British Writers In Support of Palestine

July 19, 2014

Nobel Laureates call for a Military Embargo on Israel

As the IDF bombs the captive civilian population of Gaza for the third time in six years, and initiates a ground invasion of the besieged territory, BWISP members John Berger, Selma Dabbagh, Ghada Karmi, Nur Masalha, China Mieville and Robin Yassin-Kassab have joined the Palestinian BDS Committee’s call for a military embargo on Israel. Signed by six Nobel peace laureates and public figures including Judith Butler, Brian Eno, and Federico Mayor Zaragoza, Former UNESCO Director General, the Open Letter was published today in an abridged version in The Guardian.

Chile, mentioned in the letter, has already suspended trade negotiations with Israel in protest over the current round of atrocities, and is considering withdrawing its ambassador.

To add your name to the call, please sign here.

 

Nobel laureates, artists and public intellectuals call for immediate military embargo on Israel

“With the establishment of a relationship of oppression, violence has already begun. Never in history has violence been initiated by the oppressed. …There would be no oppressed had there been no prior of violence to establish their subjugation.” –Paulo Freire

Israel has once again unleashed the full force of its military against the captive Palestinian population, particularly in the besieged Gaza Strip, in an inhumane and illegal act of military aggression. Israel’s ongoing assault on Gaza has so far killed scores of Palestinian civilians, injured hundreds and devastated the civilian infrastructure, including the health sector, which is facing severe shortages.

Israel’s ability to launch such devastating attacks with impunity largely stems from the vast international military cooperation and trade that it maintains with complicit governments across the world.

Over the period 2009-2019, the US is set to provide military aid to Israel worth $30bn, while Israeli annual military exports to the world have reached billions of dollars. In recent years, European countries have exported billions of euros worth of weapons to Israel, and the European Union has furnished Israeli military companies and universities with military-related research grants worth hundreds of millions.

Emerging economies such as India, Brazil and Chile, are rapidly increasing their military trade and cooperation with Israel, despite their stated support for Palestinian rights.

By importing and exporting arms to Israel and facilitating the development of Israeli military technology, governments are effectively sending a clear message of approval for Israel’s military aggression, including its war crimes and possible crimes against humanity.

Israel is one of the world’s leading producers and exporters of militarized drones. Israel’s military technology, developed to maintain decades of oppression, is marketed as “field tested” and exported across the world.

Military trade and joint military-related research relations with Israel embolden Israeli impunity in committing grave violations of international law and facilitate the entrenchment of Israel’s system of occupation, colonisation and systematic denial of Palestinian rights.

We call on the UN and governments across the world to take immediate steps to implement a comprehensive and legally binding military embargo on Israel, similar to that imposed on South Africa during apartheid.

Governments that express solidarity with the Palestinian people in Gaza, facing the brunt of Israel’s militarism, atrocities and impunity, must start with cutting all military relations with Israel. Palestinians today need effective solidarity, not charity.

Signed by:

Adolfo Peres Esquivel, Nobel Peace Laureate, Argentina
Ahdaf Soueif , Author, Egypt/UK
Ahmed Abbas, Academic, France
Aki Olavi Kaurismäki , film director, Finland
Alexi Sayle, Comedian, UK
Alice Walker, Writer, US
Alison Phipps, Academic, Scotland
Andrew Ross, Academic, US
Andrew Smith, Academic, Scotland
Arch. Desmond Tutu, Nobel Peace Laureate, South Africa
Ascanio Celestini, actor and author, Italy
Betty Williams, Nobel Peace Laureate, Northern Ireland
Boots Riley, Rapper, poet, arts producer, US
Brian Eno, Composer/musician, UK
Brigid Keenan, Author, UK
Caryl Churchill, playwright, UK
China Mieville, Writer, UK
Chris Hedges , Journalist, Pulitzer Prize 2002, US
Christiane Hessel, , France
Cynthia McKinney, Politician, activist, US
David Graeber, Academic, UK
David Palumbo-Liu, Academic, US
Eleni Varikas, Academic, France
Eliza Robertson, Author,
Elwira Grossman, Academic, Scotland
Etienne Balibar, philosopher, France
Federico Mayor Zaragoza, Former UNESCO Director General, Spain
Felim Egan, Painter, Ireland
Frei Betto, Liberation theologian, Brazil
Gerard Toulouse, Academic, France
Ghada Karmi , Academic , Palestine
Gillian Slovo, Writer, Former president of PEN (UK), UK/South Africa
Githa Hariharan, Writer, India
Giulio Marcon, MP (SEL), Italy
Hilary Rose, Academic, UK
Ian Shaw, Academic, Scotland
Ilan Pappe, Historian, author, Israel
Ismail Coovadia, former South African Ambassador to Israel
Ivar Ekeland, Academic, France
James Kelman, Writer, Scotland
Janne Teller, Writer, Denmark
Jeremy Corbyn, MP (Labour), UK
Joanna Rajkowska, Artist, Poland
Joao Felicio, President of ITUC, Brazil
Jody Williams, Nobel Peace Laureate, US
John Berger, artist, UK
John Dugard, Former ICJ judge, South Africa
John McDonnell, MP (Labour), UK
John Pilger, journalist and filmmaker , Australia
Judith Butler, Academic, philosopher, US
Juliane House, Academic, Germany
Karma Nabulsi, Oxford University, UK/Palestine
Keith Hammond, Academic, Scotland
Ken Loach, Filmmaker, UK
Kool A.D. (Victor Vazquez), Musician, US
Liz Lochhead, national poet for Scotland, UK
Liz Spalding, Author,
Luisa Morgantini, former vice president of the European Parliament, Italy
Mairead Maguire, Nobel Peace Laureate, Ireland
Marcia Lynx Qualey, Blogger and Critic, US
Michael Lowy, Academic, France
Michael Mansfield, Barrister, UK
Michael Ondaatje, Author, Canada/Sri Lanka
Mike Leigh, writer and director, UK
Mira Nair, filmmaker, India
Monika Strzępka, theatre director, Poland
Naomi Wallace, Playwright, screenwriter, poet, US
Nathan Hamilton, Poet ,
Noam Chomsky, Academic, author, US
Nur Masalha, Academic, UK/Palestine
Nurit Peled, Academic, Israel
Paola Bacchetta, Academic, US
Phyllis Bennis, Policy analyst, commentator, US
Prabhat Patnaik, Economist, India
Przemyslaw Wielgosz, Chief editor of Le Monde Diplomatique, Polish edition, Poland
Rachel Holmes, Author, UK
Raja Shehadeh, Author and Lawyer, Palestine
Rashid Khalidi, Academic, author, Palestine/US
Rebecca Kay, Academic, Scotland
Richard Falk, Former UN Special Rapporteur on Occupied Palestinian Territories, US
Rigoberta Menchú, Nobel Peace Laureate, Guatemala
Robin D.G. Kelley, Academic, US
Roger Waters, Musician, UK
Robin Yassin-Kassab, Writer, UK
Roman Kurkiewicz, journalist, Poland
Ronnie Kasrils, Former minister in Mandela’s gov’t, South Africa
Rose Fenton, Director, the Free Word Centre, UK
Sabrina Mahfouz, Author, UK
Saleh Bakri, Actor, Palestine
Selma Dabbagh, Author, UK/Palestine
Sir Geoffrey Bindman, Lawyer, UK
Slavoj Zizek, Philosopher, author, Slovenia
Sonia Dayan-Herzbrun, Academic, France
Steven Rose, Academic, UK
Tom Leonard, Writer, Scotland
Tunde Adebimpe, Musician, US
Victoria Brittain, Playwright and journalist, UK
Willie van Peer, Academic, Germany
Zwelinzima Vavi, Secretary General of Cosatu, South Africa

 

May 13, 2014

Jake Wallis Simons: Who is the hypocrite?

Dear Jake Wallis Simons,

We thank you for your reply to our request to boycott the Mishkenot Sha’ananim Festival in Jerusalem this month. We regret, however, that The Telegraph declined to publish our Open Letter, and that you and the paper have ignored our requests for a blog spot to respond to your arguments. We find it ironic that you charge us with hypocrisy for supporting a boycott of Israel, but deny us space to express our views on this controversial issue to your readers. Are only anti-boycott voices to be allowed access to the mainstream media, in your view? As such appears to be the case, we address you again, therefore, from our own website, in conjunction with our colleagues in Israel, members of the activist group Boycott from Within.

