Open letter, PACBI, 29 April 2009
The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) is writing to the organizers of the Sci-Fi-London International Festival of Science Fiction and Fantasy Film to urge you to cancel the special “Focus on: Israel” in your festival in London from 29 April – 4 May. We also urge the attendees of this festival, if its organizers insist on the special tribute to Israel, to protest the inclusion of this session and to boycott the focus on Israel. Honoring Israel in any field right after its massacre in Gaza shows either apathetic disregard for the lives and rights of the Palestinian people or, worse, complicity in Israel’s grave violations of international law and human rights principles.
We understand that the focus on Israel is organized in cooperation with the British Council of Arts in Israel as part of the British Israeli Arts Training Scheme, BI-ARTS, which is funded by Israel’s Ministry of Science, Culture and Sports and Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The latter, it is worth noting, is currently headed by the ultra-right racist Israeli politician, Avigdor Lieberman, who in response to the struggle of Palestinian citizens of Israel for equality and full citizenship rights has continuously advocated their ethnic cleansing, notoriously stating that “minorities are the biggest problem in the world.” By organizing this session celebrating Israel’s contributions to the field, you will be effectively welcoming into your highly esteemed international forum a state that maintains the world’s longest regime of occupation and colonization as well as the only surviving apartheid.
On the festival’s website it states that the focus on Israel aims to examine the sci-fi “what ifs” being explored in other countries. Yet, we wonder if you are aware of Israel’s over 60-year-old colonial history of brutally subjugating the Palestinian people. Israel’s recent war on Gaza is the latest chapter in this history of colonial oppression. In this brutal military campaign, Israel killed more than 1,440 Palestinians, of whom 431 were children, and injured another 5,380. Israel subjected the besieged population of Gaza to three weeks of unrelenting state terror. Israeli warplanes targeted and bombed densely populated civilian areas, using illegal munitions, such as white phosphorous, and reduced whole neighborhoods and vital civilian infrastructure to rubble, not to mention its willful mass destruction of agricultural land. In addition to this, Israel also partially destroyed Gaza’s leading university and scores of schools, including several run by the UN and used as civilian shelters during the war of aggression. The UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories has described the Israeli attack on Gaza as “a war crime of the gravest magnitude under international law.”
Israel’s war on Gaza was not an anomaly but an integral part of the systematic policies of ethnic cleansing and colonial oppression that Israel has carried out against the Palestinian people. The state of Israel was established in 1948 by forcibly expelling the overwhelming majority of Palestine’s indigenous Arab population. For 60 years now, Israel has continued to deny the millions of displaced Palestinian refugees their UN-sanctioned rights to return to their homes of origin. For the last 41 years, Israel has maintained a repressive military occupation over the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip, violating Palestinians’ most fundamental human rights with impunity. Israel extra-judicially kills Palestinian activists and leaders; subjects Palestinians to daily military violence; routinely demolishes Palestinian homes and illegally confiscates Palestinian land. Israeli continues to expand illegal Jewish colonies on occupied Palestinian land, linking them to an apartheid system of Jewish-only roads, and the wall that was declared illegal by the International Court of Justice in 2004. Israel’s policies of repression systematically target all aspects of Palestinian life and are designed to crush the Palestinian will, creativity and human spirit. Since the early 1970s Israel has targeted and routinely closed Palestinian universities and cultural centers in the West Bank and Gaza, and imposed a repressive system of censorship, banning scores of books — effectively imposing a stranglehold designed to prevent Palestinian cultural expression. From 1979 to 1992, Birzeit University was closed 60 percent of the time by Israeli military orders.
The injustice and the violent suppression of the Palestinian struggle for freedom has lasted too long. To bring an end to this oppression, Palestinian civil society has called on people of conscience throughout the world to take a stand and support our struggle for freedom by adopting boycott, divestments and sanctions (BDS) against Israel until it fully complies with international law and recognizes our inalienable rights. This BDS call has received resounding international support, and has been endorsed by a number of prominent international cultural figures and Israeli artists, including Aharon Shabtai, John Berger, Ken Loach, Arundhati Roy, Roger Waters, John Williams and others. Other high profile artists have also heeded our call by canceling gigs in Israel; these included Bono, Bjork, Snoop Dogg and Jean Luc Goddard.
In calling on artists to support the cultural boycott of Israel, John Berger urged artists to adopt the boycott as a mechanism of protest and a means to end the silence surrounding the impunity with which Israel violates international law and denies Palestinian their basic human rights. In endorsing the boycott, the prominent Israeli poet Aharon Shabtai said:
“A state which maintains an occupation and commits daily crimes against civilians does not deserve to be invited to whichever cultural week. We cannot accept to be part of that. Israel is not a democratic state but an apartheid state. We cannot support that state at all.”
To claim the cultural field is “neutral” in the face of systematic and persistent injustice is to effectively side with the oppressor. International solidarity and support for the boycott of South Africa played a pivotal role in helping bring down the apartheid regime. Similarly, we sincerely hope you will take a moral stand and cancel your tribute to Israel, until it meets its obligations under international law and recognizes the Palestinian people’s right to live in freedom and equality in their homeland.