My Comments


June 5 1967 was the day Israel launched an allegedly pre-emptive attack on Egypt, starting what came to be known as the ‘six-day war’.

I have no memory of the event, in which the Egyptians were swiftly routed by Israel, as I was only one year-old when it took place, but since that time, the pre-emption defence has been widely refuted. As James North reminds us on Mondoweiss, its many challengers include the American historian Norman Finkelstein.

In his book, Image and Reality of the Israel-Palestine Conflict, Finkelstein argues that the war was actually a land grab, a thesis he supports with a number of carefully documented facts. First, a planned meeting in Washington on June 7th between Egypt’s Vice-President, Zacharia Mohieddine, and officials in Lyndon Johnson’s administration aimed at defusing the crisis undermines Israel’s claim that Egypt was on the verge of attack. There is also Israel’s promise to do nothing until June 11th, which it promptly broke on June 5th.

‘We must be honest with ourselves. We decided to attack him.’

In addition, Finkelstein offers up this quote from Menachem Begin, the Irgun terrorist gang leader responsible for the King David Hotel bombing in 1946, who went on to become an Israeli Prime Minister:

‘Prime Minister Menachem Begin, former Minister without portfolio in PM Levi Eshkol’s cabinet, while addressing Israel’s National Defence College on 8 August 1982: “In June, 1967, we again had a choice. The Egyptian army concentrations in the Sinai did not prove that Nasser was really about to attack us. We must be honest with ourselves. We decided to attack him.” (New York Times, 21 August 1982)’

Writing in Haaretz, Amir Oren tells us that Moshe Dayan’s memoirs confirm Begin’s admission. ‘Right after the aerial attack, there will be a general announcement that won’t go into details and won’t say anything about who attacked first – something along the lines of “Hostilities broke out,” and then the background that made it necessary for Israel to break the noose,’ Dayan recounted.

‘Our actions should be depicted as a response to the Arabs’ attacks, and in the first 24 hours we should be “the ones in jeopardy”‘ Dayan wrote.

Surely Finkelstein’s land-grab thesis is best supported by the fact that this ostensibly short-lived conflict has spun into a vivid brutality that has lasted throughout my lifetime, in the longest military occupation in contemporary history. Its mechanics would be unspectacular were it not for their grotesque efficiency, honed over a generous half century during which the world has stood idly by, indulging the inevitably and increasingly vicious tantrums of a child to whom no one ever dared to say ‘no.’

Settlers armed with weapons and Teflon-coated entitlement

In those five decades, Israel has fine-tuned the oppression of millions of Palestinians, including trying Palestinian children in military courts who’ve signed confessions in a language they don’t understand in otherwise evidence-free trials, so that their parents can be shaken down for thousands of shekels which pay the court’s judges, while launching studiously random nighttime raids on Palestinians’ homes to ensure that they live in a state of permanent terror.

The current regime pushes through legislation to erase Arabic from the country’s streets and schools and to ‘normalise’ land-theft, while settlers armed with weapons and Teflon-coated entitlement roam the streets like jackals, mowing down Palestinian children and attacking Palestinian farmers, and occupation forces do their bit by harassing and intimidating Gaza fishermen.

This local campaign of bullying and state sanctioned criminality is supported by a well-funded and equally rigorous global PR operation, in which a double act of party donations and the threat of vicious and defamatory smears constitute the carrot and stick that keep Western governments supine. Meantime Israel normalises its colonialist ambitions with breathtaking chutzpah, daring FIFA, Eurovision and other ostensibly non-political organisations to exclude it thereby proving their own latent anti Semitism.

The result is a level of foreign influence that would make Russian hackers drool with envy.

Of course, in Israel the term ‘Occupation’ is used with a wink and a nudge these days. Recently the horror show Prime Minister, Bibi Netanyahu – by their own reckoning, a friend of Donald Trump, Theresa May and Justin Trudeau – admitted he has no intention of returning the West Bank to the Palestinians now or ever. And each of those leaders dutifully makes clear to their own rank and file that any diversion from the risible ‘two-state solution’ talking point that provides unassailable cover for relentless and unapologetic Israeli expansionism will cast them into the wilderness.