To further address your charge of hypocrisy: yes, human rights violations occur all over the world, but there is a crucial difference between boycott as a personal moral decision and as a strategic political tool. The grassroots-based Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against the Israeli state and all companies profiteering from its human rights violations is an organised call from Palestinian civil society: it comes with specific demands and the significant potential to create change. Just as in apartheid South Africa, an international BDS campaign is called for because Western governments, including the current British government, have armed and supported the country in question. Building on the South African precedent, BDS could eventually become more widely used to combat international abuses of power, including those by Western governments. To be both morally compelling and effective, however, the call must come from the exploited. BDS is like a picket line that internationals are requested not to cross. Still a personal moral choice, but with the added freight of knowing that a rejection of boycott is not neutral: it is a conscious choice to refuse the call of the oppressed, and therefore stand with the oppressor against them.

It is clear that you do not wish to see Israel in this light. In lieu of addressing our central concern – that the state-funded literary festival you are attending openly celebrates Israel’s illegal occupation of East Jerusalem – you attempt to portray Israel as a victim of constant attacks by Arab countries. You neglect to mention that Israel was founded at gun point, armed Zionist militias committing the 1948 Nakba, or ‘catastrophe’: massacres, terrorist acts and the ethnic cleansing of an estimated 750,000 Palestinians. Israel has never honoured the right of return of the now over six million refugees who live in desperate poverty around the Middle East – the most horrific example being the starvation we see now in Yarmouk. We acknowledge, of course, the misery of Syrian refugees, and also the suffering of Jews over the centuries. But compassion for victims of war and persecution should not mask the fact that by establishing an expansionist state – one that has persistently seized far more of the land gifted to it by the UN – Israel has created a situation of permanent conflict, in which it is clearly the aggressor.

You also present Israel as a free and democratic society with difficulties like any other. In fact, it is a violent and discriminatory regime far unlike the UK. The “societal disadvantages that confront minorities in Israel” include an ethnic-supremacist plan to uproot tens of thousands of Bedouin citizens within Israel’s 1967 borders, to make way for communities built by the Jewish National Fund, an organization which serves the Jewish people, rather than Israel’s citizens. As for the West Bank, the situation there is not simply “disturbing”, but a full-fledged settler-colonial occupation, enforced by an illegal, land-grabbing wall, which public opinion all over the world has come to detest. Finally, comparisons to British treatment of political prisoners must fall: for all its many grievous faults, Britain never blanket bombed West Belfast with white phosphorous, while the commonplace Israeli practice of ‘administrative detention’ – jailing people for years without charge – is not a feature of the British justice system. Hundreds of Palestinian prisoners have gone on hunger strike to protest this and other grave abuses. Are you aware that a Palestinian can be arrested for pouring a cup of coffee for a neighbour? And while it is certainly distressing for those who have lost loved ones, as in the case of Northern Ireland, the release and reintegration of political prisoners is a normal and essential part of a peace process.

Your choice of euphemisms to conceal the reality of Israeli apartheid and ongoing war crimes – as well as the inflammatory choice of a photo of a blazing Star of David to illustrate your article – are typical pro-Zionist attempts to evade a comprehensive discussion of Israel’s policies and aims. You call on us to boycott the Palestinian government, as if Palestinian state violence were equal in kind and ferocity to Israeli aggression. The deaths of all innocents are to be grieved, and never condoned. But Palestinian violence is a symptom of the occupation: a desperate effort to resist annihilation by an infinitely superior military force – against drones, F-16s and nuclear weapons, Palestinians own not one tank. Close tracking of incidents of rocket fire indicates that attacks on Israel generally occur after IDF incursions and deaths in Gaza – including the killing of children on a football pitch. Charges of terrorism against Hamas must be placed in the context of the death of over 400 Gazan children during Operation Cast Lead alone, not to mention the many Palestinians denied medical treatment thanks to the cruel and inhumane siege of the strip.

To de-escalate the cycle of violence, Israel must take a long hard look in the mirror, and acknowledge that in fact it has always abused its powers in the region, and has inflicted far more pain than it has itself endured in reply. Only by admitting that central truth, and asking forgiveness for the Nakba, can it begin to participate in real dialogue with its victims. Perhaps then we as human rights activists might be able to support Israel – but much as we wish for peace for all peoples in the region, we can never find it in our hearts to support an expansionist apartheid regime, even if, for some of us, it is our home.

