Call for Margaret Atwood to Join Cultural Boycott of Israel
The Palestinian Academic and Cultural Boycott Initiative (PACBI) has issued a statement encouraging Margaret Atwood not to accept the Dan David prize, which is based at Tel Aviv University (TAU). The PACBI statement is reproduced below. At the same time, the Palestinian Students Campaign for the Academic Boycott of Israel (PSCABI) issued an open letter from students in Gaza urging Atwood not to stand on the wrong side of history. This letter was endorsed by the University Teachers’ Association in Palestine.
As the PACBI statement concludes, we at CAIA are also appealing to Atwood’s:
“sense of justice and moral consistency, we hope that, until Israel fully abides by international law, you shall treat it exactly as most of the world treated racist South Africa, or indeed any other state that legislates and practices apartheid: a pariah state. Only then can there be a real chance for a just peace in harmony with international law and based on equal human rights for all, irrespective of ethnicity, religion or other identity considerations. We urge you to reject the prize and to refuse to participate in a ceremony presided over by the head of a state accused of war crimes and other serious violations of international law.”
— Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid – www.caiaweb.org.
Atwood – Do Not Accept Prizes from Apartheid Israel
The Palestinian community of writers and intellectuals is highly disappointed by your decision to accept the Dan David prize, which is based at Tel Aviv University (TAU). Your writings exhibit a sophisticated understanding of colonialism, structures of political power and oppression, yet your visit to Israel comes just over one year after its bloody assault on the occupied Gaza Strip during which it killed and injured thousands of Palestinian civilians and caused massive destruction to homes, schools, mosques, hospitals, factories, UN buildings, agricultural fields and infrastructure. In this light, your acceptance of a prize administered by Tel Aviv University and awarded in the presence of the Israeli President Shimon Peres can only be interpreted by Palestinian civil society as complicity in whitewashing Israel’s crimes, colonization and system of apartheid. Your vast literary portfolio will forever be attached to the draconian machine of Israeli colonial and racist policy.
Last summer, following the assault on Gaza, the Israeli government announced a new effort to ‘rebrand’ Israel in the eyes of the world as a liberal nation enjoying membership in the Western club of democracies. In addition to the various forms of cultural outreach designed to highlight Israel’s achievements, this effort included inviting more writers and artists to Israel in order to show the ‘civilised’ side of Israel and help cover up the reality of occupation and the brutal treatment of the Palestinians. Your appearance in Israel would lend itself to this well-oiled campaign to whitewash Israel’s grave violations of international law and basic human rights. Above everything else, it would serve to deflect attention away from Israel’s three forms of oppression against the Palestinian people: the legalized and institutionalized system of racial discrimination against the Palestinian citizens of Israel; the military occupation of the West Bank, including East-Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip; and the continuous denial of the Palestinian refugees’ UN-sanctioned right to return to their homes and to receive just reparations.
These efforts cannot disguise the dark side of the story, the 43 years of an increasingly brutal military occupation, during which Israel systematically colonized Palestinian land with the goal of gradually emptying it of its original inhabitants in order to use it for the benefit of Jewish settlers. Despite the “peace process” which began years ago, Israel routinely violates the Palestinians’ most fundamental human rights with impunity, as documented by local and international human rights organisations. Israel extra-judicially kills Palestinian leaders and activists; keeps over 9,000 Palestinians imprisoned, including numerous members of parliament; subjects all Palestinians under occupation to daily humiliation, intimidation and military violence; and continues to construct and expand its colonial Wall, declared illegal by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) at the Hague in July 2004.
Tel Aviv University, the institution administering this award, as other Israeli academic institutions, is notorious for its deep and well documented collaboration with the Israeli military and intelligence establishment, its racially exclusivist university policy toward Palestinian citizens of Israel, and its refusal to acknowledge its past and to commemorate the destroyed Palestinian village on which grounds it was built.
