Emergency appeal to UNESCO to exclude Israel from its membership and a call for joining the cultural and academic boycott of Israel

The Arabic version of this article, translated by Samah Idris, is available at http://www.adabmag.com/node/178.

* The author, Rahela Mizrahi, signed the Palestinian call for the cultural boycott of Israel in 2006. She has a 1st degree in fine arts from the Betzalel Academy in Jerusalem and is currently completing her 2nd degree writing on the “Patterns of Expropriation, Conversion, and Appropriation of Palestinian Heritage through Israeli Art” at Tel Aviv University.

Submitted by Rahela Mizrahi*

February 28, 2009

UNESCO, a specialized agency of the United Nations, has as its stated goal to “contribute to peace and security by promoting collaboration among nations through education, science, and culture in order to further universal respect for justice, for the rule of law and for the human rights and the fundamental freedoms” proclaimed in the UN Charter. UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, is politically accountable to the international community. When schools under the UN flag are targeted, when children are targeted, when a whole population is systematically deprived of food and water, sanitation and electricity, UNRWA, UNICEF and UNESCO, are not to be content with protest; they should live up to their responsibility by taking action. Below are appeals to UNESCO to fulfill its role in the maintenance of justice through cultural preservation and respect by a) revoking Israel”s membership in UNESCO, and b) joining the cultural and academic boycott of Israel[1].

These appeals come as Israel makes the Gaza Strip into the largest concentration camp in the world. Conditions grow steadily more insufferable for the 1.5 million Palestinians who live there. Deliveries of food, medicine and fuel are hampered or stopped altogether. Child malnutrition is increasing. Water supplies and drainage have ceased to function. People die for lack of healthcare. Tunnels to Egypt, dug by hand, provide the only breathing space.

Half of Gaza residents are refugees of one of the biggest crimes of the 20th century. In 1947-8, the Zionist paramilitary terror organizations that would later become the IDF carried out a well planned ethnic cleansing[2] of Palestine, then under the custody of the British mandate; they demolished over 500 villages and 13 cities, and deported close to 800,000 indigenous Palestinians, systematically committing tens of massacres similar to the latest Gaza massacres of 2008-9. That ethnic cleansing is the reason Gaza is one of the most populated areas in the world. Israel, the U.S. and most of the Western world would like to expunge that 1948 crime from the record altogether and with it Palestine and the Palestinian people. The resistance today in Gaza is the revolt of a people that refuses to be erased.

The crimes of 1948 are not a finished chapter in the history books, but an ongoing reality that has been unfolding for at least 60 years and continues to unfold today: ongoing theft and expropriation of the remaining Palestinian land and water, demolition of thousands of homes, the making of the Gaza strip and Palestinian cities in the West Bank and Gaza strip into concentration camps surrounded by an eight-meter-high cement wall and electrical fences, inside which reign unemployment, poverty, and hunger and despair, in addition to the mass incarceration of three generations of Palestinians (currently above 12,000). On the flip side of the steady decimation of the indigenous Palestinian people, Israel, with U.S. and European support, imported to Palestine one million immigrants, mostly Europeans, during the nineties. Land theft and colonization were carried out under a fake discourse of peace, promoted by a fake Israeli peace movement and NGOs financed by U.S. and E.U., using the Oslo agreements as tools for the complete elimination of Palestine from the map.

Appeal to UNESCO to remove Israel from its membership

In November 1974, responding to a call from academics of different nationalities, UNESCO terminated assistance to Israel and excluded it from UNESCO”s activities and regional groups. By doing so, UNESCO recognized that Israel”s actions, the systematic and violent destruction and vandalization of the indigenous Palestinian civilization and culture, was the very opposite of UNESCO”s mission. Nonetheless, and despite no change in Israeli policy, Israel”s full membership was reinstated by 1977.

Beginning in 1947, before, during, and after the ethnic cleansing, and continuing into the 50s, the destruction of more than 500 villages and 13 cities decimated an entire Palestinian cultural environment: the looting of artifacts, books, ancient manuscripts and of course the destruction of architecture, including dozens of churches, hundreds of mosques and graveyards. The occupation of 1967 allowed Israel to conduct another massive round of cultural destruction through the ethnic cleansing of an additional 170 villages and towns in the Syrian Golan[3] and also 19 villages in the newly occupied Palestinian territories. Some of the destroyed villages were turned to National parks after a massive forestation, a method used systematically to erase the traces of Palestinian villages. Also in 1967, Israel demolished a whole neighborhood in Jerusalem old city, the “Mughrabi” neighborhood[4], and brazenly broke international law by executing massive archeological excavations in the territories just occupied.

