manière non violente sur l’Etat d’Israël, pour qu’il respecte au minimum les résolutions votées à l’ONU par la communauté internationale. Inspirée de l’exemple sud-africain, c’est la seule façon pour nous, citoyens du monde, d’exprimer notre solidarité avec ce peuple qui se bat pour sa survie pendant les célébrations immorales et bruyantes.
Nous ne pouvons pas croire qu’un humaniste comme vous se place aux côtés des bourreaux, ignorant les pleurs mais aussi les cris des Palestiniens, en situation d’apartheid sur leur propre terre, y compris à Jérusalem où se déroulera le festival des écrivains. Nous ne pouvons pas croire que votre amour de la littérature vous fasse oublier que derrière chaque écrivain il y a un être humain et une conscience.
Nous vous écrivons au nom de l’association Tadamon (qui signifie Solidarité en Arabe), qui regroupe des personnes de bonne volonté pour faire avancer la justice internationale, en particulier en Israel/Palestine. D’autres associations indépendantes partagent notre point de vue mais elles n’ont souvent pas accès aux grands médias. Ainsi, le comité BRICUP a écrit (voir ci dessous) une lettre à Nadine Gordimer, lui demandant également de ne pas participer à ce festival. La route sera longue avant la fin du conflit Israélo-Palestinien, mais vous pouvez dès aujourd’hui faire un petit pas dans la bonne direction par votre décision.
Nous espérons sincèrement que vous changerez d’avis,
Nous nous tenons bien entendu à votre entière disposition si vous souhaitez obtenir plus de détails sur la campagne de boycott ou sur la politique d’apartheid israélien.
Dror WARSCHAWSKI, Paris
Dear Nadine Gordimer:
It is with great shock and dismay that we have learned of your intention to participate in the Israeli Writers’ Festival this May, in conjunction with the “Israel at 60″ festivities (largely supported by the Israeli Foreign Ministry). The function of cultural events such as this one in the international public relations campaigns of apartheid regimes is strongly reminiscent of the same maneuverings by the South African apartheid government. Have you forgotten the morally unconscionable historical ties between apartheid Israel and apartheid South Africa during the years of sanctions, when millions of dollars of weapons were supplied by Israel to the apartheid regime?
The friendships that you have shared with the late Palestinian scholar Edward Said, or John Dugard, UN Special Rapporteur on Palestinian Rights in the Occupied Territories, have offered you ample insight into the depths of the violence inflicted daily on Palestinians by the Israeli state. The 2001 World Conference Against Racism, held in Durban, South Africa, labeled Israel as a “racist, apartheid state” and denounced its policies as “crimes against humanity.” Archbishop Desmond Tutu has even asserted that the situation in Palestine is worse than apartheid South Africa.
Surely you are aware of the ongoing Israeli military occupation and settlement expansion in the West Bank, and the unyielding reality of the apartheid wall there that continues to dispossess Palestinians of their homes, lands and water. Much as media sources consistently underreport on and underrepresent the gravity of the ongoing siege of 1.4 million Gazans, the fact that it continues is undeniable. The second-class citizenship status of Palestinians living inside Israel, the languishing of over 10,000 Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli dungeons, and the state-sanctioned tactics of torture and political assassination by the Israeli military have been documented by many human rights groups worldwide. The heartbreaking nature of exile as experienced by many South African anti-apartheid activists during the 1970s and 1980s is widely acknowledged. Compassion should similarly extend to the upwards of 4 million Palestinian refugees worldwide who remain locked out of their homeland.
We trust that your conviction to principles of racial equality and against oppression have not changed since your outspoken resistance to the apartheid policies of the South African state. The position that you have often articulated, that writers must not ignore injustice, is one that we, too, share. On this basis, as fellow artists, intellectuals, and organizers committed to justice, we ask that you once more stand with the oppressed. We ask that you rescind your confirmation at the Israeli Writers’ Festival. Moreover, we call on you to support the burgeoning cultural boycott of the apartheid state of Israel, which has been gaining strength daily since its launch in July 2005.
In your 1991 Nobel lecture, you aptly quoted Albert Camus and his call for “courage in one’s life and talent in one’s work.” It is not your talent but your courage that we appeal to now, in solidarity with the people of Palestine who have long been steadfast in their struggle for justice and dignity.
