Open letter to Margaret Atwood to support Palestinian liberation

by Rob Maguire on May 6, 2010

Dear Ms. Margaret Atwood,

Today, as systematic human rights violations continue to be committed by the Israeli government against the Palestinian people, we are appealing to you on behalf of the Montreal-based collective Tadamon! and Art Threat concerning your planned visit to Tel Aviv.

We have learned that you have been offered the Dan David Prize from the Tel Aviv University for your outstanding literary work. First, we want to openly recognize your work, renowned not only for literary excellence but also for the humanistic message it portrays. Beyond literature your sincere advocacy for social justice, from the struggle for women’s liberation to environmental protection, has made you an international role model who people respect and admire.

This is particularly true in Canada, where you hold a special place in the hearts of people in Canada. It is precisely for this reason that we appeal to you to reconsider accepting this award.

It is well known that the Israeli government systematically abuses the human rights of the Palestinian citizens living in Israel and the Palestinian Territories. Documentation of human rights violations against Palestinians can be found in the U.N. Goldstone Report, which concluded that “the conduct of the Israeli armed forces constitutes grave breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention in respect of willful killings and willfully causing great suffering to protected persons and, as such, give rise to individual criminal responsibility”.

It is not uncommon for internationally known voices for human rights, such as you, to be invited to travel to Israel to accept prizes from Israeli institutions. However, today the open cooperation of human rights advocates with Israeli institutions lends credibility to Israel and indirectly endorses the actions of the Israeli government. In fact, your presence at Tel Aviv University would particularly legitimize Israeli colonial policies due to the University’s active support of these policies, which were outlined in another letter written to you by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic & Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI).

The invitation to accept such a prize in Israel is an excellent opportunity for you to increase international awareness about the apartheid reality currently facing the Palestinian people. Lending your voice to the international campaign in solidarity with the Palestinians would be a positive step in the growing role of artists in Canada who are joining the international solidarity movement for Palestine, such as the 500 artists from Montreal who issued a collective letter this past winter.

Today, we would like to encourage you to join other prominent artists such as Arundhati Roy, Ahdaf Soueif, John Berger, Rawi Hage and Eduardo Galeano in denouncing Israeli apartheid policies by joining the growing international artistic campaign to support the global boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against the Israel.

This global initiative is inspired by the successful South African Academic and Cultural Boycott and is also intended to encourage Israeli artists to speak out against Israel’s policies of apartheid. As Enuga S. Reddy, Director of the U.N. Centre Against Apartheid wrote in 1984 about South African artists, “they need to be persuaded to stop entertaining apartheid, to stop profiting from apartheid money and to stop serving the propaganda purposes of the apartheid regime”.

You have gained international respect and prominence for your outspoken promotion of social justice and human rights. We therefore hope that you will take this opportunity to demonstrate commitment to the ideals which you express in your writing.

As you have so powerfully written, “A voice is a human gift; it should be cherished and used, to utter fully human speech as possible. Powerlessness and silence go together,” so today we are appealing for you to use your voice to support the Palestinian people who are often voiceless.

In respect and solidarity,
Tadamon! collective and Art Threat
Canada, May 2010

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