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

 

July 20, 2011

When will Howard Jacobson see the Palestinians?

By Naomi Foyle

As the third co-founder of British Writers In Support of Palestine, I also feel compelled to respond to Howard Jacobson’s attack on the integrity and intelligence of Alice Walker, who chose to attempt to sail to Gaza with the sabotaged Freedom Flotilla II.   While I disagree profoundly and heatedly with Jacobson’s arguments, I recognize that they are held not only by the defenders of Israel, but also by many undecided observers of the conflict in the Middle East.  I will therefore attempt to reply calmly in the spirit of dialogue and engagement I myself aspire to at this stage in the ‘ethical history’ of humanity (let us remember, Howard, that ‘mankind’ is nowhere without womankind).

Alice Walker sets her courageous decision to sail to Gaza firmly in the context of the civil rights movement, and its non-violent protests against intolerable oppression.  She also makes it abundantly clear that the loving bravery of Jewish human rights activists, including her own husband, has inspired her to put her own body in the potential line of fire.  Yet Howard Jacobson makes no mention whatsoever of segregation in America or Israel when he besmirches her intentions.  And reading his article one might easily conclude that he is accusing Alice Walker of being a naive anti-Semite: guilty of ‘a highly charged emotionalism disguising an action that, by its very partiality, chooses the Palestinian child over the Israeli.’  Ignoring her historical arguments, and personal experience of resisting racial prejudice, Jacobson instead narrows his focus to a gross over-simplification and distortion of the ‘facts on the ground’.  The blockade of Gaza, he claims, is necessary because Hamas fires rockets at Israeli children, and refuses to recognize the state of Israel. Walker, he implies by citing Don Quixote, is tilting at windmills: foolishly demonizing the innocent folk of Israel, and its military.

Let me not dwell on Jacobson’s patronizing attitude to a literary giant, a writer who in both word and deed has made an incalculable contribution to the global struggle for human rights.  Instead, I will examine his arguments, such as they are.  For the conflict in the Middle East is not nearly as simple as Jacobson would have his readers believe.  To begin with the rockets.  An understanding of context is essential if one is to get to grips with the moral questions at stake here.  Hamas fires their Qassams from and into a political context in which Israel is a brutal occupying power that routinely steals Palestinian land, trees and water, and humiliates, imprisons and tortures Palestinians on the slightest pretext.  In Gaza, the seriously ill are denied access to Israeli hospitals, and die of treatable conditions; pregnant women die at checkpoints; and IDF military attacks have poisoned the water supplies to the extent that babies are now being born with a potentially lethal blood disorder – ‘blue babies’. Under international law, occupied people have the legal right to defend themselves against such abuses: abuse in this case so systemic it is indistinguishable from ethnic cleansing, or slow genocide.  This is what Hamas and its supporters believe it is doing – legitimately resisting an occupying force: Sderot, after all, was built on the ruins of a destroyed Palestinian village, Najd.

But while the Palestinians have as much right to a military as any nation, self-defence does not include deliberately targeting civilians.  Here, again, context is crucial: Israel is guilty of killing and punishing civilians on a scale that dwarfs the impact of the rockets.  Children, old people, families, unarmed refugees, members of peaceful protests: IDF soldiers, themselves mostly teenage conscripts, have killed them all. It is difficult to get exact numbers, but based on statistics provided by human rights group B’Tselem and the Israeli Ministry Foreign Affairs, I have calculated [1] that in the last four years the ratio of Palestinian to Israeli civilian deaths stands at 33:1, while that of child deaths is a heart-stopping 100:1. By condemning the rocket attacks without breathing a word of Israeli atrocities, Howard Jacobson glaringly exposes his own partiality: his blind loyalty to an oppressive regime, a state that calls itself democratic, but is better described as a militant ethnocracy.  At the same time, if Israel is wrong to target civilians, then so too is the militant wing of Hamas. I do condemn the rocket attacks on civilian centres.  I can well imagine that it must be terrifying to be subjected to random missiles, and to fear that they might kill or maim you or a loved one.

