The Mishkenot Sha’ananim International Writers’ Festival begins today in Jerusalem. While neither Tracy Chevalier nor Tom Rob Smith have engaged with BWISPs open letter requesting them not to attend, nevertheless there have been some significant developments:
Tom Rob Smith at first agreed to be facebook friends with BWISP members Eleanor Kilroy and Naomi Foyle, and responded politely to Foyle’s private message by saying that he would think seriously about the issues and get back to her. He also posted a reply to Kilroy on his wall, stating that his main reason for attending was to engage with his Israeli fans. Kilroy and Ofer Neiman of Boycott from Within responded with pertinent arguments. Three days later, Smith unfriended all of us and we have heard nothing from him since. For a fuller account, read Eleanor Kilroy’s article here.
Eleanor Kilroy started posting links to the BWISP letter and other relevant sites on the Festival facebook page. Seni Seneviratne and Naomi Foyle added comments, expressing our disappointment at the lack of engagement from the two writers. So far the threads are still on the wall.(See the box on the right-hand side of the timeline – you may have to scroll down within the box to see the posts.)
Ynet then reported that Chevalier wanted to ‘meet Palestinian writers’, and had asked the Festival director to arrange such an opportunity in Ramallah. The Ynet story mentioned our campaign in general terms, and also announced that Indian writer Vikas Swarup had cancelled his appearance at the festival, for ‘diplomatic’ reasons. PACBI had asked Swarup not to attend.
PACBI and GUPW (General Union of Palestinian Writers) have issued an authoritative statementstatement requesting Palestinian writers to shun such an encounter with Chevalier and other festival attendees, which they frame as a voyeuristic Orientalist endeavor.
In the meantime, the Festival coincides with the 64th anniversary of the Nakba, and takes place as the Palestinian prisoners’ mass hunger strike reaches a highly critical stage. Two Palestinians have currently refused food for 76 days – longer than any hunger striker has yet survived this form of extreme non-violent protest. Many activists in Jerusalem are making the hunger strike their main focus, but a small group of us are hoping to stage some kind of protest at the festival.
Finally, Naomi Foyle is scheduled to report on BWISP activities at a PACBI/GUPW panel discussion in Ramallah on May 21st, and will blog on the event.