A comprehensive report by the Palestine Society at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) presents strong evidence of intensive, purposive and open institutional cooperation of TAU with the Israeli military establishment. TAU must therefore be condemned for providing cross-departmental legal, technological and strategic support for maintaining and deepening the Israeli occupation by assisting ongoing lethal assaults on the occupied Palestinian territories and by defending and justifying Israel’s occupation policies. These policies are implicitly and explicitly supported by TAU’s Law Faculty which appointed an Israeli army colonel, Pnina Sharvit-Baruch, to its staff recently. As the army’s principal international law counsel Sharvit-Baruch is responsible for green-lighting the decision to target civilian infrastructure and for a ‘relaxing of the rules of engagement’ regarding civilians on the army’s International Law Division. The SOAS Report points out:
“… (T)here is nothing unique about state institutions being implicated in the pursuit of state objectives, including security-related objectives. The tense military mobilisation of Jewish-Israeli society, its constant-war footing, and the closely related knowledge of circles which compose the defence research and development community in this comparatively small country, together amplify the role played by academic institutions in military affairs. TAU, as the largest university in Israel, is, unremarkably, at the centre of this militarization… Ultimately, …this collusion with the military amounts to the commissioning of war crimes and crimes against humanity.”
With the Dan David Prize allegedly aiming “to foster universal values of…justice, democracy and progress and to promote the …humanistic achievements that advance and improve our world.” Tel Aviv University is only attempting to distract from its criminal record.
The Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) National Committee recently stated that “Palestine today has become the test of our indispensible morality and common humanity.” In the face of decades of unrelenting oppression, Palestinian civil society has called upon supporters of the struggle for freedom and justice throughout the world to take a stand and heed our call for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel until it recognises Palestinian rights and fully complies with international law. Many prominent international cultural figures including John Berger, Ken Loach, Arundhati Roy, Roger Waters, John Williams, among others, have declared their support for the boycott. Other renowned international artists, including Sting, Bono, Snoop Dog, Jean Luc Goddard and Joan Manuel Serrat have also heeded our call and cancelled their gigs or participation in festivals in Israel (see International Guidelines for the Academic Boycott of Israel).
In conclusion, and appealing to your sense of justice and moral consistency, we hope that, until Israel fully abides by international law, you shall treat it exactly as most of the world treated racist South Africa, or indeed any other state that legislates and practices apartheid: a pariah state. Only then can there be a real chance for a just peace in harmony with international law and based on equal human rights for all, irrespective of ethnicity, religion or other identity considerations. We urge you to reject the prize and to refuse to participate in a ceremony presided over by the head of a state accused of war crimes and other serious violations of international law.
Palestinian Campaign for the Academic & Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) was launched in Ramallah in April 2004 by a group of Palestinian academics and intellectuals to join the growing international boycott movement. This statement was published on their website www.pacbi.org.
An Open Letter to Margaret Atwood from Gaza: Don’t Stand on the Wrong Side of History
Dear Ms. Atwood,
We are students from Gaza representing more than 10 academic institutions therein. Our grandparents are refugees who were expelled from their homes in the 1948 Nakba. They still have their keys locked up in their closets and will pass them on to their children, our parents. Many of us have lost our fathers, some of us have lost our mothers, and some of us lost both in the last Israeli aggression against civilians in Gaza. Others still lost a body part from the flesh-burning white phosphorous that Israel used, and are now permanently physically challenged. Most of us lost our homes, and are now living in tents, as Israel refuses to allow basic construction materials into Gaza. And most of all, we are all still living in what has come to be a festering sore on humanity’s conscience – the brutal, hermetic, medieval siege that Israel is perpetrating against us, the 1.5 million Palestinians of the Gaza Strip.
Many of us have encountered your writing during our university studies. Although your books are not available in Gaza – because Israel does not allow books, paper, and other stationary in – we are familiar with your leftist, feminist, overtly political writing. And most of all, we are aware of your strong stance against apartheid. You admirably supported sanctions against apartheid South Africa and called for resistance against all forms of oppression.