Jake Wallis Simons, you claim to have sympathy for the Palestinians. Again, we urge you to take one more step toward the truth of their plight – to acknowledge that Israeli aggression is at the root of the conflict, and putting pressure on Israel to honour international law is the best way to resolve it. At this eleventh hour, we ask again you not to go to the Mishkenot Sha’ananim Festival – not to allow a government which is kidnapping and detaining children in the middle of the night in occupied east Jerusalem to pay for your comfortable hotel room just minutes away from the crime scene. Why not instead politely decline, and make a statement in solidarity with Sarah Ali, the young Gazan writer Israel recently refused to allow to attend a writers’ tour in America? We are not saying never visit Jerusalem, but when ordinary Palestinians cannot travel freely, then yes, we are all called upon to justify our own trips to Israel, and ensure they are undertaken in ways that do not celebrate or normalise a situation of gross and continuing injustice.

If you cannot do this, we call on you to at least engage with our reply, allow us equal footing at The Telegraph, and avoid the stain of the charge of hypocrisy on your own reputation.

Yours Sincerely,

Prof Mona Baker
Naomi Foyle
Judith Kazantzis
Steve Komarnyckyj
Dr Les Levidow
Irving Weinman

(BWISP)

Ronnie Barkan
Shir Hever
Ofer Neiman
Kobi Snitz
Amir Terkel

(Boycott From Within)

 

April 30, 2014

An Open Letter to Jake Wallis Simons

Dear Jake Wallis Simons,

We were extremely disappointed to learn that you will be appearing at the Mishkenot Sha’ananim International Writers Festival in Jerusalem in May. Funded by the state of Israel, the festival is a highly political event: in 2010 its keynote speakers were President Shimon Peres and Minister of Culture Limor Livnat. The festival has the stated aim of ‘improving the image of Jerusalem around the world’ – yet in defiance of international law it celebrates the ‘reunification of Jerusalem’. The UN has designated Jerusalem as the shared capital of Israel and a future Palestinian state, and what the festival calls ‘reunification’ all right-minded people call illegal occupation and colonisation.

 
In your journalism and fiction you have written extensively on Israel and Palestine. You are surely aware that Israel has no sovereign rights over East Jerusalem, yet it has located its main police station and Ministry of Justice there; has divided Palestinian neighbourhoods with a concrete wall; and has confiscated a staggering 35% of the city’s land for illegal Jewish-only settlements. Flouting UN calls to cease its policies of displacement, Israel routinely revokes Arab Israeli residency permits and demolishes Palestinian homes. Jerusalem, as a result, is a deeply divided city, carved up and scarred by an apartheid state. Just down the valley from the luxurious premises of Mishkenot Sha’ananim, Palestinian children in the neighbourhood of Silwan are being kidnapped from their beds in the middle of the night, interrogated, threatened and beaten.

 
Your journalism has also explored how, in your own life, you have moved away from the militant Zionism you were brought up to believe in. As official peace talks founder, we respectfully encourage you to take one more decisive step toward a just peace in the region, and join us in heeding the Palestinian call for a cultural boycott of Israel. A non-violent grassroots campaign, with the sole aim of pressuring Israel to abide by international law, the boycott does not target individual Jews or Judaism, but asks all writers of conscience to decline invitations to Israeli state-sponsored events such as the Mishkenot Sha’ananim Festival.
Yours Sincerely,

Prof Mona Baker
Prof Rasheed El-Enany
Alison Fell
Naomi Foyle
Judith Kazantzis
Wendy Klein
Steve Komarnyckyj
Dr Les Levidow
Irving Weinman
Eliza Wyatt

of British Writers in Support of Palestine

 

April 22, 2014

A Bird is Not a Stone: Palestinian Poetry in Translation

Filed under: Palestinian Literature — Naomi Foyle @ 10:53 pm
Tags: , ,
Contemporary Palestinian poetry translated into English, Scots, Gaelic and Shetlandic
A Bird is not a Stone is a collection of contemporary Palestinian poetry in Arabic, translated and reworked by Scottish poets into English, Scots, Gaelic and Shetlandic. The bilingual collection will be published by Glasgow’s Freight Books in summer 2014.
The project is currently fundraising to be able to share as many copies of the book as possible, principally with universities, libraries and other institutions in Palestine and in Palestinian refugee communities. And secondly, to enable Palestinian poets to come to Britain and Scottish poets to visit Palestine, to share their work with different audiences.
Please read more about it and support the project if you can.

