The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) is alarmed to learn that the Province of Rome is to organize ‘Two Days of Creativity and Innovation’ which will be held on the 4th and 5th of July 2012, with Israel as the guest of honor[i].
It is both cynical and hard to believe that these days of innovation, which are supposed to promote creativity and human innovation are hosting Israel as its model example. Israel subjects Palestinians to a cruel system of dispossession and racial discrimination, and its actions are widely acknowledged as violations of international law. Hosting Israel in this event in Rome would function as a whitewash of these practices, making it appear as though business with Israel should go on as usual. Concretely, Israel routinely violates Palestinians’ basic human rights in some of the following ways:
- Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip live under a brutal and unlawful military occupation. Israel restricts Palestinians’ freedom of movement and of speech; blocks access to lands, health care, and education; imprisons Palestinian leaders and human rights activists without charge or trial; and inflicts, on a daily basis, humiliation and violence at the more than 600 military checkpoints and roadblocks strangling the West Bank. All the while, Israel continues to build its illegal wall on Palestinian land and to support the ever-expanding network of illegal, Jewish-only settlements that divide the West Bank into Bantustans.
- Palestinian citizens of Israel face a growing system of Apartheid within Israel‘s borders, with laws and policies that deny them the rights that their Jewish counterparts enjoy. These laws and policies affect education, land ownership, housing, employment, marriage, and all other aspects of people‘s daily lives. In many ways this system strikingly resembles Jim Crow and apartheid South Africa.
- Since 1948, when Israel dispossessed more than 750,000 Palestinian people in order to form an exclusivist Jewish state, Israel has denied Palestinian refugees their internationally recognized right to return to their homes and their lands. Israel also continues to expel people from their homes in Jerusalem and the Naqab (Negev). Today, there are more than 7 million Palestinian refugees still struggling for their right to return to their homes, like all refugees around the world.
- In Gaza, Palestinians have been subjected to a criminal and immoral siege since 2006. As part of this siege, Israel has prevented not only various types of medicines, candles, books, crayons, clothing, shoes, blankets, pasta, tea, coffee and chocolate, but also musical instruments from reaching the 1.5 million Palestinians incarcerated in the world’s largest open-air prison [ii].
Could you possibly invite Israel as your model example?
In response to Israel’s viciousness, in 2004, inspired by the triumphant cultural boycott of apartheid South Africa, and supported by key Palestinian unions and cultural groups, PACBI issued a call for the academic and cultural boycott of institutions involved in Israel’s occupation and apartheid [iii]
. We wish, in our letter to you, to stress the importance of this Palestinian call, and underscore the rationale for the global boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel.
The 2004 Palestinian call appealed to international artists to refuse to perform in Israel or participate in events that serve to equate the occupier and the occupied [iv]
and thus contribute to the continuation of injustice. Following this, in 2005, an overwhelming majority in Palestinian civil society called for an all-encompassing BDS campaign based on the principles of human rights, justice, freedom and equality [v]
. The BDS movement adopts a nonviolent, morally consistent strategy to hold Israel accountable to the same human rights standards as other nations. It is asking artists to heed the boycott call until “Israel withdraws from all the lands occupied in 1967, including East Jerusalem; removes all its colonies in those lands; agrees to United Nations resolutions relevant to the restitution of Palestinian refugees rights; and dismantles its system of apartheid." [vi]
Israel uses arts and culture to whitewash its violations of international law and human rights.
In December 2008 and January 2009, Israel waged a war of aggression against Gaza that left 1,400 Palestinians, predominantly civilians, dead [viii]
, and led the UN Goldstone Report to declare that Israel had committed war crimes [ix]
. In the wake of this assault and to salvage its deteriorating image, Israel has redoubled its effort to “brand” itself as an enlightened liberal democracy [x]
. Arts, culture and science play a unique role in this branding campaign [xi]
, and by hosting Israel as a model of innovation in your city’s event, you are serving the Israeli government’s rebranding policy, and affirming its membership in the West’s privileged club of “cultured,” liberal democracies. And by doing so, you are turning a blind eye to Israel’s ongoing occupation, colonialism and apartheid, adding insult to the open wounds of injustice perpetrated on our people.
If you remain unconvinced because of claims that not hosting Israel in this event may infringe on freedom of expression, may we recall for you the judicious words of Enuga S. Reddy, director of the United Nations Center against Apartheid, who in 1984 responded to a similar criticism voiced against the cultural boycott of South Africa by saying:
It is rather strange, to say the least, that the South African regime which denies all freedoms... to the African majority... should become a defender of the freedom of artists and sportsmen of the world. We have a list of people who have performed in South Africa because of ignorance of the situation or the lure of money or unconcern over racism. 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. [xii]
We ask you to be true to your mission of innovation and creativity in the service of humanity, and not to host Israel in this event, as that would be synonymous to promoting oppression and violations of human rights. We are certain that this is NOT the example you want to promote.