October 2015: Responding to JK Rowling and others
The letter from JK Rowling and others (Israel needs cultural bridges, not boycotts, 23 October) is well past its sell-by date. Cultural bridges between Israel and Britain’s elite have been part of the landscape for decades – and they’ve helped lead to where we are now; they’ve given Israel the veneer of respectability it needed to camouflage its expansionist, racist policies.
Today there’s no question: an artist or intellectual who collaborates with activities funded or approved by the Israeli state is complicit in Israel’s ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians. It’s sad to see distinguished names attached to a collection of worn-out, provenly false cliches. But in the end, it’s a matter of personal conscience and of how seriously people take their art and their responsibility to their public.
Artists from the west who have signed up to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) have done so after much thought and soul-searching. They have taken the trouble to really learn about the situation, sometimes to see it for themselves. They sign because BDS is a democratic, conscience-led, non-violent way to try to end a 19th-century colonial enterprise still bleeding into our lives in 2015. Many are paying a price for their position. But, as one of these courageous and serious people said to me, “Our business is the truth.”
Ahdaf Soueif, writer
Lucille Howe, journalist and actress
It’s customary to speak about this crisis as though it’s a deadlock, as though nothing is moving. But that’s not true: every day armed Israeli settlers are illegally occupying more and more Palestinian land, and cutting away at the few freedoms the Palestinians still have left, with the tacit or overt backing of the army and the state. And every day the government is building new walls through neighbourhoods to fence the Palestinians off even more. Israel benefits from the crisis and uses it as cover – in the name of self-defence – to extend its control further and further into Palestinian lives. Now, having said during his election campaign that there will never be a Palestinian state, Netanyahu is trying to blame the Arabs for the Holocaust (and he’s described as one of the more sane people on the right wing of Israeli politics). Does that sound to you like a good way to initiate a dialogue about a two-state solution? Or is it more likely the prelude to an Arab-free Israel?
I respect the good intentions of the signatories to this letter and I appreciate the desire for dialogue, but what kind of dialogue is realistically possible between a largely unarmed and imprisoned people whose land is disappearing before its eyes, and the heavily weaponised state that’s in the process of taking it? Sounds a bit like the “dialogue” that the Native Americans were offered en route to being liquidated by another group of settlers.
BDS has the support of almost all Palestinians. It also has the support of many liberal Israeli Jews. In the current “Death to Arabs” climate, that’s a courageous position for an Israeli to take – certainly not the easy option. For what little difference it will make, I’ll stick with them.
Brian Eno, composer
If our governments insisted on Israel’s compliance with international humanitarian law, there would be no need for a boycott.
David McDowall, writer
I am sure that none of the distinguished artists who have signed the letter calling for cultural bridge-building between Israel and Palestine intend any harm to Palestinians. I am confident that they do not wish to see Palestinian houses demolished, farms destroyed, or land seized; nor do they approve, I guess, of military occupation, separation walls and ever-tighter restrictions on the movement of people. But the effect of their call for dialogue is to create a soothing soundtrack to just such a record of brutality. “Dialogue” and “cooperation” are lovely words, but they are often disingenuously used by propagandists for Israel, to suggest a way forward that Israel’s own actions are responsible for blocking. For writers like Rowling, Mantel and Schama to put their names to a letter like this brings painfully to life a situation that they themselves have explored in fiction and history. Good intentions can come to serve bad ends.
Farhana Sheikh, writer
When, in 2005, a coalition of representatives from Palestinian civil society called for a boycott of Israel (not, note, of individual Israelis), they were asking for, and had a right to receive, solidarity from all who value justice and international law; solidarity with a people suffering a never-ending occupation, whose land and water are being stolen, whose lives are hemmed in by walls, checkpoints and an apartheid system, whose houses are bulldozed, whose olive trees are destroyed, whose children are abused and incarcerated, whose national aspirations are stifled. So this declaration by Culture for Coexistence is an act of betrayal, the moral equivalent of crossing a picket line or buying goods from apartheid South Africa. I am shocked by their political illiteracy and their arrogance.
Leon Rosselson, songwriter and children’s author
They are not actually talking about dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians. They are talking about dialogue between themselves and Israel. The Palestinians are irrelevant.
It’s a cracker isn’t……I wonder what it is like, down there in the dust, the Israeli jackboot on your neck, every aspect of your life controlled by the occupier, then you have the lack of decency to ask for peaceful support from the international community by calling for a boycott, and then you are told from afar by the great and the good you are misguided and that what you really need is peaceful co-existence and dialogue. I wonder what you would think?
I am sure there must be a few writers out there who can let their imagination soar above the cement wall and under the barbed wire of Gaza. I wonder what the Arabic is for “pious piss.”
Paul Laverty, screenwriter
It is the height of infantile fantasy to expect anyone to coexist with white phosphate, years of siege and massive bombardment, to build bridges with bullets in your head, heart and limbs or with rubble retrieved from hundreds of erased villages.
Guy Mannes-Abbott, writer and critic
It is important to use the language of the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement and clarify that this boycott does not mean dialogue is not possible, the boycott has clear and strict terms of engagements, and why boycott is important – to challenge the occupation, not to close doors of engagement.