Meantime, the siege of Gaza – a collective punishment meted out to its 1.8 million inhabitants for daring to elect the wrong government – grinds on with barely an eye brow raised.

‘We make music, not war.’

Yesterday evening, I attended a concert by the Galilee String Quartet, a young ensemble of siblings who are Druze Palestinians from Israel. The concert was terrific, spanning works from Beethoven to Fairouz to the musicians’ own compositions, but for me it began rather jarringly. Introducing the group, eldest brother Omar Sa’ad, whose viola studies have been punctuated by stints in Israeli prison for refusing to enlist, assured us half-jokingly that the family are not hate-filled terrorists. Indeed, ‘We make music, not war’ is the ensemble’s slogan.

Omar’s comment reminded me how every aspect of the Palestinian identity in the West has been saturated with the political by those who have sought to erase it entirely. It brought to mind the agonised faces of children being brutalised by Israeli soldiers, their jeans drenched with urine as their organs go into free-fall in the grip of such fear. That in turn made me think of Ta-Nehisi Coates’s powerful exposition of the materiality and vulnerability of the black body as a political canvas in Between the World and Me, which won the National Book Award in 2015.

It would break your heart if you have a heart to break, and a conscience not yet desiccated by cowardice and cynicism. It surely broke mine a little, but the damage might have been worse were it not for the music, joyful laughter and youthful jitters there to stitch it up. And so I listened, the Fairouz especially taking me back to the eight-track tape of hits by the exalted Lebanese singer which we used to listen to when I was a kid, loaded into our Country Squire station wagon headed for Dairy Queen.

But this morning I was inevitably pulled back to my desk and this mostly-written blog for which I’d already documented the horrors below, captured with headlines and excerpts, in what has turned into a never-ending wrong.

Video: Let Palestine be “wiped out,” sings Jerusalem Day mob

‘After militarized police units clear the parade route of Palestinians, even from the Muslim Quarter, thousands of Israelis assert their territorial and religious claims to the city with a massive march, dancing and singing victory songs…’

‘It has long been common for marchers to belt out racist songs, including “Zachreni Na,” with its call for ethnic cleansing: “Palestine – May their name be wiped out!”’

Jewish settlers write ‘death to Arabs’ in Jerusalem

At one of the Palestinian cars, the extremist Jewish settlers wrote: “Revenge. Binyamin Richter says hello.”…

One of the Palestinian owners of the vandalised vehicles, Amer abu-Hamed, posted pictures of the damage to his Facebook page but wrote he and his friends have no intention of filing a complaint as they have no faith in the police.

Israeli settlers release wild boars on Palestinian farms

‘Speaking to the PIC reporter, the farmers affirmed that hundreds of wild boars were deliberately released by Israeli settlers to destroy their fruit trees, leading to heavy losses.’

14-year-old girl joins dozens of Palestinian women in Israeli prison

Addameer [a Palestinian prisoner support and human rights group] has also reported on the treatment of Palestinian women prisoners by Israeli prison authorities, stating that the majority of Palestinian women detainees are subjected to “psychological torture” and “ill-treatment” by Israeli authorities, including “various forms of sexual violence that occur such as beatings, insults, threats, body searches, and sexually explicit harassment.”

“These techniques of torture and ill-treatment are used not only as means to intimidate Palestinian women detainees but also as tools to humiliate Palestinian women and coerce them into giving confessions,” the group stated.

Another patient in Gaza dies after being denied access to hospital

WHO figures have shown Israeli approvals of permits have declined year on year since 2012 and have fallen further in 2017, with almost half (46%) of patients applying to leave Gaza via the Erez Crossing in March being refused a permit by the Israeli authorities, or not receiving a response in time to attend their appointments. In February, 40% were delayed or denied.

Israeli police assault, detain Al-Aqsa guards as hundreds of Israelis take to holy site

Al-Aqsa compound director Sheikh Omar al-Kiswani told Ma’an that Israeli police forces assaulted a group of four of the mosque’s guards at Lion’s Gate, after the guards “objected to the provocative behaviors of Israeli settlers during their raid of Al-Aqsa”…

The incident occurred as dozens of right-wing Israelis and ultra-religious settlers marched through and toured Al-Aqsa under the protection of police forces in celebration of Jerusalem Day.