This wall of fear in the Israeli psyche, however, tragically prevents the country’s citizens from seeing the far greater suffering of those on the other side of that barrier.  As Omar Barghouti, key architect of the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement, recently pointed out, while the Israelis claim they are afraid of being annihilated, it is the Palestinians who, day by day, year after year, are being ‘disappeared’.  One only has to look at the maps of the Holy Land since 1948 to perceive the self-evident truth of this statement.  It is obvious to me that the root cause of the pain experienced by both sides is Israel’s aggressive expansionism and apartheid policies. Hamas, after all, regularly offers Israel ten year cease-fires, which Israel just as regularly rejects. And the Palestine Papers demonstrated conclusively that Israel has never been a partner for peace.

I also believe that in order to dismantle all the walls – concrete and psychological – that divide the Holy Land, it is necessary to defend the human rights of everyone in the region.  I joined the BDS movement to order to help build a non-violent alternative to missile attacks on Israel.  But – and this is a crucial ‘but’ – much as I wish Israeli children to be able to sleep safely at night, unlike Howard Jacobson, I do not think that the firing of rockets at Sderot justifies the medieval siege of an entire civilian population.

Even at the height of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, did the UK government blockade and carpet-bomb Belfast?  Such a course of action would have been unthinkable.  But the illegal siege of Gaza has continued for five years now, with no end in sight.  In this time, Israel has prevented the import of basic necessities including concrete, paper, food and medicine.  Howard Jacobson complains that Alice Walker’s ship is carrying:  “Letters expressing solidarity and love.’  Not,’ he scoffs, ‘presumably, for Israeli children.  Perhaps it is thought that Israeli children are the recipients of enough love already.’  Well, Howard, they are certainly at least the recipients of enough food, which is more than Gazan children can say.  Chillingly, Israel has calculated the caloric needs of the population, and has indeed, as it boasted in 2006, ‘put the Palestinians on a diet’ by deliberately letting in less to eat than the people need.

The siege has also involved fatal IDF sniper attacks on Palestinian farmers, and a three week military assault in which schools, hospitals, mosques and homes were bombed, and over 1400 Palestinians, over 400 of them children, were killed.  Operation Cast Lead also subjected Gaza to the use of white phosphorus, illegal due to the extreme suffering to which it subjects the human body.  Who, I ask, is the worse ‘terrorist’ in this conflict?  And why cannot Howard Jacobson see that it is the hugely disproportionate violence meted out by Israel that turns people like Alice Walker into passionate supporters of the rights of the Palestinians?

But Howard Jacobson does not want to talk about the horrific mass killing of Palestinian civilians we all saw on television.  He wants to talk about Hamas.  So let me now challenge a central Israeli advocacy shibboleth: that Hamas refuses to recognize the state of Israel.  Hamas, in fact, was a co-signatory to the 2006 ‘Palestinian Prisoners Document’, which – while later set aside due to internal disagreements – expresses a willingness to accept the 1967 borders of the State of Israel, subject to negotiations.  Such negotiations should have started when Hamas was democratically elected.  In discussions with political opponents, surely one must set compromise as an end-goal, not demand it as a pre-condition.  Let me state the truth, as clear as clean water for Howard Jacobson to drink: it is Israel that refuses to recognize the State of Palestine, and until it does so, there will be no peace for any of its children.

It is only through justice that real and lasting peace can come.  And when international governments look away, rebuke Israel but do not punish it for mass killing, torture and theft, then international civilians must step forward.  Yes, the Freedom Flotillas are political acts – all human acts are political, and emotional, and spiritual!  And yes, they are provocations.  They are intended to provoke, not Israeli commandos, but world leaders – to do what they should have done long ago: free Gaza.

Finally, let me try to explain to Howard Jacobson the significance of the name ‘The Audacity of Hope’.  Palestinians, I have learned, do not use the word ‘hope’ lightly.  Their hopes as a people are continually dashed against a wall of Israeli intransigence and international indifference.  The central pillar in the Palestinian psyche is sumud, meaning, roughly, ‘steadfastness’.  All that ordinary Palestinians can do is not give up.  Not give up their land, not give up their struggle, and not surrender their humanity.  For them, to hope is truly an audacious act.  In this spirit, I call on Howard Jacobson to surmount the walls of fear in his own heart and mind, and finally acknowledge that the state of Israel was founded on a fundamental injustice that only the state of Israel can apologise for and undo.  I call on him to retract his sneering tilt at Alice Walker, and channel his own considerable intellectual powers into persuading Israelis that the time is long overdue to honour the basic human rights and legitimate national aspirations of the Palestinian people. And if he cannot yet do all that, I respectfully ask him to converse with me on these issues, in whatever form he chooses: live public debate; an exchange of private or public letters; or a private meeting.