Yasmin Fedda, filmmaker and programmer
There was a strong boycott movement during apartheid South Africa. We must once again stand in solidarity with Palestinians in their struggle against Israeli apartheid.
Sarah Streatfeild, violinist
The Palestinian people and their culture cannot ‘coexist’ with the brutal Occupation of the Israeli apartheid state. The Israeli and Jewish artists who are doing most to advance the cause of Palestinian rights are supporters of the cultural and academic boycott of the State of Israel. The time has come to stop Israel from using art and culture as a ‘civilised’ cover for its racist oppression.
Mark Brown, theatre critic
I was sorry and frustrated to see the cultural and academic boycott of Israel once again misrepresented by its opponents. Far from being ‘discriminatory’, the boycott is grounded in respect for human rights and international law. It does not prevent cultural exchanges or co-operative endeavours between Israelis and Palestinians, but insists that these must not be funded by a government actively engaged in ethnic cleansing and illegal occupation in defense of an apartheid state.
Like its great precedent against apartheid South Africa, the boycott also asks international artists to reject commercial ventures in Israel until the conflict is resolved in a just peace. I urge signatories to ask themselves if they would have ‘played Sun City’. If not, please reconsider your support for the current status quo in Israel, where ‘cultural bridges’ serve only to strengthen a highly privileged relationship with the West. Literary prizes, rock-n-roll concerts in Tel Aviv, and state-sponsored theatre tours of UK all signally failed to prevent Israel’s ruthless assaults on Gaza; rather such cultural events buttress a situation in which a country’s grave crimes do not simply go unpunished, but are rewarded with sympathy, respect, and eye-watering amounts of military and financial aid. In contrast, the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement subjects Israel to sustained moral pressure, and provokes the honest and informed debate that all campaign proponents welcome.
Naomi Foyle, co-founder, British Writers In Support of Palestine (BWISP)
Please will someone invite JK Rowling to experience life in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem.
Jane Rossiter-Smith, writer
While I was filming The Olive Tree in the Holy Land for our series of documentary films, The Olive Route, I interviewed and filmed people from all three faiths: Palestinian Christians, Palestinian Muslims and Israeli Jews. I filmed the daily lives of a family of Settlers living in an enclosed, armed community in the West Bank, that is to say they are occupying territory that is Palestine as designated by the 1949 Green Line. It took me over two years to find any Settlers who would agree to be interviewed on film, but I wanted to give every side an opportunity to express where they are coming from. In this instance, both father and mother stated that since biblical times the West Bank has been Israel’s, and that it should and will be Israel’s.
Rabbi Arik Ascherman, born in the US, now a long-time resident of Jerusalem, is a founding member of Rabbis for Human Rights. Together, we visited an olive farm outside Bethlehem owned by Palestinian Christians who had been attacked by Settlers and whose olive trees had been uprooted. (The olive tree is used as a weapon of war in this zone because to take away a family’s olive trees is to take away a vital food source and a means of livelihood). Every autumn, Arik travels to the West Bank to assist Palestinians harvest their olives. They need help and witnesses, because they are regularly attacked by Settlers. This October, during the harvest, Arik was attacked by a masked Settler who attempted to knife him for his support of Palestinians. The ugly scene can be viewed if you Google it.
The situation is getting worse, not better. The violence against Palestinians is escalating, not diminishing. The land grabbing continues; the denial of basic human rights asphyxiates. What is going on in Palestine today is, in my opinion, monstrous as a mostly unarmed people are being ground down, bit by bit, day by day. And it cannot be allowed to continue.
I strongly believe that BDS, a non-violent boycott, is a means to a resolution, and it is supported by many liberal Israelis who in this era of growing militancy understand that Israel is in a downward spiral and that the violence is harming everyone including Israelis themselves. Israel is proud of its artistic heritage, quite rightly so. It does not want to be internationally shunned. A boycott might act as a desperately overdue call for change.
By signing the Culture for Coexistence letter, I believe one is tacitly complicit in the policies of Israel’s extremists whose goal is to annihilate Palestine in order to occupy the entire region as Israel, and I fear the eminent signatories will be used to justify this ugly, expansionist policy, which is about strangling a neighbouring nation.
The notion of ‘peaceful engagement’ with Israel and it’s current policies is at best disingenuous equivocation, and at worst, tacit encouragement, through acceptance, of Israel’s brutal and inhuman regime. ‘Open dialogue and interaction’ are simply not possible while Palestinians have no voice, no nation, no identity. There is a naked obscenity to the notion that ‘cultural engagement builds bridges, nurtures freedom and positive movement for change. It is important to encourage such a powerful tool for change rather than boycotting its use.’ It is outrageous to imply parity while Goliath is being given a platform that David can not hope to ascend; while Palestinian artists, writers and poets are subjected to travel restrictions, regularly jailed for their views and summarily and consistently silenced by the State of Israel.