Combatants for Hate

Israel refuses to allow 225 Palestinians into the country to attend a joint Israeli-Palestinian Memorial Day ceremony. ‘The Palestinians who sought to enter Israel wanted to sit in the same room with parents whose soldier sons had been killed, with bereaved families from the occupying nation.’

‘The devastation of losing a child is identical for all human beings simply because they are human beings. But this message isn’t allowed entry into Israel. The only Palestinians who are allowed to enter Israelis’ consciousness are terrorists, murderers and suicidal fanatics. The government has an interest in maintaining this outlook, which assumes that there is no partner and no Palestinian people, only terrorists. Anyone who dares think otherwise remains beyond the pale.’

Israeli forces fire tear gas, bullets at Palestinian hospital in Ramallah

“The assault caused panic and fear among children, women, and elderly patients at sections of the center,” [Palestinian Minister of Health Jawad] Awwad said. “This fear will never be erased from the memories of the children who came to the hospital to receive treatment, not to enter war.”

Israeli settlers write racist graffiti on walls and cars in Jerusalem

‘Local resident Morad Issa said that surveillance cameras captured the images of two Israeli settlers infiltrating into the neighborhood at about 3:15 am. The cameras showed the pair writing graffiti on the walls and on a car. But Israeli police say they have no suspects in the case, although Jerusalem District police say they have opened an investigation.’

Teenage Palestinian girl ‘executed in cold blood,’ witnesses say

‘However, shortly after the shooting, an eyewitness told Ma’an that Hjeiji had been standing near Damascus Gate, more than ten meters away from a group of Israeli border guard soldiers, before she was killed.’

“One of the soldiers started to shout ‘knife! knife!’ and moments after that, about five soldiers opened fire at her from every direction,” he said.’

Another witness said the girl was first hit in the chest and fell to the ground, “but Israeli soldiers continued to fire at her back.”

‘Pizza Hut’ and Israeli army radio join in grotesque attacks on Marwan Barghouti

[Note: this story is rather old but Noy’s comments resonated so I’ve included them here].

‘As Orly Noy wrote in the Hebrew version of her article in Local Call titled “When did we become so beastly” (my translation):’

‘“When did we become so beastly? How did we become this loser, this despicable nation which celebrates in glee that a human whose body is close to collapse after continuous starvation, has put some crumbs in his mouth? How did we become this nation that sets up a grill outside the prison walls so that the smell of the meat would reach the nostrils of the hunger strikers and exacerbate their tortures? How have we become this appalling and sickening thing?”’

Gaza health crisis deepens as 33 percent of medicines at ‘zero stock’

‘The UN has also stated that the number of patients being referred outside of Gaza is also increasing. Despite this, as MAP has highlighted in a recent briefing, patients are frequently denied permits to leave Gaza for treatment by the Israeli authorities, with 40 percent denied or delayed in February 2017. According to the UN, the percentage of denied or delayed permits has increased each year since 2012. In the last month, two patients, one a five-year-old girl, died after missing medical appointments in East Jerusalem while awaiting a response to their permit requests.

Note: the title of this blog comes from the Katherine Anne Porter story, about the trial for robbery and murder of the anarchists Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti.

Another forceful statement from an American academic appalled by the MLA’s push permanently to stifle criticism of Israel. Tim Brennan is a professor of Comparative Literature, English and American Studies at the University of Minnesota, and is affiliated with the Institute for Global Studies and the Institute for Advanced Studies.

Here is an excerpt:

“This effort to censor — and even to render permanently invalid – the richly deserved condemnation of Israel’s violations of international law and its unspeakable treatment of Palestinians, is disgraceful, and would embarrass the organization in the eyes of many here and abroad.”

Source: “An Outrage and a Betrayal”: Tim Brennan Statement against MLA Resolution 2017-1

Here is a powerful letter my friend, the poet Nyla Matuk, wrote recently to candidates vying for the leadership of Canada’s New Democratic Party. Formerly the country’s progressive option, the NDP has followed other such parties across most Western nations in the rightward creep that began under Reagan and Thatcher.

The leadership vote takes place in October, but the issues are already exposing deep moral divides among the candidates, not least on Israel-Palestine. The NDP’s previous leader, Tom Mulcair, was a virtually unconditional supporter of Israel, a military superpower, expressing shamefully equivocal concern about that country’s savage 51-day blitz of Gaza, while ruthlessly punishing party members who broke ranks to stand up for Palestinian rights.