December 16, 2013

The UK Human Rights Act: in support of cultural and academic boycott?

Best of the season to all BWISP members, followers and blog readers. Updates have been sporadic this year, but we continue to stand firm in our commitment to academic and cultural boycott, ready to campaign actively should British writers and Israel come under the media spotlight again. In the meantime, as a little Christmas present, I send you Article 10 of the UK Human Rights Act, which seems to me to enshrine a basic argument in favour of the boycott – that freedom of expression involves the responsibility to protect the freedom of others, and if this responsibility is spurned, then penalties may be justly incurred. Many of us will have been arguing this in principle to friends and colleagues, explaining the many ways Israeli HE institutions and cultural funding bodies work to exclude and silence Palestinians; if you are not already aware of the Act it may be useful for you to cite it in future. If any lawyers can comment further – please do!

 

The UK Human Rights Act 1998

Article 10 Freedom of expression

[my emphasis]

1. Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers. This Article shall not prevent States from requiring the licensing of broadcasting, television or cinema enterprises.

2. The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary.

October 5, 2013

American Association of University Professors on the Academic Boycott of Israel

The American Association of University Professors, arguably one of the most influential academic unions in the world, has just published Volume 4 of its Journal of Academic Freedom, focusing on the academic boycott of Israel. All the articles are available as PDFs, and the links are posted here for convenience. The views expressed are the authors’ own and do not necessarily represent BWISP positions, though I am of course delighted to see Omar Barghouti of PACBI given such a prominent platform, and to anyone still ‘sitting on the fence’ about academic boycott, I recommend Joan W. Scott’s article.  ~Naomi Foyle

 

Volume 4

Table of Contents

​All essays are in .pdf format.

JAF invites responses to the essays it publishes. While we are interested in supporting dialogue in general, given the academic character of the journal, we particularly encourage submissions that engage in thoughtful and well-supported ways with the content and arguments of our published essays. Send your response to jaf@aaup.org.

Editor’s Introduction
By Ashley Dawson

Rethinking Academic Boycotts
By Marjorie Heins

Palestine, Boycott, and Academic Freedom:  A Reassessment Introduction
By Bill V. Mullen

Boycott, Academic Freedom, and the Moral Responsibility to Uphold Human Rights
By Omar Barghouti

The Israeli State of Exception and the Case for Academic Boycott
By David Lloyd and Malini Johar Schueller

Boycotts against Israel and the Question of Academic Freedom in American Universities in the Arab World
By Sami Hermez and Mayssoun Soukarieh

Changing My Mind about the Boycott
By Joan W. Scott

Academic Freedom Encompasses the Right to Boycott: Why the AAUP Should Support the Palestinian Call for the Academic Boycott of Israel
By Rima Najjar Kapitan

Market Forces and the College Classroom: Losing Sovereignty
By Michael Stein, Christopher Scribner, and David Brown

Academic Freedom from Below: Toward an Adjunct-Centered Struggle
By Jan Clausen and Eva-Maria Swidler

May 15, 2013

Nakba Day: An occasion to strengthen resistance

Filed under: Boycott Israel,Cultural Boycott — Naomi Foyle @ 11:30 am
Tags: , , ,
Palestinian refugees, 1948

Palestinian refugees, 1948

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

May 15th 2013 is the 65th Nakba Day: the annual commemoration of the ethnic cleansing of Palestine by Israeli forces in 1948, known to Palestinians as ‘the catastrophe’. Nakba Day is scarred by sorrow and anger, especially for the survivors of 1948 – but it also courses with determination. The anniversary is marked by demonstrations world-wide, a concerted reminder of the need to resist displacement, and demand the full menu of human rights for Palestinians, whether they be refugees, members of the diaspora, under Occupation in the West Bank and Gaza, or living in Israel as part of the country’s 20% Arab population. The official peace process may have atrophied, but grassroots activism in support of the end to Israeli apartheid and the occupation of Palestine is growing steadily, galvanised in part by the prominent successes of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS)movement.

In the spirit of such determination, BWISP is proud to take this occasion to honour Stephen Hawking, the latest and perhaps most illustrious public intellectual to join the academic and cultural boycott of Israel.  Hawking’s unequivocal decision to respect the boycott made headlines all over the world. In a sign of how solidly BDS has moved into mainstream political discourse, Hawking’s choice was supported by two-thirds of those polled by the Guardian. Thank you Stephen Hawking!