Israel continues with its destructive assault on Palestinian and Arab culture, looting the Palestinian libraries and film archive in Beirut during its invasion into Lebanon, vandalizing the Al-Sakakini cultural center in Ramallah during the 2002 invasion, carrying out illegal archeological excavations while vandalizing Muslim and Arab findings, and recently excavating under the Al-Aksa mosque and thus endangering its foundation.

During the latest massacres in Gaza, Israel demolished the largest university in the strip, as well as UN schools, in which civilians were taking shelter. Altogether, Israel bombed and destroyed 64 schools and 41 mosques in a matter of days[5]. The bombing of mosques follows the pattern already established at the time of the ethnic cleansing of 1948, during which hundreds of mosques were destroyed. This is the direct result of a Zionist ideology that targets Arab and Muslim culture, including the Arab-Jewish civilizations and cultures, in the name of “secularism and progress” as a justification for extermination of the civilization of the Other.

UNESCO, as an organization committed to “promoting international collaboration…through education, science, and culture in order to further universal respect for justice, human rights and fundamental freedoms,” should take immediate action to protest Israel”s systematic violence and assault on Palestinian culture by expelling Israel from its membership.

Appeal for UNESCO to join the cultural and academic boycott of Israel

Boycott is the very minimum that a decent human being can do against the on-going crimes against humanity systematically committed by Israel with the unlimited support of the U.S., Europe and most of the Western world, which relies on Israel for the continued oppression of Arab people while looting their natural resources with the help of neo-colonial Arab ruling elites. Cultural and academic boycott of Israel are of particular importance. The Israeli academy is one of the most important bases of racist Zionist thinking, which is white Ashkenazi-Jewish, Euro-centric and colonial. All Israeli universities have departments devoted to the Orientalist research of the Middle East as a tool for colonial control. Other departments completely ignore non-Western, Arab and Islamic cultures, language and thought, literature, music, history, and philosophy, reflecting Israel”s attitude towards Arabs and Muslims as uncivilized and uncultured. This intellectual work done by the Israeli academia is instrumental in the dehumanization of Palestinians within Israeli public discourse, a necessary condition for the continuation of the genocide.

Academic boycott addresses the fact that university departments develop weapons that are used in Israel”s crimes. Tel Aviv University for example has a department devoted to “Security Studies,” where weapons for “smart” (computerized) extermination are developed. The Israeli academy devotes significant resources toward facilitating the military and political control of Palestine and the Middle East. The silence of Israeli academia in the face of the bombing of the only university in Gaza is another reason for an academic boycott.

Israeli culture is dominated by white Ashkenazi Euro-centric Zionist colonial thoughts and attitudes. Zionists authors such as Amos Oz, A.B. Yehushoa and David Grossman, inaccurately considered a part of the so-called “peace movement”, promote colonial and racist messages in their texts and even more so in the subtext of their texts. They loudly supported the recent invasion into Lebanon and have written statements in support of the massacres in Gaza. In addition to citizens, women and elders, Israel assassinated one of the most prominent Palestinian authors, Gassan Kanafani. Israeli popular music is deeply rooted in the Israeli army: most of Israel”s important popular musicians started their careers in a military band promoting militarism and chauvinism. Israeli fine arts and dance are stealing the Palestinian heritage and presenting it all over the world as “an ancient Jewish heritage,” in line with the appropriation of Palestinian food (e.g. Falafel) and clothing (e.g. Kufiya), in order to present their European colonialism as a continuation of an ancient Jewish ownership of the land, and erase the existence of a Palestinian people who owns this heritage.

Nowadays, Israeli cultural agents are conscripted into the normalization of Israel”s ongoing crimes and apartheid by representing it as a two-sided conflict inside a hollow peace discourse, without history, and with the erasure and normalization of the 1947-8 crime: the elimination of Palestine by an apartheid Jewish state called “Israel”. Israeli cultural workers are highly appreciated all over the world as peace seekers instead of being rejected as active participants in the Zionist oppression of the indigenous people of Palestine.