Sameena Zehra, comedian and storyteller
Daniel Gorman, musician
I lived near and in Sabra and Chatila refugee camps in Beirut – to be the site of the massacre in the early nineteen eighties of thousands of Palestinians by Phalangist forces, with at least Israeli complicity. I wept with survivors of the Tal al Zataar refugee camp massacre of August 1976 in which 2000 – 4000 Palestinians were butchered. I talked with Yasser Arafat and Abu Jihad who had reorganized the resistance to Israeli oppression and terror in the ‘sixties, and who were emphatic that the heart of their fight was the demand for a democratic and secular Palestinian state in which Christian, Jewish and Muslim citizens could live together in equality and peace. Also with old women and men who had been driven to flee their homes in 1948 but still had the keys, with children who could describe those homes but had never seen them. I met those running the Red Crescent hospitals with bitterly scarce resources and a huge need for their services, the young military commander of a hilltop garrison who devoted any rare quiet time to his studies for a PhD on Shelley, and the older cadre who, as we sheltered behind a stone wall from Israeli snipers, showed me photographs of his family in Israel that he had not seen for sixteen years.
Thirty eight ever more shameful years have passed since then, the contemptible Oslo Accords, the courageous desperate intifadas, the ever intensifying Israeli state oppression, wall building, dispossession, land grabbing, racist persecution and genocidal onslaughts on Gaza. Thirty eight more years of US unconditional support for Israel, of UN resolutions, of the impotence of the international community. Above all, of the unrelenting suffering of the Palestinian people in Israel and in exile. I am 79, the Palestinians have endured and resisted their Calvary for 67 of them.
Of course we support BDS. “Bridges”?
Roy Battersby, director
… We, too, seek to inform and encourage dialogue about Israel in the wider cultural and creative community. Indeed, we relish the prospect of a universal awareness of the realities of Zionism. We believe passionately in BDS and we broadly share the same views on the racist policies of the Israeli government. We also share a steadfast desire for the peaceful coexistence of the Palestinian people and an Israeli-Jewish population disabused of the current prevailing Jewish-supremacist opinion that holds an ethos of virulent racism and the practice of ethnic cleansing to be acceptable in the 21st century.
… Given the failure of peace initiatives and of all other approaches over decades, Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions, including cultural boycotts singling out and isolating Israel are now the only remaining route to peace. Peace, by any other means, is no more than a euphemism for the complete submission of the Palestinian people to live under their Israeli masters as a ghettoed underclass on the discontinuous bantustan fragments of the systematically-resource-impoverished rump of their own land. That is not going to happen. “No justice, no peace” is not merely slogan; it is also a plain fact…
Jimmy Powdrell Campbell, writer and composer
As an education development consultant in the 1990s I witnessed first hand the subtle oppression of the Palestinian people at the very time the Oslo accord was supposed to be ushering in new peace talks. Time and time again the state of Israel has mobilised propaganda to deflect from their persecution of the people of Palestine through encouraging settlers’ occupation and annexation of the land designated Palestinian. No artist of conscience can sanction their open disregard of human rights by providing a semblance of a dialogue of equals.
Carolyn Yates, writer
I would also reply to Culture for Coexistence that it is fine to have culture links, but to talk of coexistence in a situation where the existence and wealth and territorial possession of one section of a population over another is not co-existence but apartheid.
Pat Bryden, teacher, literature
Many of those signed up to the “Culture for Coexistence” statement have form as partisans of the Israeli state, and as apologists for its brutal and remorseless campaign of politicide: their spurious concern for ‘coexistence’ is a commitment to Israeli supremacy, and need not detain us. It needs to be demanded of the others, some of whom perhaps even signed in a good faith (if incredible and wilfully myopic) belief that this is the best hope for peace, why they choose to deny oppressed Palestinians – including countless Palestinian artists and writers – the solidarity for which they have, for over a decade, been calling.
China Miéville, writer
‘Culture for Co-existence’ could be seen as wilfully naive or an intentional distraction from the realities of the Israeli occupation of Palestine. How can you have ‘dialogue’ with a violent oppressor (Israel) who does not listen & has no respect for world opinion or international law, as shown by its continual flouting of UN resolutions & war crimes against an oppressed people? How would ‘building bridges’ stop Israel from confiscating Palestinian land, demolishing homes, building illegal settlements, dropping bombs on & shooting unarmed civilians?
The conflict has been going on for far too long to be engaging in such mealy mouthed appeasement. The cultural boycott is a means of grassroots international pressure while our governments not only do not take action against Israel, they sell it arms.
Deborah Fink, soprano and music teacher
As the son of a Jewish refugee, the anger and despair I feel can only faintly echo that of the people of Gaza. Art is a celebration of humanity, and the symbolic gesture of refusing any artistic collaboration with a state which values its own contribution to the arts so highly is the least we can do to protest against the horrifying inhumanity of its actions.
Michael Radford, film director and screenwriter
I’m just back from a week’s work in Ramallah at the Ashtar theatre. Visiting Palestine brought home to me more vividly than before the crazily oppressive conditions there. Things in Gaza are far worse of course and when bombs fall it’s in the news but meanwhile the everyday enraging pettiness of occupation backed by violence goes on and on – the fast road you can’t drive on unless you are an Israeli or have special ID, the town you can’t live in with your wife – and the illegal Israeli settlements expand. Israel wants to use theatre, dance, music, to show a different side of itself in the hope the world will overlook its crimes.