Now, we have heard that you are to receive a prize this spring at Tel Aviv University (TAU). We, the students of besieged Gaza, urge you not to go. As our professors, teachers and anti-apartheid comrades used to tell us, there was no negotiation with the brutal racist regime of South Africa. Nor was there much communication. Just one word: BOYCOTT. You must be aware that Israel was a sister state to the apartheid regime before 1994. Many South African anti-apartheid heroes, including Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, have described Israel’s oppression as apartheid. Some describe Israeli settler-colonialism and occupation as surpassing apartheid’s evil. F-16s, F-15s, F-35s, Apache helicopters, Merkava tanks, and white phosphorous were not used against black townships.
Ms. Atwood, in the Gaza concentration camp, students who have been awarded scholarships to universities abroad are prevented, every year, from pursuing their hard-earned opportunity for academic achievement. Within the Gaza Strip, those seeking an education are limited by increasing poverty rates and a scarcity of fuel for transportation, both of which are direct results of Israel’s medieval siege. What is TAU’s position vis-à-vis this form of illegal collective punishment, described by Richard Falk, the UN Special Rapporteur on Palestinian Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, as a “prelude to genocide?” Not a single word of condemnation has been heard from any Israeli academic institution!
Participating in normal relations with Tel Aviv University is giving tacit approval to its racially exclusive policy toward Palestinian citizens of Israel. We are certain you would hate to support an institution that upholds so faithfully the apartheid system of its state. Tel Aviv University has a long and well-documented history of collaboration with the Israeli military and intelligence services. This is particularly shameful after Israel’s bloody military assault against the occupied Gaza Strip, which, according to leading international and local human rights organizations, left over 1,440 Palestinians dead and 5380 injured. We are certain you would hate to support an institution that supports a military apparatus that murdered over 430 children.
By accepting the prize at Tel Aviv University, you will be indirectly giving a slight and inadvertent nod to Israel’s policy of ethnic cleansing and genocide. This university has refused to commemorate the destroyed Palestinian village on which it was built. That village is called Sheikh Muwanis, and it no longer exists as a result of Israel’s confiscation. Its people have been expelled.
Let us remember the words of Archbishop Desmund Tutu: “if you choose to be neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” As such, we call upon you to say no to neutrality, no to being on the fence, no to normalization with apartheid Israel, not after the blood of more than 400 children has been spilt! No to occupation, repression, settler colonialism, settlement expansion, home demolition, land expropriation and the system of discrimination against the indigenous population of Palestine, and no to the formation of Bantustans in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip!
Just as every citizen knew that s/he had a moral responsibility to boycott apartheid in South Africa after the Sharpeville massacre, Gaza 2009 was the world’s wake-up call. All of Israel’s academic institutions are state-run and state-funded. To partake of any of their prizes or to accept any of their blandishments is to uphold their heinous political actions. Israel has continually violated international law in defiance of the world. It is illegally occupying Palestinian land. It continues its aggression against the Palestinian people. Israel denies Palestinians all of the democratic liberties it so proudly, fictitiously flaunts. Israel is an apartheid regime that denies Palestinian refugees their right of return as sanctioned by UN resolution 194.
Attending the symposium would violate the unanimously endorsed Palestinian civil society call for Boycotts, Divestments, and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel. This call is also directed toward international activists, artists, and academics of conscience, such as you. We are certain that you would love to be a part of the noble struggle against the apartheid, colonization and occupation that the Palestinian people have been subjected to for the past 61 years, a struggle that is ongoing.
Ms. Atwood, we consider you to be what the late Edward Said called an “oppositional intellectual.” As such, and given our veneration of your work, we would be both emotionally and psychologically wounded to see you attend the symposium. You are a great woman of words, of that we have no doubt. But we think you would agree, too, that actions speak louder than words. We all await your decision.
The Palestinian Students’ Campaign for the Academic Boycott of Israel (PSCABI)
Endorsed by The University Teachers’ Association in Palestine