Until today, there is no international recognition of the 1948 ethnic cleansing of Palestine as a crime against humanity. The West helps to bury this crime. Today, after decades of denial, the historical truth of the ethnic cleansing of 1948 is finally recognized. However, this recognition is void of a legal component that ascribes responsibility or demands rights for the victim. Today one can write about the Nakba (the 1948 ethnic cleansing) in Israeli academia, and gain a degree, honor, and credit for being a bold and moral researcher by repeating facts that Arabs and Palestinians have written about for years, although no one was willing to listen. This helps paint Israel as a progressive state while being one of the most violent, racist, oppressive, and undemocratic regimes in the world. With the exception of very few voices, such as Illan Pappe”s, the Israeli academy is silent with regard to demanding an end to the suffering of the victims, and compensating Palestinian people for the crimes Zionism and Israel have perpetrated. Israeli academics are appropriating the Palestinian voice, as did for example Gannit Ankori writing about Palestinian art, for personal academic gain and as a way of white washing their Zionist stances. They should be boycotted as well.

Zionism IS racism. Zionism is a Jewish, Ashkenazi, white, colonial and Euro-centric ideology that seeks to make Palestine Jewish and Western, and hence non-Muslim and non-Arab. Every Israeli is subjected to this ideological indoctrination from the moment he is born: at home, at school, in the academy, in the Hebrew media, often in completely explicit ways, but mostly through allusions, presentation and subtext – through education and culture.

The official name given to the assault on and massacre in Gaza is “Oferet Yetzuka” (Operation “Cast Lead”). This name is taken from a line twice repeated in a Zionist Hanuka children”s song, so that Israeli children will from now on celebrate genocide whenever they celebrate Hanuka. The fact that Jewish Israelis read and hear only Hebrew despite their location in the center of the Arab world facilitates this indoctrination. A limited access to English does not help since most of the English press has bought into Zionist perceptions and attitudes hook, line, and sinker.

Zionism rejects any Palestinian right on their land, their right to live in their homeland, and even their basic civil or even human rights. Zionism means that the right of Jews over Palestinian land is always above human and moral considerations, often invoking the fundamental Euro-centric racism that considers Arab and Muslim cultures as inferior and facilitates their de-humanization. Zionism is the ideological background that permits turning Gaza and Palestinian cities into concentration camps[6] and creates the wide public support for the latest genocidal massacre in Gaza. The only split in the Israeli public was between those who tried to cover up for the massacres with humanitarian crocodile tears and ethical “justifications” (left-Zionists) and those who were honest in their bloodlust (right-Zionists). Zionism colonization is a racist project that is deadly for both Palestinians and Israelis. Zionism has to be confronted and defeated both politically and culturally. Cultural boycott is essential to the well-being of everyone in the region.

The first step in moving towards a complete cultural boycott of Zionism is a confrontation of the European and Western adoption of Zionist apologetics and white washing. The Nobel committee awarded the Nobel Peace prize to Itzhak Rabin, one of the ten architects of the ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1948, and the second ethnic cleansing in 1967. He was also directly responsible for a few large massacres, one of them a massacre of more than 150 civilians taking shelter in the Dahamsh mosque in al-Lid. Another Nobel Peace Prize went to Shimon Peres, responsible for bringing nuclear weapons to the Middle East. Even among Israel”s critics, prominence is often given to those Israelis who moan the atrocities committed by their state but refuse to disassociate themselves from the racism of Zionism that underlies these atrocities. What is more amazing is that the alternative Nobel Peace Prize was given to Uri Avneri. Avneri also participated in the 1948 ethnic cleansing, as well as in the persecution of the Palestinian refugees right after it. He remains Zionist to this day and accepts the 1948 crime as legitimate. Western ideological support for Zionism is partly a matter of material interests, partly reciprocation for the Zionist reflection of Euro-centrism, and partly the effect of the successful Zionist mobilization and cynical abuse of the Nazi holocaust and the historical guilt over antisemitism. This support must be challenged.


Western governments and institutions broadly support the isolation of the Palestinian resistance. They refuse to deal with those Palestinians who refuse to let Palestine be buried and who do not accept the inhuman living conditions imposed by Israel. Although the latest assault on Gaza was resisted by a united Palestinian front that included all military factions, including even Fatah”s “al-Aqsa Martyr”s Brigade,” Hamas is identified as the Palestinian resistance. This move makes Palestinian resistance appear more alien and threatening, using and reinforcing Western Islamophobia. Hamas won the Palestinian democratic elections, and as a result Israel, supported by the U.S. and the E.U., imprisoned their parliament members. Hamas is universally acknowledged for its probity and lack of corruption, yet Western countries insist on dealing only with the secular Fatah, adopting the racialized colonialist identification between secularism and progress that served Zionism as an excuse for the destruction of Arab cultures. The destruction of 41 mosques in Gaza within a few days is not a coincidence, but the continuation of the systematic demolition of hundreds of mosques during the ethnic cleansing of Palestine and the ongoing vandalization of Muslim sacred places.