Sadly, shameful equivocation was as good as it got in Canada during 2014’s Operation Protective Edge and since, with barely a cigarette paper between the country’s then PM, the Teflon-haired and -hearted Stephen Harper, and his photogenic replacement, Justin Trudeau, who consistently alleges that non-violent advocacy of Palestinian human rights runs contrary to Canadian values.

This is Nyla’s letter:

‘I am writing to you all today as a Canadian of Palestinian descent, born in Winnipeg and living in Toronto. I work in the field of multiculturalism.
Given the NDP’s statement on International Human Rights Day, that “every person has the fundamental right to freedom, equality, justice and dignity,”
it’s simply beyond my understanding how it might be commensurate with Helene Lariviere’s reported recent attendance at a conference of the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee and her subsequent support for the apartheid-endorsing Jewish National Fund.

Please read the report I’ve linked here, on the NDP activities that are supporting the dispossession and continued ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from their own land, and change the party behaviour so that you will all be seen on the right side of history. Do this immediately and show yourselves to be a truly progressive political party.

In addition, I might direct your attention to the ongoing brutalization, political detention and imprisonment, illegal home searches, extra-judicial killings, trials of children in military courts, and home demolitions and evictions, among other contraventions of the Geneva conventions, that Israel continues to perpetrate on non-Jews who are indigenous to the region.

Do you believe Palestinians do not deserve human rights? That is what your party is saying when your representative attends AIPAC and supports the JNF.

Sincerely,

Nyla Matuk

Toronto

Some of you might have heard that a UN agency, the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia, which is based in Beirut, published a report last week entitled ‘Israeli Practices Toward the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid.’

The fact-based document lays out the systematic racism – from different court systems to different roads and schools – experienced by Palestinians living under Israeli control, and urges the UN to restore the Special Committee against Apartheid, and the United Nations Centre Against Apartheid. It also calls on member states to support the BDS movement. The report was written by Richard Falk, the former UN Special Rapporteur on Palestinian Human Rights, and Virginia Tilley, a Political Science Professor at Southern Illinois University.

Predictably, the ink wasn’t dry before the shit hit the fan: within hours, Israeli politicians and their shameful band of apologists began slamming both the report and the ‘anti Israel’ UN. On Friday, after the new UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres signalled the spinelessness that will undoubtedly characterise his tenure by ordering ESCWA to remove the report from its website, the Commission’s Executive Secretary, Rima Khalaf, resigned.

In a world of lousy choices, it was the least worst one. Indeed, Khalaf’s decision to quit brought to mind a talk I attended last year with a middle aged Palestinian date farmer from the West Bank. He recounted how he’d been offered a scholarship to study in Germany in his late teens. When the Israeli authorities made it clear that it was they – not he – who would decide whether he could accept it, he tore up his passport in their faces. Another least worst choice.

It’s bad enough that the UN routinely fails to live up to its own Charter, which claims as its purpose ‘to maintain international peace and security…based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples.’ What’s inexcusable is that where the Palestinians are concerned, it routinely does precisely the opposite, providing moral and political cover for the very breaches of human rights and international law it is entrusted to police. It makes you wonder exactly what the organisation is for.

Moreover, as Saree Makdisi wrote in an LA Times Op-Ed entitled ‘Does the term apartheid fit Israel? Of course it does’, ‘”Apartheid” isn’t just a term of insult; it’s a word with a very specific legal meaning, as defined by the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid, adopted by the U.N. General Assembly in 1973 and ratified by most United Nations member states (Israel and the United States are exceptions, to their shame).’

Indeed, the word ‘apartheid’ has been used to describe Israel by many people including Desmond Tutu, John Kerry and Sir Alan Duncan MP, and the ESCWA report does not use it lightly. Perhaps this explains why, as Khalaf writes in her dignified and unapologetic resignation letter below, ‘The evidence provided by this report drafted by renowned experts is overwhelming. Suffice it to say that none of those who attacked the report had a word to say about its content‘ (my emphasis).