__________________________________________________________

[1] Wikipedia provides a chart of civilian deaths in the conflict drawn from Israeli human rights group B’tselem and the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  This chart includes intra-Palestinian casualties, making it harder to draw exact conclusions.  But discounting the internal casualties, from 1987-2010 the average number of Israeli fatalities per year was 65 (including an average of 6 children per year); the number of Palestinian deaths per year was 276 (including 70 children per year).  This is a ratio of 4:1 total Palestinians killed to Israelis, and nearly 12:1 children.

Since the end of the second intifada in 2006, and the completion of most of the Apartheid Wall, the numbers of Israeli deaths per year have dropped dramatically – averaging 16 fatalities per year from 2007-2010, including the total loss of 5 children in four years.  In that same period, Palestinian fatalities have risen.   Allowing the figure for 2009 to stand – it represents the casualties of Operation Cast Lead – subtracting 20% from the totals of the other three years (to account for internal casualties); and assuming that the Palestinians did not kill any of their own children; the average yearly number of fatalities was 529 (including 125 children per year [total 503]).  This represents ratios of 33:1 (Palestinians to Israelis killed) and 100:1 (Palestinian to Israeli children killed) in the last four years.  I note that, as the real number of Palestinian casualties has risen, while the Wall is making Israelis more secure, it is making Palestinians vastly less safe.

July 2, 2011

Freedom Flotilla II: No, Howard Jacobson, no.

As the captain of  The Audacity of Hope is arrested at sea, BWISP co-founders novelist Irving Weinman and poet Judith Kazantzis respond to Howard Jacobson’s attack on Alice Walker’s decision to join the Freedom Flotilla II.

I’m writing as a novelist, like Howard Jacobson; as a Jew, like Howard Jacobson. Unlike Howard Jacobson, I’m American, though resident in England. Also unlike Howard Jacobson, I’m not a Zionist.

In writing what he has, Jacobson reveals his arguments for anyone to read and comment upon. And the fact is, his arguments are nonsensical. Does he really believe that Palestinian children in Gaza have the same sort of quality of life that Israeli children do? Do 80% of Israeli children depend on UN food relief for basic nourishment? No, Mr. Jacobson, this flotilla is about helping Palestinians in need. No, Mr. Jacobson, this flotilla is not going to enter Israeli waters, and stopping it outside Israeli waters breaks international maritime laws. No, Mr. Jacobson, the boats will willingly be searched for weapons. No, Mr. Jacobson, Israel will not take the cargo and deliver it. They didn’t with any of the other flotilla boats they stopped and whose cargo they took. And mostly, no, Mr. Jacobson you are not going to change the subject to the kids of Israel. This is about the kids of Gaza, the ones who get to go hungry, go without clean drinking water, get white phosphorus dropped on them by Israeli grownups who indeed were once Israeli kids.

Irving Weinman

So Israel supporter Howard Jacobson derides the brave Alice Walker and all the others on Flotilla II.  It’s as if a Somali pirate were to blame a ship for being in the Indian Ocean. The UN makes the two points over and over again that, first, Israel is blockading Gazan waters – which do not belong to Israel – and, second, Israel has no right under international law to arrest any other ship in international waters. Should we infer that Jacobson as a British citizen denies established international maritime law?

Howard Jacobson may think that the only good Americans are in AIPAC or the AIPAC packed Congress.  Most of the left and the liberal left will see Alice Walker’s presence as heroic witness in a woman of 67 who needs no publicity but is ready to run the blockade in the name of justice and humanity. Perhaps in the long watches of the night, Mr. Jacobson finds himself a little bit jealous of such courage; but don’t bet on it. He sounds more likely to hero-worship one of those tough Israeli pilots whose play-station childhoods (bang – splatter) train them to button-push unmanned drones to bomb Palestinian children (bang – splatter) and to consider such murdering a patriotic virtue.

As for the super weapon(s) with which it seems Mr Jacobson fears Gazans would annihilate Israel if they weren’t starved and besieged, this is official Israel Press Office paranoia – code name Tell It Like You Mean It – looped like a spider web round the world’s media to justify the eternal occupation of the Palestinians. The Big Lie. Not as pretty as a spider web.