Hamas enjoys both democratic and cultural legitimacy as a movement of resistance to Zionism that is rooted in Arab and Muslim cultures. It cannot be excluded; attempts to exclude it are manifestations of Western Euro-centrism, colonialism and racism. International institutions such as UNESCO have the moral and political obligation to challenge such destructive and illegal policies.

The world must break its silence over Israel”s crimes of 1948. It must start using the word apartheid to describe Israel”s political, economic and social structure, as was recently called for by the President of the U.N. General Assembly, Father Miguel d”Escoto Brockman. And the world must support the call by Civil Society to apply to Israel the same strategies that were effective in ending Apartheid in South Africa–Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions.

As an international institution in its own right, UNESCO”s maintenance of its own standards requires it to revoke Israel”s membership. In tandem with this act, supporting academic and cultural boycott of Israel would be a vital expression of UNESCO”s commitment to its stated goal of contributing to peace and security by promoting international collaboration through education, science, and culture, promoting universal respect for justice, human rights and the fundamental freedoms proclaimed in the UN Charter.

If order to have a practical impact, the boycott must be wide enough to influence the daily lives of the Israelis and the world”s most respected cultural workers. Without this boycott strongly in place, the hypocrite beetle Paul McCartney visited Israel recently, as did the African singer Cesaria Evora, as if Africa was not under the same colonial oppression. Mercedes Sosa, who sings about the dispossession of indigenous people in Latin America, came to Israel to entertain the people who commit genocide against the Palestinian people. There are many other artists like them. And meanwhile, Israeli musicians, artists, and curators are welcomed all over the world because international institutions have not questioned their presence in the international community.

The world needs a culture of Boycott, a culture that refuses to turn a blind eye to genocide in the name of art, a culture that takes a moral stance towards Zionism and its crimes, and changes the public and official discourse. UNESCO”s support of cultural boycott would support this trend, and help to deter and halt the role of cultural expression in reinforcing systemic violence.


[1] For joining the cultural boycott http://www.pacbi.org, info [at] boycottisrael.ps

[2] For learning more about the 1948 Zionist ethnic cleansing of Palestine, read the book The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine by the Israeli historian Ilan Pappe http://www.ilanpappe.com

[3] http://nakba-online.tripod.com/DestroyedList.htm

[4] The Mughrabi neighborhood was turned into the Kotel yard

[5] The Gaza “Waqf” – (the Muslim religious authority) reported 41 demolished mosques and 51 partially damaged ones.

A partial list of mosques which Israel destroyed in Gaza (until 12/1/2009), in addition to the Islamic University: “Omar “Aqal mosque in Gebaliya refugee camp, “Omar Abu-Baker Al-Sadik mosque in Beit-Hanun, Al-Naser mosque in Beit-Lahiya, which is a 600 year old mosque, Al-Shafa mosque in west Gaza, while demolishing the Al-Shafa medical center, “Omar ibn Al-Khatab mosque in Bureij refugee camp, Al-Khulafa Al-Rashidin mosque in Jebaliya refugee camp, Al-Abrar mosque in the village Bnei-Sahila, “Az Al-din Al-Kassam mosque in Khan Yunes, Abu Hanifa Al-Nu”aman mosque in south Gaza, which is a part of a complex containing two schools, press and medical offices, Ibrahim Al-Mukadama mosque in Beit-Lahiya, bombed during the evening prayer, Altakwa mosque in north Gaza, Al-Nur Al-Mahmadi mosque the biggest mosque in Gaza strip (a picture below).

[6] Short of, and as a vehicle toward, ethnic cleansing, one of the most basic ways that Israel rids itself of and controls the Palestinian population is by concentrating Palestinians into areas. These areas are policed, confined, and militarized variously and increasingly over time with police (inside of Israel), check points and the apartheid wall (in the West Bank), and borders (in Gaza). The term “concentration camp” is used in the generic sense through which a state disposes of populations defined as undesirable, limiting their presence and obliterating their political existence. The possibility of actual death, as we see in Gaza, is never far away.



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