Caryl Churchill, playwright
Because as an artist I wish to pursue a moral journey through life and the right and wrongs here are very clear to me. A suffering group has asked for my support; it cannot be withheld.
My support for the Palestinian cause is fiercer because I am Jewish and I honour the strengths of that religion and the suffering my people have experienced through the years. My visits to Palestine showed me at first hand how the people there are treated by Israeli forces. Their lack of humanity disgusts me – I want no part of it. I realise we were fed a lie about the foundation of the State of Israel, a lie forged certainly out of desperate need to help the dispossessed millions devastated by the horror of the Nazi regime. But to force people from their homes, from their ancestral lands – that is no answer. We are punishing the wrong people. Israel exists; I can never support destruction of a people. Terrorism (which comes from both sides) is the answer for thugs – not for me. We have to share the land not by creating borders and walls, but by removing them. We are all human beings, Israelis, Palestinians – even the Saudis. Please, let us try harder to return to that attitude. And Jews of the Diaspora have a duty to bring pressure to bear on the Israeli government to be change. Remember, ISIL is no part of Palestine. Those criminals are the Palestinian’s enemy too.
Miriam Margolyes, actress
I often feel in despair when I think of the suffering of the Palestinian people living and dying under an apartheid state that disregards international law and universal principles of human rights. I agonise over what I, as one individual, can do to help right such an enormous wrong. This boycott pledge is an action that all of us in the artistic community can take. Who knows what it may lead to? We have the example of South Africa to inspire us. Desmond Tutu said that South Africa could not have achieved its freedom and peace without the help of people around the world who through the use of non-violent means, such as boycotts, encouraged their governments to reverse decades-long support for the Apartheid regime. How wonderful if such a small action on our parts could lead to a similar huge change in the fortunes of the oppressed people of Palestine. It will cost artists very little to join this boycott but could help achieve justice, freedom and a lasting peace.
Alexei Sayle, comedian, author and actor
There are of course many Israeli artists and arts organisations who make and present work which is sensitive towards the conflict and open to Palestinian voices: the choice not to present work in Israel is not an attack on Israeli artists, but rather a recognition that the thing you do may not be appropriate in a situation of ongoing violent conflict, and that to ignore that is to support the idea that everything is under control and life and culture continue as normal, while bombs fall.
Jonathan Burrows, choreographer
Freedom of expression is not only about having the right to ridicule prophets, as in Charlie Hebdo, but also highlighting decades of continuous criminal occupation, injustice and lack of critical stances regarding the politics of the state of Israel. The Israeli state and lobby worldwide represses and censors all those who do not serve their agendas, including Jewish writers and other intellectuals who take a stand against the criminal policies of its state, from bombarding schools in Lebanon and Palestine to killing UN soldiers. Are these daily criminal facts expressed in western media? Hardly.
Rose Issa, curator, producer and writer
Let’s not pretend there is an equality of threat, grievance or grieving in this decades long injustice. All fair minded people should support this boycott and its cause.
Richard Price, writer
I thought long and hard about my decision to join the Cultural Boycott on Israel. The Israelis who care about us boycotters – who would be disappointed that we weren’t coming to Israel – are almost certainly the ones who share our feelings about what is going on there, so, on the face of it, if anyone actually suffers from the boycott, it’s them. I’m sure the majority of Israelis wouldn’t care whether most of us ever came to Israel or not. So what does it achieve? It sends a message: ‘We will not perform in Israel since we believe that by performing there we will be endorsing the status quo. We don’t support it and we won’t be part of it.’ That ‘we’ includes an ever-growing number of people who hope that their voices will become loud enough to make Israel stop and think.
It’s a platitude to say that some of my best friends are Jews, but it happens to be true. And some of them are Israeli Jews – resident there or elsewhere. It’s from talking to them, as well as my Palestinian friends, that I arrived at my decision to support BDS. That’s not to say everyone was unanimous in advocating it: it’s a difficult decision, and it risks turning culture into a political weapon. But in Israel today, culture already is a political weapon. And the danger is that the culture we create becomes co-opted into the Israeli arsenal.
Israel has long seen itself as a democratic, liberal nation – an outpost of the community of Western nations, sharing our values. For the Jews who live there, this is largely true. Unfortunately, the Palestinians who also live there are being treated in much the same way that the 19th century Europeans settling America treated the Native Americans – they’ve been recast as the enemy, the intruders.
And as Israeli politics drifts further and further to the right, the treatment of the Palestinians gets worse: the ‘two state solution’ that everybody used to claim to aspire to becomes increasingly untenable as Israeli settlers steal more and more Palestinian land…. soon there’ll be nothing left for a second state. The Palestinians know that and they know that it’s in Israeli interests to keep the ‘peace process’ going for as long as possible – for, all the time it’s happening, their land is being stolen, Gaza is periodically obliterated, and life and hope in the West Bank slowly strangled. Israel is turning into a darker, crueller country: and while it’s obvious that the Palestinians are losing their land, in a less tangible way the Israelis are losing theirs too. This is not the homeland their parents and grandparents dreamed of.
