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Monday, 28 April 2008

Appeal to Nadine Gordimer - Boycott the International Writers' Festival in Jerusalem - Don't Celebrate Israel's 60th Anniversary

Below is an open letter from Dr. Haidar Eid to Nadine Gordimer, a well known novellist and someone who was active in the anti-Apartheid struggle in South Africa. Gordimer was also the daughter of a refugee from the pogroms of Czarist Russia. She, of all people, should understand why it is wrong to 'celebrate' the founding of another apartheid state. She can be written to via her publishers, Bloomsbury Books.

Nadine Gordimer on her decision to participate in "Israel at 60 Celebrations"
April 24, 2008 By Dr. Haidar Eid

Dear Ms. Gordimer,

I am a Palestinian lecturer in Cultural Studies living in Gaza. I happen to also have South African citizenship as a result of my marriage to a citizen of that beloved country. I spent more than five years in Johannesburg, the city in which I earned my Ph.D and lectured at both traditionally black and white universities. At Vista in Soweto, I taught your anti-apartheid novels My Son's Story, July's People and The Late Bourgeois World. I have been teaching the same novels, in addition to The Pick Up and Selected Stories, to my Palestinian students in Gaza at Al-Aqsa University. This course is called "Resistance, Anti-Racism and Xenophobia". I deliberately chose to teach your novels because, as an anti-apartheid writer, you defied racial stereotypes by calling for resistance against all forms of oppression, be they racial or religious. Your support of sanctions against apartheid South Africa has, to say the least, impressed my Gazan students.
The news of your conscious decision to take part in the "Israel at 60" celebrations has reached us, students and citizens of Gaza, as both a painful surprise, and a glaring example of a hypocritical intellectual double standard. My students, psychologically and emotionally traumatized and already showing early signs of malnutrition as a result of the genocidal policy of the country whose birth you intend celebrating, demand an explanation.

They wonder in amazement that you might have missed Archbishop Tutu's contention that conditions in Israeli-occupied Palestine are worse than those under apartheid? They ask how you can ignore John Dugard's dispassionate and insightful report on the dismal state of Human Rights in the Occupied Territories? Surely, you have not been unaware of Ronnie Kasrils' writings following his latest visit to Gaza and the West Bank? Like you, these three men, all South Africans, were also active in the fight against racism and apartheid. Dugard's words on Palestine are very significant: "I certainly have a sense of déjà vu... The sad thing is that Israel is unwilling to learn from the South African precedent." In an article titled, "Israelis adopt what South Africa dropped," Dugard observed that the human rights situation in the occupied territories continues to deteriorate and called the conditions "intolerable, appalling, and tragic for ordinary Palestinians." Significantly, Dugard made shocking parallels between the situation in the Palestine and your country South Africa under apartheid: "Many aspects of Israel's occupation surpass those of the apartheid regime. Israel's large-scale destruction of Palestinian homes, leveling of agricultural lands, military incursions and targeted assassinations of Palestinians far exceed any similar practices in apartheid South Africa." Moreover, in its final declaration, the World Conference against Racism (WCAR) NGO forum, held in Durban in 2001, stated that: "We declare Israel as a racist, apartheid state in which Israel's brand of apartheid as a crime against humanity has been characterized by separation and segregation, dispossession, restricted land access, denationalization, ‘bantustanization' and inhumane acts."

You are no doubt aware of Israel's deep ties with apartheid South Africa, during which Israel, breaking the international embargo, supplied South Africa with hundreds of millions of dollars of weapons. Apartheid South Africa relied on apartheid Israel to persuade Western governments to lift the embargo. How did you relate to Israel during that period and what was your position regarding countries and individuals that did not support the policy of isolating apartheid South Africa? You were surely critical of the infamous policy of 'constructive engagement' led by Thatcher and Reagan at the height of the struggle in the 80s? And today, inexplicably, you have joined the ranks of sanctions busters.

The eminent Palestinian, Edward Said, who gave you his friendship, would have been dismayed by your decision. He named you as a model for what he called, "oppositional intellectuals." It was his strong belief that, with regard to Israel, "[i]t only takes a few bold spirits to speak out and start challenging a status quo that gets worse and more dissembling each day." Little did he know that you would fail the oppressed in Palestine.

My cold and hungry students have divided themselves into two groups, with one group adamant that you, like many of your courageous characters, will reconsider your participation in an Israeli Festival that aims to celebrate the annihilation of Palestine and Palestinians. The other group believes that you have already crossed over to the side of the oppressor, negating every word you have ever written. We all wait for your next action.

Dr. Haidar Eid

Gaza, Palestine

Dr. Haidar Eid is an Associate Professor in the Department of English Literature, Al-Aqsa University, Gaza Strip, Palestine.

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The first International Writers’ Festival is scheduled to take place 11-15 May 2008 in Jerusalem, just three days after Israel’s official celebrations of 60 years of independence. Substantially financed by the Israeli Foreign Ministry, this festival must necessarily be seen in the context of the Israeli government’s wider public relations campaign to bring international artistic, cultural and political figures to brighten the state’s image on the international stage.
Mishkenot Sha’ananim, the international cultural center in West Jerusalem that is organizing and hosting the event, will publicize the official festival program on 11 April. However, according to the Israeli daily Haaretz newspaper, the international authors who have confirmed their attendance include:

Nadine Gordimer (South Africa)
Jonathan Safran Foer (United States)
Nathan Englander (United States)
Russell Banks (United States)
Anita Diamant (United States)
Lidia Jorge (Portugal)
Erri De Luca (Italy)
Javaier Cercas (Spain)
Anna Enquist (Netherlands)
Andrei Makine (France)
Hans Ulrico (Germany)
Gila Lustiger (Germany)
Guillermo Martinez (Argentina)
Niall Williams (Ireland)
The Alternative Information Center (AIC) calls on those who are working for social justice, along with Palestine solidarity groups from around the world to contact the participating authors, particularly those from their home countries, and encourage them to boycott this event in solidarity and support of a just peace for Palestinians and Israelis.
The AIC is particularly disturbed by the participation of Nobel Prize winning author Nadine Gordimer, who was an active opponent of apartheid in her native South Africa. Ms. Gordimer may be contacted via her publisher, Bloomsbury Publishing (Telephone: +44 (20) 7494 2111; Postal address: Bloomsbury Publishing Plc, 36 Soho Square, London W1D 3QY).
Most Israeli authors and other cultural figures have deep concern for the opinions of and working relationships with international authors, such that this boycott can make a substantial impact within Israeli society.

It is not possible that Israel continues to deny the human and national rights of the Palestinian people, to impose a deadly siege on the Gaza Strip and publicly flaunt its international political commitments by building additional settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, while its authors and cultural figures are honored with visits by distinguished international authors. Israeli society must be told loudly and clearly that it cannot act with complete impunity toward the Palestinian people and still enjoy privileges and honors of a law-abiding state.

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