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June 29, 2011
Dear Kareem Abdul-Jabbar,
We are writing to commend you for your principled decision not to attend the Jerusalem Film Festival in response to “concern over the Nakba Day violence,” as indicated by the festival”s foreign office. Indeed, Israel”s brutally violent suppression of peaceful Palestinian youth demonstrations and its shoot-to-kill policy during the Nakba Day protests, in particular, should convince any person of conscience not to lend his or her good name to institutions that divert attention away from Israeli state brutality and human rights violations.
With this decision, you have truly exemplified the commitment to equality for which you were recently honored with the Lincoln Medal. The award is shared by the Archbishop Desmond Tutu, an outspoken critic of Israel for “practising apartheid in its policies towards the Palestinians” and a strong supporter of the Palestinian-led movement for boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) on Israel until it complies with international law and ends its system of occupation and racial discrimination. In Tutu”s words:
“I have witnessed the humiliation of Palestinian men, women, and children made to wait hours at Israeli military checkpoints routinely when trying to make the most basic of trips to visit relatives or attend school or college, and this humiliation is familiar to me and the many black South Africans who were corralled and regularly insulted by the security forces of the Apartheid government.”
We urge you to hold fast to this decision as an act of moral imperative. Visiting Israel in coordination with the Israeli Foreign Ministry and the Israeli Consulate of New York lends an air of legitimacy to Israel”s denial of Palestinian fundamental human rights in a myriad of ways:
Palestinians in the West Bank live under a brutal, 44-year-old military occupation characterized by segregated roads and legal systems, daily violence, and humiliation. Thousands of Palestinian human rights activists, including leaders of the nonviolent popular struggle, have been imprisoned, many without charge or trial. Israel”s illegal settlements and Wall confiscate Palestinian land and separate Palestinian farmers, workers, and families from their schools, jobs, hospitals, and livelihoods, dividing the West Bank into Bantustans.
Palestinians in the Gaza Strip live under an Israeli blockade that “deliberately impoverishes … and condemns hundreds of thousands of potentially productive people to a life of destitution,” according to Chris Gunness, spokesperson for UN Relief and Works Agency. Contrary to international law, Israel has systematically employed white phosphorous and U.S. weapons against civilian men, women, and children in Gaza, killing thousands and destroying basic infrastructure such as schools, hospitals, and water sources.
As non-Jewish citizens, Palestinians inside Israel live under an apartheid system that denies them equal rights to their Jewish counterparts. Israel”s apartheid laws restrict land ownership, housing, employment, and marriage, in many ways resembling Jim Crow.
Millions of Palestinians live in exile since their families were forcibly and systematically uprooted in 1948 during Israel”s creation. Israel has denied these refugees their internationally-recognized right to return to their homes and lands, simply because they are not Jewish.
In an effort to salvage its worsening reputation, Israel has embarked upon an effort to re-brand itself as a beacon of cultural and technological progress, diverting attention away from its war crimes and apartheid policies. Israel uses its cultural institutions, such as the Jerusalem Film Festival, to whitewash its violations of international law and human rights. Your film, “On the Shoulders of Giants,” documents the policies of segregation and racism that characterized the world of basketball in the 1930s. Ironically, the majority of Muslim and Christian Palestinians could not even have attended such a screening because they are excluded from entering Jerusalem on the basis of their ethnicity and religion.
In cancelling your appearance in Israel, you join a growing number of people of conscience refusing to conduct “business as usual” with Apartheid Israel. World-renowned artists, film-makers, writers, and activists Arundhati Roy, Ken Loach, Jean Luc Godard, Naomi Klein, Sting, Bono, Pete Seeger, Roger Waters, Snoop Dogg, Elvis Costello, Carlos Santana, Mike Leigh, The Yes men, and the late Gil Scott-Heron have supported the Palestinian civil society BDS call or cancelled appearances in Israel following appeals from fans and BDS advocates. BDS is supported by anti-racism advocates from Alice Walker to Dr. Cornel West–who is himself featured in your film. Meg Ryan and Dustin Hoffman decided not to attend the Jerusalem Film Festival last year, following the deadly attacks on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla that killed nine humanitarian aid carriers including one U.S. citizen.
On your website, you write: “Justice should be blind especially color-blind and able to fairly deal with the very real need for honest law enforcement.” You have also said we have to “start letting history teach us.” History has shown that when the world allows an apartheid state to violate laws and racially discriminate with impunity, there comes a time for people of conscience to take a stand and refuse to legitimize an unjust system.
Although you have indicated a desire to “stay out of this argument,” it is instructive to recall Tutu”s words once again: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”
We kindly ask you to give your consideration to the Palestinian-led BDS campaign, as it is only through such courageous acts that this campaign to pressure Israel to end its injustices can grow and succeed. We would be very happy to meet with you to offer further information or answer any questions you have.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, we thank you for standing on the right side of history.
With respect and solidarity,