I want to end with a quotation from a man whose voice carries far more moral authority than most of us can claim: Stephane Hessel fought in the French Resistance, survived Buchenwald concentration camp, and went on to help write the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. For the last two decades of his life he campaigned vigorously for the rights of Palestinians. He died in 2013, aged 95. He wrote:
The absence of meaningful action from governments to hold Israel accountable to international law leaves open one path for citizens of conscience: to take this responsibility upon themselves, as done against apartheid South Africa … I believe that the BDS initiative is a moral strategy which has demonstrated its potential for success.
I have come to believe that too. I invite other artists to consider it. You might not come to the same conclusion and of course that’s your right … but please give it some thought.
Brian Eno, composer
I have worked with artists in Palestine for nearly 20 years and I have seen first hand the hardship, suffering, and injustice that the Palestinian people have had to endure.
Elyse Dodgson MBE, international theatre director
We are having an effect, we are helping all those courageous Israelis and Palestinians who are trying to make peace for themselves and for their neighbours. Join us on the barricades. The air above the parapet is clean.
Roger Waters, musician
As with South Africa and the terrible injustice of apartheid, I do not wish to creatively engage with Israel whilst it persists in building on illegally-occupied Palestinian land and continues to humiliate and terrify the Palestinian people.
Susan Wooldridge, actor
The cause of the Palestinians is the great cause of our time. Their oppression by the State of Israel breaks international law and the Geneva Convention. The U.S. finances and supports those crimes, along with Britain and the European Union. In those circumstances, civil society must act. The boycott of cultural projects sponsored by the Israeli State is the least we can do. Many of us think the boycott should be more extensive!
Ken Loach, film director
As a South African I witnessed the way the cultural boycott of South Africa helped apply pressure on the apartheid government and its supporters. This Artists’ Pledge for Palestine has drawn lessons from that boycott to produce an even more nuanced, non violent way for us to call for change and for justice for all. That is why I support this pledge.
Gillian Slovo, writer
This is just to confirm my signing the pledge in support of Palestinian artists, to be given the same rights and conditions in which to work that we take for granted in our privileged worlds.
Vanessa Jackson, artist and lecturer
Against the occupation of Gaza, against anti-Semitism.
Ed Luker, poet
I am constantly shocked and dismayed at the world’s indifference to the continuing plight of the Palestinian people at the hands of the genocidal Israeli government. I hope this statement shines some light on this gross injustice.
Patrick Neville, actor
Leon Rosselson, songwriter and children’s author
I sign because, having toured the West Bank, I had seen the horrifying reality of military occupation, of social and political control, of pathological bullying and mindgames, of obfuscation, violence, violation, aggressive encroachment and nihilism. Israel’s behaviour is both illegal and immoral. My one consolation at this time is that, following its siege and bombardment of Gaza and the increasing volume and number of critical voices globally, the eyes of the world are turned on Israel’s propagandistic lies, disingenuous arguments and abusive behaviour.
Bidisha, human rights journalist, broadcaster and author
I have signed up but not without some soul searching … cultural boycotts are difficult – idealistically there is the hope that culture can transcend boundaries, conflicts, and differences … but that does not stop a point being made – a protest against vile brutality. I visited Israel in 2006. It was a painful time. The students I worked with were heart broken by their country’s policies on Palestine. Many of them refused military service, thus jeopardising their futures in catastrophic ways. My eyes were opened. I did not know there was such dissent.
I was working as a visiting artist at Bezalel Academy. Most discussions became extremely political … I was educated in so many ways, particularly by a Palestinian Arab Christian who was a student at Bezalel … I had no idea this was possible. And so many young Israelis who were the children of sole survivors of the Holocaust. And many whose grand parents had had dreadful experiences trying to seek asylum in the UK between 1938-1947 … a shocking part of British history (again).
As an overview, the students’ work was intense, powerful and metaphorical. Landscape, as land/territory, rather than as a view or a site, featured heavily, with a tension imposed on it through brooding colour, heavy forms, and an ambiguous space, or with video works, the chilling absence of humanity … and installations that were minimalist but in a way that harked back to Arte Povera – fragmented and broken, often using text which crossed over between Hebrew and Arabic. I realised my ignorance of the intricacies of the subject matter if not the content, and how ill equipped I was to offer any kind of equivalent experience, and therefore ill equipped to critique their work beyond trying to get inside the heads of the young artists who had produced the work.
The horrific wall was a violent confrontation, with Israeli soldiers, glamorous in their dark glasses, rolled up shirt sleeves and tight trousers, sauntering casually, lolling against the road block as if without a care in the world … ordering us about, frisking us with the butts of their guns, as if for fun – this was the horrific side of Israel … a display of exaggerated confidence and nasty bravado for the tourists … it goes without saying, that an equivalent visit to Palestine would have been far more shocking and far more disturbing.
I have signed up for a cultural boycott of Israel … Signing in support of the Israeli Cultural Boycott is more of a signing of support for Palestinian Artists … a positive rather than a negative.
Phyllida Barlow, visual artist
Until Israel respects the sovereignty of Palestine, its borders, its freedom to govern itself and the freedom of movement of its people, there will be no peace in that region.