Judith Kazantzis

June 29, 2011

Reflections on Daniel Vais’s ‘Memoirs of a Soldier’

Filed under: Boycott Israel,IDF — Naomi Foyle @ 2:13 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

by Naomi Foyle

 

Dancer, choreographer, angel therapist and ex-IDF soldier Daniel Vais gave an extraordinary and compelling performance at the Friends Meeting House in Brighton last night. For over an hour and a half he spoke about his traumatic experiences as an Israeli army conscript in the early nineties, and his subsequent efforts not only to heal himself of the resultant anger, humiliation and shame, but also to find solutions to the racism and hatred pervading his culture of origin.

A sensitive, artistic, flamboyant gay teenager, Daniel first ignored his call up papers; then he tried to fool the interview panel into thinking he was stupid, a prostitute, a drug addict and, finally, suicidal. But at that time, psychological frailty was not sufficient reason to be excused from military service, and to be a refusenik was unheard of. Daniel’s parents, an Iraqi Jewish mother and Hungarian father, delivered him to his captors, proudly waving him off to what he thought would be his death. That day, he told us, a crack opened up in his heart. He realised that his country and his family were making a willing sacrifice of his youth, and possibly his life, all to fight an ‘enemy’ he knew did not exist. To serve one’s country, he has always believed, is to farm the land, or help those with special needs; not to kill one’s neighbours.

Daniel’s account of his training period and continued attempts to rebel against the indoctrination and strict discipline was both funny and chilling. While the thought of him pleading with his officers to let him bring his own hairdresser in to shave his head had the audience in giggles, we were also acutely reminded of the process of dehumanisation that aims to turn naïve and vibrant young people into cogs in a killing machine. Some soldiers, as Daniel reported, take to this process willingly, enjoying the power a gun and uniform brings them. Some, like Daniel, go numb, hide their feelings away. But faced with a sadistic punishment for daring to look an officer in the eyes, Daniel found strength in himself he did not know existed. He redoubled his efforts to sabotage the whole project in as many ways as he could, including putting sand in the engines of tanks. But to no avail: though it was recognised he would not be a good bet on the front lines, he was posted to Gaza as a sentry.

At this point in his story, Daniel said many things that were hard to hear – his reports of Palestinians subjected to beatings around the head with rifle butts, or victims of cruel games played at checkpoints by bored teenagers with guns, were painful examples of the endemic abuses many at the event – co-hosted by Brighton and Hove Palestine Solidarity Campaign – are committed to resisting. He also described a moment of great anguish, when, hearing the screams of women and children he thought were being tortured and killed, he felt so overcome with fear and horror he thought he would die. Only the intervention of a voice in his head, telling him to dance and sing, saved his body and soul from shutting down. The experience gave him spiritual beliefs that sustain him to this day. And hope was evident in other aspects of this narration too: it was always clear to Daniel that the Palestinians were human beings suffering a grave injustice at the hands of Israel; even confronted with order after order to collude with this abuse of human rights, he refused, obeying instead the dictates of his conscience. At one point he threatened to hand his weapons over to the Palestinians.

In his performance, Daniel also said things that perhaps some activists, accustomed to looking at the conflict in the Middle East predominantly at a political level, might find challenging. Describing his futile efforts to help an old Palestinian man with seven children to get a pass to cross into Israel to work, he stated that he, a young man forced to carry a gun and enforce arbitrary restrictions, was more of a victim than the desperate father. This might seem at first unlikely, but thinking about it more I thought I understood what Daniel meant: despite his desperation, humiliation and hunger, the old man at least had nothing to reproach himself about.  Daniel was being forced to be an agent of oppression, to perform acts he would feel deeply ashamed of, and spend two decades trying to expunge.   Existentially speaking, one could argue that it is infinitely worse to be the perpetrator than the victim of a crime.   And without comparing levels of suffering, it is important to remember that ordinary Israelis also are victims of the conflict, their very humanity damaged by the vicious ideology of their state.

