British Writers In Support of Palestine

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

 

May 13, 2012

GUPW Statement Condemning Mishkenot Sha’ananim Boycott Violaters

The General Union of Palestinian Writers | 10 May 2010

Boycott the boycott violators in the International Writer’s Festival in Jerusalem

[translation]

Despite the repeated boycott appeals to international writers participating in the International Writer’s Festival (Mishkenot Sha’ananim), to be held in Jerusalem between 13–18 May 2012, and despite the fact that a number of them have heeded these appeals, some continue to ignore the boycott calls and insist on participating in this festival. The festival is planned to coincide with the celebration of the settler-colonial state of Israel’s ‘independence day’, which coincides with the sixty-fourth commemoration of the Palestinian Nakba (catastrophe).
Not only are some of these writers – who crossed the Palestinian picket line – like the American writer Tracy Chevalier and the Bosnian writer Aleksandar Hemon, still participating in this shameful festival, they have also asked the director of the Festival, Uri Dromi, to arrange for them to meet with ‘local’ Palestinian writers in Ramallah, and to tour East Jerusalem to see the Palestinians. This Orientalist tendency to get acquainted with ‘the locals’ as objects of colonial voyeurism, and through colonial intermediaries, should be met on the Palestinian side with condemnation and boycott. The writers’ choice is between standing with the occupation or with freedom, as there is no middle ground between the two.  Exactly as no middle ground exists between a people that ‘lives in the homes of peace’ in Mishkenot Sha’ananim, and another that has been expelled from it because it is not included in Isaiah’s Prophecies.
Holding the festival at this crucial time in one of the oldest settlement outposts in the heart of Jerusalem, which has been undergoing a process of Zionisation as part of an intensive plan to isolate it from the rest of Palestine, and as part of imposing an apartheid system on its Palestinian citizens, sends a clear message to the world that the ‘Israeli cultural establishment’ is an integral part of the ‘Israeli colonial establishment’: the first wages war on Palestinian memory, while the latter continues its war against Palestinian existence. In addition, holding the festival in Jerusalem under these circumstances sends a message that contradicts the propaganda promoted by the festival that claims its role is to ‘make Jerusalem a city of diversity, dialogue, and tolerance’.
Promoting Jerusalem as a legendary city that is quintessentially Jewish, extending from ‘The Tower of David’ to the ‘Judean Desert’, and the participation of top Zionist writers like Amos Oz, A. B. Yehushua, David Grossman, and Etgar Keret, along with Arab writers who don’t write in Arabic such as Sayed Kashua and Bouallam Sansal, turn this festival into a carnival of irony that should be boycotted for aesthetic, cultural, and political factors.
The General Union of Palestinian Writers, which is commemorating the Nakba with the rest of the Palestinian people, salutes international writers who are boycotting the Mishkenot Sha’ananim festival and condemns in the strongest terms the participation of writers whose names were announced by the festival organizers as participants. The Union calls on Palestinian intellectuals and cultural workers, writers, novelists, academics and journalists to boycott the festival and not to meet with its participants who are not welcome [among us] as they have shamed themselves.
The General Union of Palestinian Writers, as a member of the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee (BNC), takes this opportunity to call on free and conscientious writers of the world to respect the boycott criteria set by the BNC and the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI). Taking a clear stand in support of the just Palestinian cause should be a top priority for engaged intellectuals all over the world. Anyone who does not know what freedom means to the Palestinians who lack it surely does not know yet the very meaning of freedom; and anyone whose conscience is not Palestinian, after today, it will never be.
Occupied Palestine, 10 May 2012.
 
The General Union of Palestinian Writers
http://www.pacbi.org/etemplate.php?id=1880

This statement was originally published in Arabic.  See:

http://www.pacbi.org/atemplate.php?id=338

Posted on 13-05-2012

Update on Mishkenot Sha’ananim Campaign

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.

May 2, 2012

Open Letter to Tracy Chevalier and Tom Rob Smith: reconsider your invitations to Jerusalem Writers Festival

Dear Tracy Chevalier and Tom Rob Smith,

We are disappointed to hear that you will be appearing at the Mishkenot Sha’ananim International Writers Festival in Jerusalem this month. 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 (1). The festival has the stated aim of ‘improving the image of Jerusalem around the world’ (2) – yet in blind defiance of international law it celebrates the ‘reunification of Jerusalem’ (3). Let us be clear: 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 occupation and illegal colonisation.

Israel has no sovereign rights over East Jerusalem, yet it has located its main police station and Ministry of Justice there; has erected a wall to annex Palestinian neighbourhoods; and grabs yet more land with illegal Jewish-only settlements. Arab East Jerusalemites are considered residents — but not citizens — of Israel, but even this dubious, second-class status is far from secure. Manipulating law and bureaucracy to suit its demographic purposes, Israel routinely revokes residency permits and demolishes Palestinian homes.(4) Protesters, including children, are brutally punished by detention in solitary confinement under conditions tantamount to torture. (5) Jerusalem, as a result, is a deeply divided city, carved up and scarred by the policies of an apartheid state.

We know you are both writers of conscience: Tracy is currently writing a novel about slavery, and Tom donates ten percent of his royalties to charity. We, members of British Writers in Support of Palestine (6), respectfully urge you to stand on the right side of history: to reconsider your invitations, and join us in taking up the Palestinian call for a cultural boycott of Israel. This boycott obtains until such time as Israel abides by its obligations to international law.

Signed

Felicity Arbuthnot
Prof Mona Baker
Hugh Dunkerley
Naomi Foyle
Fred Johnston
Ghada Karmi
Judith Kazantzis
Eleanor Kilroy
Wendy Klein
Diane Langford
China Miéville
Jeremy Page
Khadiga Safwat
Seni Seneviratne
Irving Weinman
Eliza Wyatt

1. http://blogs.forward.com/the-arty-semite/127688/shimon-peres-limor-livnat-and-nir-baram-start-fest/#ixzz1sTv9eIIk
2. Jerusalem Foundation Writers Proposal Page 2
3. Jerusalem Foundation Writers Proposal Page 4
4. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/8390717.stm
5. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/jan/22/palestinian-children-detained-jail-israel?newsfeed=true
6. www.bwisp.wordpress.com

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