On behalf of Tadamon! Montreal
Ms Gordimer and Mr De Luca have indicated that they would regardless go to Jerusalem in May for the the Israeli Writers’ Festival. Ms Gordimer’s reply is below:
There is misinformation or a misconception about my intended visit to Israel.
I am not invited to Israel by the Israeli government. I do not go under its auspices. My invitation came from an International Writers Festival, through the Konrad Adenauer Conference Centre. The premise and purpose, conditions on which I have agreed to participate, are for writers to discuss their responsibilities to their art, their communities, their countries and the world we share. The role of literature in opening up the human mind, understanding and spirit beyond the provision of information as offered universally now by technological expansion of the media.
This is a contentious subject like that of others, of smaller or greater magnitude, which must be faced and confronted openly.
What part the writer, if worthy at all of that name, is to play not alone in freedom of expression and publication, exchange of cultures through the written word, the exploration of the possibilities for human understanding that come from translation of literary works across languages. What such a meeting of writers is for, is to assert vitally that whatever violent, terrible, bitter and urgent chasms of conflict lie between peoples, the only solution for peace and justice exist and must begin with both sides talking to one another.
Hamas, despite its declaration denying the right of Israel to exist must be part of these talks, for the very survival of the peoples of Palestine and Israel, for them to be at peace in fully independent states within justly agreed borders. Let us not forget that Nelson Mandela went, escorted from and returned to Pollsmore Prison, for a face-to-face meeting with apartheid president P W Botha.
My solidarity with the struggle – our Struggle – against apartheid – surely can leave no doubt in the minds of my comrades and others concerned that I, along with nearly half the population of Israel, do not support the present government of their country and deplore many of its actions. I am a signatory among those South African Jews who endorsed the statement made by Ronnie Kasrils declaring ‘Not in our name’.
I shall go to the West Bank, Ramallah, have arrangements to meet individual Palestinians and the students at El Kudes University in East Jerusalem. I shall do my utmost to uphold the principles and practice I have held, and still hold, at home in our country.
Two more letters to Nadine Gordimer:
AN OPEN LETTER TO NADINE GORDIMER
from the British Committee for the Universities of Palestine
Sunday 13 April 2008
Dear Nadine Gordimer:
Many of us who paid attention to, and valued, your writing during the dark days of apartheid are dismayed to see that you are participating in the International Writers’ Festival in Israel in May.
It can only send a dispiriting message to the Palestinians that a writer of your moral standing and international renown is prepared to appear in a city at least half of which is under illegal military occupation by a state founded on ethnic cleansing. (‘Ethnic cleansing’ isn’t just our term — it’s what Israeli historian Ilan Pappe says he has finally accepted is the most accurate description for what Israeli forces did to the Palestinians in 1948.)
Think of a Palestinian villager in the occupied West Bank — hemmed in by Israeli army roadblocks, cut off from her fields by the Wall, the water in her wells drained by a nearby settlement, some of her sons and daughters in prison without charge or trial, her other children unable to leave the village to go to school. There are hundreds of thousands like her. In this context, isn’t it a contradiction to be sitting in occupied Jerusalem, discussing the morality and responsibility of ‘the writer’ with Amos Oz?
We take it as given that you still believe everything you said during apartheid times about the responsibility of the writer not to ignore injustice, and about your hatred of racism. But how does your visit square with this? By taking part in an event substantially funded by the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, you will be lending credibility to the state that has for decades subjected Palestinian towns and villages to collective punishment, that boasts of its extrajudicial killings, that carpeted south Lebanon with cluster bombs in 2006 when the ceasefire had already been agreed (the list truly is endless).
In one of your essays you describe Professor John Dugard as a friend. You must know that in his capacity as UN Special Rapporteur on Palestinian Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, John Dugard unequivocally denounced the wrongs inflicted on Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. His doing so has not brought Palestinian suffering to an end. But he did, to his great credit, unmask the systematic cruelty of Israeli policy towards the Palestinians.
The whole of Palestinian civil society has called for a cultural boycott of Israel. Please don’t give the Israeli establishment, the Israeli press, the whole Israeli PR machine, the prize they want — your apparent condoning of their policies.
Your reputation as a figure of conscience is world-wide.
Your withdrawal from the May event will have a great impact on an Israeli public largely in denial about the cruelties it perpetrates. Please don’t go.
