Open Letter to Yinka Shonibare: Beheading Justice?
Occupied Ramallah, 5 July 2009
The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) is writing to express its grave concern about your potential role as a guest curator at the Israel Museum. We have recently learned that you are currently preparing for this exhibition, and we write to you today to urge you to reconsider celebrating your art with the brutal colonial oppressors of Palestine. Your work, particularly your decapitated statues, has always been an eloquent critique of the colonial era; how can you reconcile your principles and artistic vision with complicity in Israeli colonialism and apartheid?
The Israel Museum, as a state institution, plays a central role in Israel’s untiring effort to depict itself as a key contributor to world culture and the preservation of human heritage. Its very location in the heart of occupied Jerusalem serves as the nexus of the colonial enterprise that has subjugated Palestinians for more than 60 years. Allowing your work and your role as an artist to be co-opted by the culture of a state that has become the most durable modern symbol of colonialism and apartheid, as recognized by a growing community of conscientious artists and intellectuals the world over, is equivalent to lending your support to this state as well as offering it a means to escape its own oppressive reality. Your vast portfolio as well as your role as an influential contemporary artist who tackles issues of racism and colonialism are antithetical to the racism inherent in Zionist policies of the Israeli state. In your own words, you have said that: “I don’t produce propaganda art, I’m more interested in the poetic than the didactic.”  Your nuanced and avant garde role as an artist in our contemporary world should challenge the enormous power of racist oppression, not be implicated in whitewashing it.
Participating in an exhibition in Israeli-occupied Jerusalem less than six months after Israel ended its bloody war against the occupied Gaza Strip would be tantamount to an implicit endorsement of the war crimes and other violations of international law it has committed and is still committing in Gaza, with utter impunity.
Israel’s most recent brutal military assault on the Gaza Strip left over 1,440 Palestinians dead, predominantly civilians, of whom 431 were children, and injured another 5380 . The 1.5 million Palestinians in the besieged Gaza Strip, the overwhelming majority of whom are refugees who were violently expelled from their homes by Zionist forces in 1948, were subjected to three weeks of relentless Israeli state terror, whereby Israeli warplanes systematically targeted civilian areas, reduced whole neighborhoods and vital civilian infrastructure to rubble and partially destroyed scores of schools, including several run by the UN, where civilians were taking shelter. This criminal assault came after 18 months of an ongoing, crippling Israeli siege of Gaza with the clear goal of shattering all spheres of life and collectively punishing the entire population of Gaza, prompting the UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights to describe it as “a prelude to genocide.” International human rights organizations and UN organizations are now carrying out war crimes investigations into Israel’s military assault on Gaza.
The latest vicious assault on Gaza is yet another mark in Israel’s long and violent colonial history. For the last 61 years, Israel has superimposed its colonial presence on historic Palestine and for the last 42 years, Israel has militarily occupied the West Bank, including east Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip. Despite the “peace process” which began 16 years ago, Israel routinely violates the Palestinians’ most fundamental human rights with impunity, as documented by local and international human rights organizations. Israel extra-judicially kills Palestinian leaders and activists; keeps over 8,000 Palestinians imprisoned, including numerous members of parliament. Israel is destroying Palestinian homes; killing Palestinian children; and uprooting hundreds of thousands of Palestinian trees. As we write, Israel continues to build illegal Jewish colonies on occupied Palestinian land and an apartheid infrastructure of Jewish-only roads, blockades and the Apartheid Wall, declared illegal by the International Court of Justice at the Hague in 2004. Israel denies millions of Palestinian refugees their internationally recognized right to return to their lands. Moreover, Israel maintains a system of racial discrimination against its own Palestinian citizens reminiscent of South African apartheid.
In the face of decades of such unrelenting oppression, Palestinian civil society has called upon people of conscience throughout the world to take a stand in support of our struggle for freedom and the realization of our inalienable human and national political rights by heeding our call for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel .
Virtually all Palestinian artists and cultural figures stand behind this call and have urged their colleagues worldwide to boycott Israeli cultural and arts institutions due to their complicity in perpetuating Israel‘s occupation and other forms of oppression against the Palestinian people . In response, in the past few months, groups of artists, comedians, filmmakers, students and academics throughout the world have consolidated their efforts to show solidarity with Palestinians, to condemn Israel’s war crimes and its apartheid regime, and to call for effective political action such as boycotts, divestment drives, and sanctions (BDS). 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.
As was the case in South Africa, where international solidarity played a crucial role in bringing down apartheid by boycotting the economic, sports and cultural institutions of the apartheid regime, we sincerely hope you will not collaborate with any Israeli cultural or arts institution, until Israel fulfils its obligations under international law and fully recognizes the Palestinian people’s right to live in full equality and freedom in their homeland.