Here is the full text of Khalaf’s letter which was published by Jadaliyya. Jadaliyya have also published the report in full here. You can find it on The Electronic Intifada, too. Welcome to the internet, Mr Secretary-General.

Dear Mr. Secretary-General,

I have carefully considered your message conveyed through the Chef de Cabinet and assure you that at no point have I questioned your right to order the withdrawal of the report from our website or the fact that all of us working in the Secretariat are subject to the authority of its Secretary-General. Nor do I have any doubts regarding your commitment to human rights in general, or your firm position regarding the rights of the Palestinian people. I also understand the concerns that you have, particularly in these difficult times that leave you little choice.

I am not oblivious to the vicious attacks and threats the UN and you personally were subjected to from powerful Member States as a result of the publication of the ESCWA report ‘Israeli Practices towards the Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid’.

I do not find it surprising that such Member States, who now have governments with little regard for international norms and values of human rights, will resort to intimidation when they find it hard to defend their unlawful policies and practices. It is only normal for criminals to pressure and attack those who advocate the cause of their victims. I cannot submit to such pressure.

Not by virtue of my being an international official, but simply by virtue of being a decent human being, I believe, like you, in the universal values and principles that have always been the driving force for good in human history, and on which this organization of ours, the United Nations is founded. Like you, I believe that discrimination against anyone due to their religion, skin color, sex or ethnic origin is unacceptable, and that such discrimination cannot be rendered acceptable by the calculations of political expediency or power politics. I also believe people should not only have the freedom to speak truth to power, but they have the duty to do so.

In the space of two months you have instructed me to withdraw two reports produced by ESCWA, not due to any fault found in the reports and probably not because you disagreed with their content, but due to the political pressure by member states who gravely violate the rights of the people of the region.

You have seen first hand that the people of this region are going through a period of suffering unparalleled in their modern history; and that the overwhelming flood of catastrophes today is the result of a stream of injustices that were either ignored, plastered over, or openly endorsed by powerful governments inside and outside the region. Those same governments are the ones pressuring you to silence the voice of truth and the call for justice represented in these reports.

Given the above, I cannot but stand by the findings of ESCWA’s report that Israel has established an apartheid regime that seeks the domination of one racial group over another. The evidence provided by this report drafted by renowned experts is overwhelming. Suffice it to say that none of those who attacked the report had a word to say about its content. I feel it my duty to shed light on the legally inadmissible and morally indefensible fact that an apartheid regime still exists in the 21st century rather than suppressing the evidence. In saying this I claim no moral superiority nor ownership of a more prescient vision. My position might be informed by a lifetime of experiencing the dire consequences of blocking peaceful channels to addressing people’s grievances in our region.

After giving the matter due consideration, I realized that I too have little choice.

I cannot withdraw yet another well-researched, well-documented UN work on grave violations of human rights, yet I know that clear instructions by the Secretary-General will have to be implemented promptly. A dilemma that can only be resolved by my stepping down to allow someone else to deliver what I am unable to deliver in good conscience.

I know that I have only two more weeks to serve; my resignation is therefore not intended for political pressure. It is simply because I feel it my duty towards the people we serve, towards the UN and towards myself, not to withdraw an honest testimony about an ongoing crime that is at the root of so much human suffering. Therefore, I hereby submit to you my resignation from the United Nations.

Respectfully

Rima Khalaf

Here’s an important piece from Peter Larson’s blog which reports on recent research into Canadians’ attitudes towards the Israeli state, and Canadian foreign policy on Israel/Palestine. It includes an interview with the the Green Party’s Dimitri Lascaris, a political hero of mine who is a relentless and committed advocate of Palestinian rights.

In short, a huge majority of Canadians think boycotts are a ‘reasonable’ response to Israel’s unapologetic contempt for international law, and two-thirds also regard government sanctions as reasonable. This is despite an aggressive anti-BDS campaign by Canadian politicians from both main parties, and the Greens’ own leader Elizabeth May attempting to distance herself from her party’s overwhelming support for Palestinian rights, backed up by the usual well-funded smear campaigns orchestrated by B’nai Brith et al.

Naturally, there has been a virtual media blackout on this data in the Canadian press, which remains as willfully out of sync with Canadians as their politicians appear to be. (The only two mentions I could find were on Global News, and in an op-ed by Linda McQuaig in the Toronto Star.)