Tom Adams, musician
This call for boycott by Palestinian artists is in the spirit non-violent protest against a deeply oppressive and frequently violent occupation that is now in its 48th year. As a British artist who is also a Jew, I feel shame that a country that insists on speaking in my name, and which calls itself a Jewish state, has chosen to re-invent Jewish identity in terms of the oppressor, when its centuries long identity as outcast should have enabled a greater level of complexity and compassion to be brought to bear on this territorial conflict between two peoples.
Sonja Linden, playwright
The Jewish people have made an invaluable and incalculably vast contribution to the arts. I hope that our many Jewish colleagues will join us in this protest so that our opposition to the actions of the Israeli Government can in no way be portrayed as an act of anti-semitism or misappropriated as an endorsement of those who would deny Israel’s legitimate right to peaceful co-existence in the world.
Anthony Neilson, theatre writer and director
As a former South African, who lived through the overthrow of apartheid, I know how effective a cultural boycott can be.
Lindsay Bremnar, director of Architectural Research, University of Westminster
The world is divided into people who think they are right. Israel vs. Palestine: Israel supported by vested interests in the western world and by the deep need of the Jewish people to return to an ancestral home; Palestine, a harassed, displaced people supported by their determination to reclaim their ancestral land. It is not a fair fight. The Israeli incursions upon Palestinian land and the recent bombardment of Gaza are only recent examples of ongoing unwarranted and brutal acts by Israel. I am supporting the Palestinians. Full stop.
Peggy Seeger, artist and teacher
Zionism was founded on an enlightened principle of secular tolerance and harmony, a far cry from the repressive, destructive, aggressive state Israel has now become. Nobody questions its right to exist, but, sadly, to support Israel’s cultural institutions now is to support hypocrisy.
Mike Leigh, film director and writer
I’m supporting the Artists’ Pledge for Palestine because if we are neutral in situations of injustice, we have chosen the side of the oppressor.
Art and culture are a part of politics, not apart from it.
Cultural boycott is an opportunity to act in solidarity with our fellow Palestinian artists and writers who are censored and excluded from freedom of expression. By supporting cultural boycott, we are actively engaging and encouraging open debate and discussion, not disengaging. Cultural boycott is a valuable non-violent means of expressing our moral opposition to the relentless daily coercion, indignities, discrimination, occupation and territorial expansion on which political Zionism is based.
As I have been dismayed to experience first hand, some of our British cultural institutions are giving in to pressure and scare-tactics that censor free expression and gag open dialogue and debate. Our working environment as writers and artists is not somehow mystically free from the imbalances of power and the effects of censorship that are built into the day to day realities of the military occupation and the wall. If we perform or participate in government funded Israeli public culture, we are co-opted and exploited by the powerful state propaganda machine.
Courageous Israeli and Palestinian artists and writers risk and withstand constant oppression and attack for a taking a stand opposing the violence and racial apartheid of the current State of Israel. They need our solidarity, not our neutrality.
Rachel Holmes, writer
People ask – why a cultural boycott of Israel? Why not other regimes? Because Israel has displaced, exiled and imprisoned an entire people, the Palestinians. Because Israel aspires to be a democracy even as it thrives on its apartheid treatment of its non-Jewish citizens. Because Britons have an especial duty to right the historic wrong when Great Britain enabled the occupation of Palestinian land for Zionist settlement. Because the most important Palestinian political and non-governmental organisations have asked us to.
Andy de la Tour, actor and writer
It is essential to use every tool we have to communicate to the Israeli Government and the people of Israel, as well as our own complicit government and that of the USA, the deep repugnance felt by all who value basic human rights, international law and freedom of speech at the Apartheid and injustice under which the Palestinian people continue to exist. This goes far beyond even the hell of the situation in Gaza. As communicators and lovers of Free Speech it pains us to have to support this necessary boycott. We deeply resent being accused of antisemitism when we criticise the actions of the State of Israel.
Liz Lochhead, playwright and Makar (national poet for Scotland)
As an artist whose work is concerned with the plight of Palestinians, the result of an insidious yet systematic process of ethnic cleansing over the past 67 years, and as one who has worked closely with Palestinian artists, living both in refugee camps across the region and behind the atrocious Apartheid Wall in the Occupied Territories, I support their appeal for fellow artists around the world to maintain a cultural boycott of Israel, a state which discriminates against one fifth of its citizens, maintains an illegal occupation in the West Bank and Gaza, and continues to expand illegal settlement building in defiance of UN and International Criminal Court resolutions.
Jane Frere, visual artist
This Cultural Boycott is a non-violent gesture of support for those Palestinians trapped in Gaza and those Israelis who disapprove of their Government’s actions.
Mike Hodges, film director
I have writer friends, journalists, colleagues working in Israel: Israelis who are also fighting – and have been for a long time – for these atrocities to cease, for Palestinians to be given their rights. It is the extremists who must be curbed. We as artists are in a unique position. Our voices can join together and rise above the shock and disgust and we need, at all times, to remain centred and without prejudice. Anti-semitism is being fomented and that, too, is intolerable. Human rights for all and peace. These need to be our aims, our vision.