BWISP would also like to acknowledge Nakba Day by posting a link to a recent Palestine Solidarity Campaign video presenting the case for academic and cultural boycott of Israeli institutions. And finally, we link here to a recent UK Employment Tribunal decision, categorically ruling against the complainant Ronnie Fraser, a University Colleges Union member who had argued that UCU’s support of the academic boycott of Israel was anti-Semitic. In response, the tribunal declared that “a belief in the Zionist project or an attachment to Israel or any similar sentiment… is not intrinsically a part of Jewishness . . .”  and in very strong words deeply regreted that this case had ever been brought to court.

This legal ruling, with its clear corollary that anti-Zionism is not in-itself anti-Semitic, is highly significant for the BDS movement. We are now moving toward a time when critics of Israel will not have to fear spurious accusations of racism – or, in the case of Jewish activists, self-hatred – but can concentrate on exposing the systematic, murderous racism of the Israeli state.  The world has in the past risen to end the shameful and injurous practice of apartheid in South Africa. On this, the 65th Nakba Day, BWISP restates its commitment to such a global movement in support of a just peace in Palestine, and human rights for all.

April 5, 2013

Chapeau to Iain Banks

Filed under: Cultural Boycott — Naomi Foyle @ 10:04 pm
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index

 

 

 

 

 

In 2010 the renowned Scottish writer Iain Banks made a principled public statement in The Guardian in support of the cultural boycott of Israel. This week he was in the news again, tragically to announce that he has – barring a miracle – terminal cancer. Tributes have been flying in – at such velocity they swamped his website.  Today The Guardian reposted his 2010 statement, presumably with his consent. I pay my respects here to a great writer: a man who knows his own humanity is inextricable from the suffering of others, and who faces the worst with clear-eyed conviction and courage.

Some readers may wonder why Iain Banks isn’t a member of BWISP. I don’t know him personally so cannot say. Some Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish writers do not identify with the label ‘British’, and some people simply aren’t ‘joiners’. But for a writer of Banks’s stature to take an individual public stand on this issue is a significant act, and one that means a great deal to our movement. Once again, I applaud Iain Banks, and wish him and his wife every possible joy in the months to come.

Naomi Foyle

January 18, 2013

[Jan 24th] Writers from Palestine in London

writerfrompalestine

Writers from Palestine in London: Asma’a Azaizeh & Marwan Makhoul

In association with Banipal, join The Mosaic Rooms for an evening of poetry and discussion with Palestinian poets Asma’a Azaizeh and Marwan Makhoul on:

Thursday January 24th, 7pm

Asma’a Azaizeh won the A.M. Qattan Foundation’s Young Writer Award in 2010 and published her first collection of poetry ‘Liwa’ in 2o11. She has worked as a journalist and presenter for various newspapers and radio stations and is currently presenter of a Palestinian television programme on culture and art, as well as a lecturer in creative writing.

Marwan Makhoul published his first book of poetry Ard al-passiflora al-hazinah (Land of the Sad Passiflora) in 2007 with Al-Jamal Publishers. That same year a second edition of the book was published in Haifa and then a third edition in Cairo in 2012. In 2009 he won the prize of best playwright in the Acre Theatre Festival for his first play.

The event will be introduced by Banipal’s editor Samuel Shimon and chaired by Omar al-Qattan, followed by a Q&A, reception and book signing. Copies of the Banipal 45 issue, Writers from Palestine, will be on sale and available for signing.

FREE, rsvp@mosaicrooms.org

http://www.mosaicrooms.org/writers-from-palestine-in-london/

November 11, 2012

Letter(s) To Gaza: a beautiful event

Saturday November 10th, as part of Redrawing the Maps: A John Berger Free School, BWISP co-ordinator Naomi Foyle and Palestinian human rights worker Saleh Hijazi co-hosted a very special event, Letter(s) to Gaza. The event allowed the audience to converse with Palestinian speakers Ahmed Safi (Gaza and Oxford Brookes University), Ahmad Alaraj (The Freedom Theatre) and Selma Dabbagh (British Palestinian novelist), then write their own letters to the besieged population of Gaza, to be posted on the Letter(s) to Gaza blog. The letters will be circulated in Gaza via Palestinian students and their families, courtesy of Dr Haidar Eid of Al-Aqsa University, whose 2009 open letter to Barack Obama challenges the American President to end his indifferent lip service to the plight of the Palestinians, and hold Israel to account for the suffering caused by the blockade.

