The following open letter was sent to the Melbourne International Film Festival by the The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) on 5 July 2009:
The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) is writing with grave concern over the Melbourne International Film Festival’s cultural partnership with the Israeli state, as advertised in your promotional material. We write to urge you not to accept Israeli government funding or sustain this partnership with a state that practices occupation, colonialism and apartheid, as confirmed in a recent, authoritative legal study produced by the Human Sciences Research Council in South Africa and, months before, in a strategic position paper issued by the Palestinian civil society Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee (BNC).
Collaborating with the Israeli government 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 it has committed and is still committing in Gaza. You would be accepting blood money and partnering with the culture of a colonial and apartheid regime that continues to blatantly violate international law and Palestinian human rights with utter impunity.
By sustaining a cultural partnership with Israel in your festival, you would be sharing your artistic stage with a power that attempts to suppress, expropriate or suffocate the art and culture of the indigenous Palestinian people, with its filmmakers, musicians, artists, writers and poets. We hope you agree that this is the opposite of everything that culture and filmmaking should represent.
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 5,380. 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 recent brutal attack on Gaza is yet another mark in Israel’s long and vicious 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 and 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. Indeed, as the prominent filmmaker Ken Loach said recently, “Who are we, that we should not heed their call?”
Virtually all Palestinian filmmakers, 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. 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 partner in any capacity with Israel, until it fulfills its obligations under international law and fully recognizes the Palestinian people’s right to live in full equality and freedom in their homeland.