Daniel warned that Israeli intransigence reaches deep into the psyche of its citizens, who are brainwashed into believing that unless they stick together they will not survive. To the average Israeli citizen, the state can therefore do no wrong. He told us, for example, that it is common knowledge in Israel that the assault on the Mavi Marmara was a botched operation: that the commandos had orders not to fire, but the first solider coming down the ropes panicked and shot an activist, leading to the deaths of nine men. Nevertheless, the Israeli public empathises not with the victims of the attack, but with the commando: just a vulnerable soldier doing his job. He cautioned that confronting Israelis with their misdeeds would only inflame their extremist view that ‘everyone is against them’. To call oneself pro-Palestinian, he thinks, implies that one is anti-Israeli, which is not a basis on which to convince Israelis to change. Throughout his talk he emphasized his own refusal to judge others, and his decision to love everyone. Again, this message might frustrate or exasperate some activists, whose role it is to openly confront and challenge injustice wherever it occurs, and who are adamantly opposed to the current policies of the state of Israel. But this would be to miss both the complexity and evolving nature of Daniel’s views and approach.

First, it was clear that Daniel himself struggles with the appropriate response to the sickness that is Zionism. While he wishes to have good relations with his family, he nevertheless does confront them with their racism, and in very personal terms: he asks his sister and brother-in-law if they are good parents to allow their children to grow hating Arabs, or to watch live TV footage of the assault on Mavi Marmara (another shocking revelation). His persistence has had results: his sister has moved from being a right-wing settler to someone who has apologised on her blog for inciting hatred against Arabs, and now buys her vegetables from Palestinians. And while Daniel believes that the boycott movement runs the risk of feeding the right wing Israeli survivalist mentality, he is also encouraged by the South African precedent: he stated that if BDS is taken up by the whole world, and presented to Israelis as a movement that can save lives, it can work.  Politically, he welcomes the upcoming Palestinian declaration of statehood, though he envisions that due to transmigration, in thirty or forty years a One State solution will come.

Daniel’s performance starts and ends on the subject of forgiveness. It is hard, and takes a big person, to say you are sorry and ask for forgiveness, he observed, but that is what he, as an Israeli is doing. He also forgives his officers for their brutality, and any Palestinian who may have hurt Israelis. Once more, some activists may argue that this kind of personal transformation is not enough, that we cannot put the cart of Reconciliation, before the horse of Truth. But at the same time, as Joel Kovel argues in Overcoming Zionism, for Israel to acknowledge its crimes against Palestine and ask for forgiveness is an essential part of the political process that needs to occur in the Middle East (p240). And for individuals to do this in their own lives can only aid that process. Ultimately, there are many levels to Truth. That the Occupation is the root cause of the violence on both sides of the Israel-Palestine conflict is one Truth. That we must be the change we want to see in the world is another Truth: one that Aung San Suu Kyi reminds of us in both word and deed. These Truths are not hierarchical; they co-exist and we would do well to remember them both.

Warm, open, and highly articulate, Daniel Vais is a peacemaker, one who is perhaps just beginning to do his most important work in the world. He has always challenged racism in his own family and friends, in ways that he finds effective. Currently, speaking out openly in Israel does not feel like an option for him: if he gave his performance in Israel, he would be branded a traitor. BHPSC and the Brighton Unemployed Centre are to be commended for providing a safe space for him to tell his story and engage in productive and positive dialogue with activists and members of the general public. I came home reflecting on the challenging points that he raised.  In my experience the Palestine Solidarity Campaign is actively anti-racist and anti-Semitic, and favours any solution that will bring peace and justice to the region, thus benefit all the people who live there. Perhaps the name of this group ‘British Writers in Support of Palestine’ suggests a hostile partisanship, but that is not the case. BWISP is actively supported by Israelis who share our belief that Palestinians, excluded for so long from mainstream political discourse, need both recognition and outspoken support.  I absolutely do not believe that the solidarity movement should pander to right-wing fears, or violate the boycott call, but at the same time I recognise the need to put our uncompromising message across to ordinary Israelis in ways that they can hear. I myself will endeavour to do so more frequently and persuasively in my own work.

Palestine needs far more Israelis like Daniel, and it is to be hoped that Daniel may also be strengthened by his involvement with the solidarity campaign. By making links with other anti-Zionist Israelis and Palestinians he may yet find ways to bring his profoundly anti-racist and anti-war message to the lion’s den that is Israel.  Meanwhile, I encourage everyone with an interest in the conflict in the Middle East, and, in general, in peace, to see his deeply honest and gripping performance.

To book Daniel Vais, email daniel.vais@gmail.com

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.