The Letter(s) to Gaza event was a response to John Berger’s video reading of Ghassan Kanafani’s short story ‘Letter from Gaza’, which can also be read here. ‘Letter from Gaza’ is a haunting portrait of the courage of Palestinian children. Written over forty years ago, it is no less relevant today, when as I write reports are coming in of four teenage boys killed in Gaza by IDF shelling of a football playground. Two were killed in the initial assault; two in a second shelling when they ran to help their friends. The mother of one boy gave birth to a new son today, and named him after his murdered brother. On Remembrance Sunday here in the UK, one could read no more searing account of the impossibility of forgetting the dead.

In the context of such brutal repression, hoping to make a difference by writing letters to people one has never met may seem a fey notion. But Ahmed Safi told us that people in Gaza are so isolated any kind of friendly contact from the outside world would be hugely welcomed. He also told us of the spirit of the people is strong, that they smile in the face of relentless IDF attacks, and maintain a vision of freedom from the blockade that has crippled their economy and infrastructure. His own grandfather spoke for sixty years of his home in Jaffa, which he was forced to flee in the Nakba in 1948. This tenacious remembrance, Ahmed realised after his grandfather died, was not despair but a kind of hope: the hope of return.  Ahmad Alaraj spoke of how touched he, as a Palestinian forced to live in the West Bank, was to meet Ahmed Safi.  He also talked about the Freedom Theatre’s recent Freedom Bus project, a travelling theatre initiative which included a video link to Gaza, to gather stories which actors then performed for audiences in the West Bank.  Again, to feel a sense of connection with those imprisoned in Gaza had been a very moving experience for him. Selma Dabbagh spoke of her own love of Kanafani’s stories, and her recent experience judging Gazan blogs, which she admired greatly, but felt did not always convey the lively spirit of their authors, whom she’d met on her visit to Gaza for the 2012 Palestinian Festival of Literature. Perhaps this disconnect between personal and public expression is the result of cultural factors; perhaps it also indicates what the huge responsibility it is for a young person to speak as a member of a suffering population in a public forum, unsure of who is listening. At the event, in a discussion facilitated by BWISP member Jonathan Rosenhead, we discussed the political situation in Gaza – including Saleh Hijazi’s investigation of human rights violations by Hamas, and Ahmed Safi’s work in the international aid industry, which he feels does not address the cause of the crisis, the Occupation; but we also stressed that a letter was a personal document, and that we hoped to encourage an intimate exchange based on mutual interests and curiosity about the other. We wanted to allow people here to ask questions and offer support, and for Gazans to feel free to reply and share something of their daily lives, the routines and dreams that keep them going.

Something wonderful happened in the room itself, as Palestinians who cannot meet in their own homeland were brought together, while the audience overcame some initial shyness and wrote intensely for half-an-hour, resting their papers on copies of the John Berger exhibition catalogue. When we shared the gist of our letters, it appeared we had all found a personal path into our correspondence. One man wrote about Palestinian cinema; a woman wrote a letter to a little boy who had open heart surgery in her London hospital six years ago; another related the émigré history of her own Finnish family to the Palestinian refugee experience of losing one’s home; another man had recently been hit by a car, and discovered that his surgeon was a dedicated member of Medical Aid of Palestine. I wrote about my efforts to get to Gaza in 2009, and recalled my dream of co-editing a collection of poetry from Gaza. As we parted, it felt like not the end of the event, but the beginning of a conversation.

The letter-writers will be sending final copies to the organisers this week, to be posted on the Letters to Gaza blog. If anyone reading this post would also like to contribute a letter, please get in touch with Saleh Hijazi and Naomi Foyle at lettertogaza@gmail.com

Finally, Saleh and Naomi would like to thank the organisers of Redrawing the Maps, a week of events, screenings and discussions celebrating the work of John Berger. We would also like to thank John Berger himself, whose long, warm and incisive commitment to Palestine, and bold early advocacy of the cultural boycott of Israel, have laid the foundation for all BWISP’s campaigns and activities.

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