After the embarrassment of the Harper years during which Canada lost its bid for a seat on the UN Security Council for the first time in our history, a few dreamers held out hope that things would change under Justin Trudeau. Turns out Trudeau’s shameful silence over the Gaza blitz in 2014 was no aberration. On the contrary, it set the stage for his prime ministerial fawning over Benjamin Netanyahu, alongside Canada’s stubborn alliance with a small clutch of international outliers who vote against the most basic rights for Palestinians at the UN, and its dead air on Israel ‘regularising’ its land theft in the West Bank.

Against this sickening display, these research findings will reassure those of us who’d like to believe Canadians’ sense of decency and fair play runs deeper than that of our photogenic prime minister.

Here’s the intro to Peter’s piece:

A few months ago, the UN security council unanimously condemned ALL of Israel’s settlements in the West Bank (including in East Jerusalem) as flagrant violations of international law. So far Canada has done nothing about it.

And here’s the rest: Most Canadians think its “reasonable” to boycott Israel: survey

screen-shot-2017-01-24-at-12-01-05

Today is the funeral of Yacoub Abu Qian, the Palestinian schoolteacher murdered by Israeli police during the demolition of the Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran last week.

Meantime, this: Sir Desmond Swayne accuses Government of ‘significant shift’ on Israel after silence on Bedouin village demolition

Swayne, a decorated former soldier, asked the Government’s spokesperson about the Backbench Business Committee’s decision not to schedule a debate on settlements “and the destruction of Umm al-Hiran,” a Bedouin village.

He said: “Is there a possibility of a Government statement on what appears to be a significant shift in Government policy over recent days as we cosy up to the incoming American Administration in granting complete impunity to Israel?”

Source: Senior Tory accuses May of giving Israel ‘impunity’

I was relieved to see the backside of 2016, the past few months of which have left a bitter aftertaste of shell shock and death march. While there have certainly been personal joys, the wearying relentlessness of global events, from the election of Donald Trump to terror attacks in Berlin, Baghdad and Istanbul, from the unending humanitarian catastrophes in Syria and Yemen to the (seemingly sudden) deaths of A.A. Gill, Carrie Fisher, George Michael, David Bowie, Leonard Cohen, Alan Rickman and others, has left me depleted.

Yesterday – just the third day of a whole new year – it was the death of John Berger, the Booker Prize-winning English novelist, art critic and cultural theorist, that greeted me when I awoke. Judging by his intellectual and creative output and the high regard it secured, Berger’s 90 years were well-spent. Still, to those of us weaned on his influential essay collection Ways of Seeing, or the BBC series it spawned, his death was a shock.

Reading about Berger’s life, I was reminded that he was among the first Western intellectuals actively to take up the 2006 call by Palestinian filmmakers, artists and other cultural workers for an academic and cultural boycott of Israel as ‘another path to a just peace’, and to urge his colleagues to do the same. Besides signing a letter to The Guardian in which he and 93 others made the case for solidarity with Palestinians, Berger wrote his own personal appeal which I’m pasting below.

As it happens, his death and the inevitable review of his life that follows coincide with the Modern Language Association’s long-awaited vote on a resolution to boycott Israeli academic institutions, which takes place this weekend.

Indeed, perhaps the most sobering aspect of these artists’ comments is that they were written a full decade ago, yet they might as well have been composed yesterday. The conditions they describe are indescribably worse: record numbers of Palestinian homes demolished and administrative detention orders issued, breakneck colonial expansion against a growing determination to annex Palestinian lands outright, unchecked settler violence, and a decade long siege of Gaza, punctuated by regular military assaults of increasing and experimental viciousness.

Like a canny child with no discernible boundaries who’s grasped that impunity and toothless handwringing constitute the reliably flaccid response to his rampages, the Israeli government under Benjamin Netanyahu is out of control, beyond the reach of ordinary decency let alone the dictates of international law. It has found an aggressive champion in Donald Trump, whose own pathology is eerily similar. Together they bring to mind Mickey and Mallory Knox, the protagonists in Oliver Stone’s grim crime film, Natural Born Killers, in which the media exalt a pair of monstrous murderers.