Carol Drinkwater, writer/actress/filmmaker
There will be no peace in Israel-Palestine until the Palestinian people have justice. The present situation in Gaza is born of the Israeli siege of Gaza, which like all sieges of towns and territory is a war against civilians. We thought that this was a method of warfare of the past but now we see it is very much of now, justified by Netanyahu’s claim that he is a lone fighter against Islamicism. This obscures the fact that it is US-Israeli-UK policy in the Middle East that denies autonomy and justice and feeds the desire for military responses from those who are besieged, oppressed and denied territory and control over their own detiny. The world’s governments have shown themselves to be unwilling or unable to aid the Palestinians in their just struggle for justice. This leaves us to take matters into our own hands and make it harder and harder for the state of Israel to perpetrate its cruel unjust policies.
Michael Rosen, writer – professor.
When governments won’t act, the people have to apply pressure wherever, whenever and however they can. I will continue to speak out as an artist and as a Jew.
Deborah Fink, soprano and singing teacher
Artists are well known for their progressive views and ideas and, as Jennie Lee had it, they should occupy a central position in society. How significant, then, that we have signed this cultural boycott pledge in protest against Israel’s longstanding repression of Palestine. As an architect I’m drawn to Brecht’s statement that ‘The gesture precedes the word’ and found, when I chaired UK Architects Against Apartheid, that among our other fronts, effective action could be taken for a cultural and academic boycott with that thought in mind. Now, in words and as a gesture, I hope that many will be moved to support and join this pledge; a clear contribution towards the liberation of Palestine.
Peter Ahrends, architect
Israel is still trying to play the ‘victim’ card, when it is clearly now the strongest power in the Middle East. It pretends that Gaza is a threat to its existence when the truth is the precise opposite. Its slavish supporters will try to blame everything on Hamas, put the spotlight on to other nasty regimes and back Israel’s pose as a ‘liberal democracy’. Well, not under its current regime. Israel then claims to be doing everything in the name of Jewry worldwide whereas Holocaust survivors have condemned its behaviour.
No. NOT in my name. I’m not a ‘self-hating Jew’ (whatever that means, anyhow).
However, I do hate all killing and I expect a Jewish state that should understand what Jews have gone thorough over the centuries, NEVER to oppress a minority group and NEVER to indulge in disproportionate killing.
Last but not least, Israel claims to be seeking ‘peace’ but what it actually seeks is surrender and subjugation.
Earl Okin, musician
I dream of a one nation state, a united Palestine and Israel that defines citizenship by neither religion nor race, but by those prepared to live together in peace. I cherish the invaluable cultural contributions to our world made by both Jews and Arabs.
Barnaby Rogerson, writer and publisher
I wish it wasn’t the case, but it has become necessary to take this kind of action. I sign the pledge, and give my support, with hope.
Hayley Carmichael, actor
My reasons for supporting the pledge are various and deep and arise as a result of both my professional work and a number of close relationships with people of both Arab (including Palestinian) and Jewish backgrounds. In the 1970s, I worked on the series TV “The World At War” and was responsible for making the programmes dealing with the Holocaust. While working in Israel on the series, I met and worked with many Israelis who had very enlightened and positive relationships with Palestinians and as a result I got to know a number of Palestinians.
While working in Israel, I was taken by an Israeli colleague to visit Gaza and was deeply shocked by what I saw in Gaza City which reminded me all too clearly of the kind of thing which I was often watching in searching through archive film footage for my programmes about the Holocaust of the Jewish ghettoes created across Europe by the Nazis. Some years later, I was working in Jerusalem on a drama for the BBC during the First Intifada and was taken by enlightened Jewish colleagues who were joining the protests against the treatment of the Palestinians by the Israeli government.
My strong sympathy for the cause of justice for the Palestinian people grew out of those experiences. At the same time, my sympathy for the plight of the Palestinian people in no way diminishes my ongoing commitment to the cause of fighting anti-semitism in all its forms, both in this country and abroad. My argument in this matter is with the policies towards the Palestinians of the current Israeli Government and not in anyway with Jews or the Jewish people.
Michael Darlow, writer and retired TV director/producer
I signed because I am a human being. All forms of art change people by opening their eyes to humanity in all its suffering and its beauty. I feel it is incumbent on Israel to treat Palestine and its people justly before it can seek to be a patron of the arts overseas.
Hanan Al-Shaykh, writer
I watched in horror as the bloody events unfolded last summer, it appeared history was indeed repeating itself. As part of the response we staged Caryl Churchill’s Seven Jewish Children at The Arcola to raise funds for Medical Aid For Palestinians. As an artist I wish to publicly assert that I do not support the policy of the Israeli government in Gaza and aim to continue to give voice to the people of this region.
Shane Dempsey, artistic director, fragments
One of the most common criticisms of the boycott strategy I have encountered from my fellow visual artists is that it impedes discussion with those Israelis who wish to end the occupation, or are at least open to persuasion. But in my own experience the precise opposite is true. My unwillingness to visit or show my work in Israel has triggered numerous exchanges with both Israeli and British friends and colleagues, addressing awkward issues that might otherwise have been avoided by both sides. There is no doubt that boycott has generated heated debates and intense disagreements around the world, sometimes resulting in entrenched positions. But in my opinion it is absolutely necessary at this point in time – after the dismal failure of decades of reasoned argument, what other peaceful options are open to us? The existence of the cultural boycott reminds all of us of the continuing brutal oppression of the Palestinian people, pushing each of us to let others know where we stand and stopping us from pretending that cultural exchange can take place in a vacuum, outside of any political or moral context.
