Atwood – Do Not Accept Prizes from Apartheid Israel

PACBI | 6 April 2010

Occupied Ramallah, 6 April 2010

The Palestinian community of writers and intellectuals is highly disappointed by your decision to accept the Dan David prize, which is based at Tel Aviv University. Your writings exhibit a sophisticated understanding of colonialism, structures of political power and oppression, yet your visit to Israel comes just over one year after its bloody assault on the occupied Gaza Strip during which it killed and injured thousands of Palestinian civilians [1] and caused massive destruction to homes, schools, mosques, hospitals, factories, UN buildings, agricultural fields and infrastructure. In this light, your acceptance of a prize administered by Tel Aviv University and awarded in the presence of the Israeli President Shimon Peres can only be interpreted by Palestinian civil society as complicity in whitewashing Israel”s crimes, colonization and system of apartheid. Your vast literary portfolio will forever be attached to the draconian machine of Israeli colonial and racist policy.

Last summer, following the assault on Gaza, the Israeli government announced a new effort to ‘rebrand” Israel in the eyes of the world as a liberal nation enjoying membership in the Western club of democracies. In addition to the various forms of cultural outreach designed to highlight Israel”s achievements, this effort included inviting more writers and artists to Israel in order to show the ‘civilised” side of Israel and help cover up the reality of occupation and the brutal treatment of the Palestinians. Your appearance in Israel would lend itself to this well-oiled campaign to whitewash Israel”s grave violations of international law and basic human rights. . Above everything else, it would serve to deflect attention away from Israel’s three forms of oppression against the Palestinian people: the legalized and institutionalized system of racial discrimination against the Palestinian citizens of Israel; the military occupation of the West Bank, including East-Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip; and the continuous denial of the Palestinian refugees” UN-sanctioned right to return to their homes and to receive just reparations.

These efforts cannot disguise the dark side of the story, the 43 years of an increasingly brutal military occupation, during which Israel systematically colonized Palestinian land with the goal of gradually emptying it of its original inhabitants in order to use it for the benefit of Jewish settlers. Despite the “peace process” which began years ago, Israel routinely violates the Palestinians” most fundamental human rights with impunity, as documented by local and international human rights organisations. Israel extra-judicially kills Palestinian leaders and activists; keeps over 9,000 Palestinians imprisoned, including numerous members of parliament; subjects all Palestinians under occupation to daily humiliation, intimidation and military violence; and continues to construct and expand its colonial Wall, declared illegal by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) at the Hague in July 2004.

Tel Aviv University, the institution administering this award, as other Israeli academic institutions, is notorious for its deep and well documented collaboration with the Israeli military and intelligence establishment, its racially exclusivist university policy towards Palestinian citizens of Israel, and its refusal to acknowledge its past and to commemorate the destroyed Palestinian village on which grounds it was built.

A comprehensive report by the Palestine Society at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) presents strong evidence of intensive, purposive and open institutional cooperation of TAU with the Israeli military establishment [2]. TAU must therefore be condemned for providing cross-departmental legal, technological and strategic support for maintaining and deepening the Israeli occupation by assisting ongoing lethal assaults on the occupied Palestinian territories and by defending and justifying Israel”s occupation policies. . These policies are implicitly and explicitly supported by TAU”s Law Faculty which appointed an Israeli army colonel, Pnina Sharvit-Baruch, to its staff recently. As the army”s principal international law counsel Sharvit-Baruch is responsible for green-lighting the decision to target civilian infrastructure and for a ‘relaxing of the rules of engagement” regarding civilians on the army”s International Law Division. The SOAS Report points out: “… (T)here is nothing unique about state institutions being implicated in the pursuit of state objectives, including security-related objectives. The tense military mobilisation of Jewish-Israeli society, its constant-war footing, and the closely related knowledge of circles which compose the defence research and development community in this comparatively small country, together amplify the role played by academic institutions in military affairs. TAU, as the largest university in Israel, is, unremarkably, at the centre of this militarization…. Ultimately, …this collusion with the military amounts to the commissioning of war crimes and crimes against humanity.” With the Dan David Prize allegedly aiming “to foster universal values of…justice, democracy and progress and to promote the …humanistic achievements that advance and improve our world” [3] Tel Aviv University is only attempting to distract from its criminal record.

The Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) National Committee recently stated that “Palestine today has become the test of our indispensible morality and common humanity”. In the face of decades of unrelenting oppression, Palestinian civil society has called upon supporters of the struggle for freedom and justice throughout the world to take a stand and heed our call for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel until it recognises Palestinian rights and fully complies with international law. 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. Other renowned international artists, including Sting, Bono, Snoop Dog, Jean Luc Goddard and Joan Manuel Serrat have also heeded our call and cancelled their gigs or participation in festivals in Israel (see International Guidelines for the Academic Boycott of Israel [4]).

In conclusion, and appealing to your sense of justice and moral consistency, we hope that, until Israel fully abides by international law, you shall treat it exactly as most of the world treated racist South Africa, or indeed any other state that legislates and practices apartheid: a pariah state. Only then can there be a real chance for a just peace in harmony with international law and based on equal human rights for all, irrespective of ethnicity, religion or other identity considerations. We urge you to reject the prize and to refuse to participate in a ceremony presided over by the head of a state accused to war crimes and other serious violations of international law.




[2] SOAS Palestine Society Report: Tel Aviv University part and parcel of the Israeli

[3] The Dan David Prize,



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