Today the case for BDS is more compelling than ever, which is surely why the backlash against it becomes ever fiercer. As the human rights lawyer Jonathan Kuttab pointed out in a speech in Toronto a few months ago, the pro-Israel lobby long ago abandoned putative grassroots campaigns via newspapers’ letters pages and the like, refocusing its formidable resources on persuading governments to defy their own constitutions by outlawing free speech on Israel, while waging a concurrent smear campaign against anyone who advocates for Palestinian rights. And to close the circle, those with the temerity to comment on this bullying at the behest of a foreign power are accused of perpetuating anti-Semitic notions of a ‘global Jewish conspiracy.’

A case in point is Nadia Shoufani, the Ontario schoolteacher who was suspended over remarks she made at an Al-Quds Day rally last July, in which she referred to the Palestinian writer and political activist Ghassan Kanafani as a ‘martyr.’ Kanafani was assassinated by the Mossad in Beirut in 1972. Ms Shoufani’s case was covered by the taxpayer-funded CBC, which did no independent research, preferring to parrot defamatory claims supported by historical distortions that had been circulated by B’nai Brith and the Simon Wiesenthal Centre.

Yesterday, the Palestine Festival of Literature posted on Facebook a video of Berger reading Kanafani’s ‘Letter from Gaza’. It’s also embedded below, in honour of Berger and Nadia Shoufani, both of whom refused the complicity of silence.

Here is Berger’s letter:

I would like to make a few personal remarks about this world-wide appeal to teachers, intellectuals and artists to join the cultural boycott of the state of Israel, as called for by over a hundred Palestinian academics and artists, and – very importantly – also by a number of Israeli public figures, who outspokenly oppose their country’s illegal occupation of the Palestine territories of the West Bank and Gaza. Their call is attached, together with my After Guernica drawing. I hope you will feel able to add your signature, to the attached letter, which we intend to publish in national newspapers.

The boycott is an active protest against two forms of exclusion which have persisted, despite many other forms of protestations, for over sixty years – for almost three generations.

During this period the state of Israel has consistently excluded itself from any international obligation to heed UN resolutions or the judgement of any international court. To date, it has defied 246 Security Council Resolutions!

As a direct consequence seven million Palestinians have been excluded from the right to live as they wish on land internationally acknowledged to be theirs; and now increasingly, with every week that passes, they are being excluded from their right to any future at all as a nation.

As Nelson Mandela has pointed out, boycott is not a principle, it is a tactic depending upon circumstances. A tactic which allows people, as distinct from their elected but often craven governments, to apply a certain pressure on those wielding power in what they, the boycotters, consider to be an unjust or immoral way. (In white South Africa yesterday and in Israel today, the immorality was, or is being, coded into a form of racist apartheid).

Boycott is not a principle. When it becomes one, it itself risks to become exclusive and racist. No boycott, in our sense of the term, should be directed against an individual, a people, or a nation as such. A boycott is directed against a policy and the institutions which support that policy either actively or tacitly. Its aim is not to reject, but to bring about change.

How to apply a cultural boycott? A boycott of goods is a simpler proposition, but in this case it would probably be less effective, and speed is of the essence, because the situation is deteriorating every month (which is precisely why some of the most powerful world political leaders, hoping for the worst, keep silent.).

How to apply a boycott? For academics it’s perhaps a little clearer – a question of declining invitations from state institutions and explaining why. For invited actors, musicians, jugglers or poets it can be more complicated. I’m convinced, in any case, that its application should not be systematised; it has to come from a personal choice based on a personal assessment.

For instance. An important mainstream Israeli publisher today is asking to publish three of my books. I intend to apply the boycott with an explanation. There exist, however, a few small, marginal Israeli publishers who expressly work to encourage exchanges and bridges between Arabs and Israelis, and if one of them should ask to publish something of mine, I would unhesitatingly agree and furthermore waive aside any question of author’s royalties. I don’t ask other writers supporting the boycott to come necessarily to exactly the same conclusion. I simply offer an example.

What is important is that we make our chosen protests together, and that we speak out, thus breaking the silence of connivance maintained by those who claim to represent us, and thus ourselves representing, briefly by our common action, the incalculable number of people who have been appalled by recent events but lack the opportunity of making their sense of outrage effective.

John Berger

Next Page »