Professor Hilary Rose
Professor Steven Rose
Professor Jonathan Rosenhead
British Committee for the Universities of Palestine
BRICUP letter to Nadine Gordimer
Nadine Gordimer: Stand against Israel’s apartheid too
Dr. Haider Eid, The Electronic Intifada, 25 April 2008
The following is an edited open letter from Gaza lecturer Dr. Haider Eid to Nobel Prize-winning South African author Nadine Gordimer:
Dear Ms. Gordimer,
I am a Palestinian lecturer in Cultural Studies living in Gaza. I happen to also have South African citizenship as a result of my marriage to a citizen of that beloved country. I spent more than five years in Johannesburg, the city in which I earned my PhD and lectured at both traditionally black and white universities. At Vista in Soweto, I taught your anti-apartheid novels My Son’s Story, July’s People and The Late Bourgeois World. I have been teaching the same novels, in addition to The Pick Up and Selected Stories, to my Palestinian students in Gaza at Al-Aqsa University. This course is called “Resistance, Anti-Racism and Xenophobia.” I deliberately chose to teach your novels because, as an anti-apartheid writer, you defied racial stereotypes by calling for resistance against all forms of oppression, be they racial or religious. Your support of sanctions against apartheid South Africa has, to say the least, impressed my Gazan students.
The news of your conscious decision to take part in the “Israel at 60″ celebrations has reached us, students and citizens of Gaza, as both a painful surprise, and a glaring example of a hypocritical intellectual double standard. My students, psychologically and emotionally traumatized and already showing early signs of malnutrition as a result of the genocidal policy of the country whose birth you will be celebrating, demand an explanation.
They wonder in amazement, as do I, that you might have missed Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s contention that conditions in Israeli-occupied Palestine are worse than those under apartheid? They ask how you can ignore UN human rights observer John Dugard’s dispassionate and insightful report on the dismal state of human rights in the occupied territories? Surely, you have not been unaware of South African minister Ronnie Kasrils’ writings following his latest visit to Gaza and the West Bank? Like you, these three men, all South Africans, were also active in the fight against racism and apartheid. Dugard’s words on Palestine are very significant: “I certainly have a sense of deja vu … The sad thing is that Israel is unwilling to learn from the South African precedent.” In an article titled “Apartheid: Israelis adopt what South Africa dropped,” Dugard observed that the human rights situation in the occupied territories continues to deteriorate and called the conditions “intolerable, appalling, and tragic for ordinary Palestinians.” Significantly, Dugard made shocking parallels between the situation in Palestine and your country South Africa under apartheid: “Many aspects of Israel’s occupation surpass those of the apartheid regime. Israel’s large-scale destruction of Palestinian homes, leveling of agricultural lands, military incursions and targeted assassinations of Palestinians far exceed any similar practices in apartheid South Africa.”
Moreover, in its final declaration, the World Conference against Racism non-governmental organization forum, held in Durban in 2001, stated that: “We declare Israel as a racist, apartheid state in which Israel’s brand of apartheid as a crime against humanity has been characterized by separation and segregation, dispossession, restricted land access, denationalization, ‘bantustanization’ and inhumane acts.”
You are no doubt aware of Israel’s deep ties with apartheid South Africa, during which Israel, breaking the international embargo, supplied South Africa with hundreds of millions of dollars of weapons. Apartheid South Africa relied on apartheid Israel to persuade Western governments to lift the embargo. How did you relate to Israel during that period and what was your position regarding countries and individuals that did not support the policy of isolating apartheid South Africa? You were surely critical of the infamous policy of “constructive engagement” led by then British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and US President Ronald Reagan at the height of the struggle in the 1980s. And today, inexplicably, you have joined the ranks of sanctions busters.
The eminent Palestinian scholar Edward Said, who gave you his friendship, would have been dismayed by your decision. He named you as a model for what he called “oppositional intellectuals.” It was his strong belief that, with regard to Israel, “[it] only takes a few bold spirits to speak out and start challenging a status quo that gets worse and more dissembling each day.” Little did he know that you would fail the oppressed in Palestine.
My cold and hungry students have divided themselves into two groups, with one group adamant that you, like many of your courageous characters, will reconsider your participation in an Israeli festival that aims to celebrate the annihilation of Palestine and Palestinians. The other group believes that you have already crossed over to the side of the oppressor, negating every word you have ever written. We all wait for your next action.
Dr. Haidar Eid is an Associate Professor in the Department of English Literature, Al-Aqsa University, Gaza Strip, Palestine.