John Smith, artist filmmaker
I’m boycotting all Israeli products until the Palestinians are treated as human beings by their Israeli occupiers. It worked in South Africa.
Lawrence Molloy, artist, arts technician, event organiser
I welcome and salute this pledge of support and solidarity by my fellow artists. Israeli arts institutions cannot expect normal interaction with international arts organisations whilst the Israeli state behaves in such an unconscionable fashion towards the Palestinians in their midst, and even less when some Israeli artists accept to work as unofficial propagandists for the State’s Hasbara programme. I hope, moreover, that this action will throw a light on those producers, presenters, programmers and curators in the UK who have been so reluctant to contemplate, vis a vis Israel, the kind of stand they made against Apartheid South Africa and to act accordingly. They will not help anyone, in the long term, if they acquiesce in ‘fixing’ the message, rather than on showing the reality of oppression, discrimination and dispossession.
Reem Kelani, musician
Unwarranted aggression holds no argument or persuasion of any cause, it merely breeds further aggression, and to force that aggression on innocents is abhorrent to all intelligent life.
David Rushmer, writer
This is a hard-thought decision but I find, finally, no better way of expressing my disengagement from the inhuman actions the Israeli government has embarked on.
Julian Evans, writer
I read Israeli writers, take an interest in art and theatre of Israel, and I’ve worked with Israeli film directors. So it upsets me when people hear about a boycott, and think this involves censorship or, worse, an attack on artists and free speech. In truth, this is a very narrow boycott, targeting the use of Israeli state funds. We are less likely to hear the ‘free speech’ argument now that Israel explicitly excludes its own citizens from using state funds if they refuse to sign a pledge that they are true Israelis. But there is a wider point: Israel isn’t a free and liberal state that just happens to exploit and imprison Palestinians and steal their land, on the side, as it were. The way it treats Palestinians is essential to the way they balance their budgets and keep taxes low, and funds artists and sports teams. Asking our fellow Israeli artists to look for another source of funds for their work isn’t unreasonable – on the contrary, it’s the right thing to do.
Nicholas Blincoe, writer
All power to Gaza, all power to Palestine, all power to the Palestinians.
Stephen Willey, poet
It saddens me beyond measure that the necessity for this boycott has arisen. But I think there is no choice.
Helena Nelson, publisher and poet
2015 began with four babies freezing to death in Gaza, and the UN halting the rebuilding of the homes of the 108,000 left homeless by Israel’s summer offensive of 2014 for lack of promised international funding. Meanwhile in the West Bank in a month the Israeli military demolished 77 homes, farm buildings and other Palestinian structures, leaving 110 people homeless in the worst of the winter, and settlers destroyed 515 ancient olive trees in attacks in Hebron, Nablus, and with them the livelihoods of whole villages.
Every indicator of military and settler violence against Palestinians moves remorselessly up – from more settlement building to children in prison. All these facts and many hundreds more which show Israel’s ruthless ignoring of international law, are well known. Politicians in Europe fail to see Palestinians as humans or they would take the political action they can and impose sanctions and boycotts against this shaming record.
Victoria Brittain, writer
When the most powerful governments in the world refuse to hold the state of Israel accountable to international law, the Geneva conventions and every basic moral principle, we as artists may seem a less powerful community. But we are not. We have to mobilise, rally and support the Palestinian people in this urgent mission. Our collective humanity, on both sides of these fragile borders, is at stake.
Ian Rickson, theatre director
I have never been asked to work in Israel, and such an invitation is unlikely. But I support and encourage anyone who refuses such invitations, as a matter of principle. If we are to urge Palestinians to fight non-violently for justice, as I would, then we have a duty to use every non-violent means ourselves to put pressure on the Israeli government. This is what Palestinian and Israeli campaigners for justice are asking of us. It does not mean we think Israel is a uniquely evil country or that there are no domestic issues to which we should be paying attention. Neither is a refusal to work in Israel a self-righteous stance for its own sake, or a claim to be untainted by all moral compromise. We in Britain must look at corporate sponsorship, the role of the defence industry and the insidious militarisation of our national life, especially in education. Israel stands as a useful warning as to what happens when the army gains iconic status in a country. And we need to think about human rights abuses, and colonialism and occupations all over the world.
But to focus on the issue of Israel and the Palestinians is not to ignore anything else, any more than cancer researchers are showing a cavalier disregard for heart disease or dementia. This issue demands and deserves our attention. A targeted and thoughtful cultural boycott is a workable strategy to pressurise the Israeli government and to shame our governments, which fete and fawn over Israel as a treasured part of the Western alliance, uniquely deserving of unstinting solidarity and support.
We are not attacking or condemning Israel’s writers, performers, musicians, painters or academics; we recognise that, by nature, they are likely to be among the progressive voices of Israel. Neither do we believe that Israeli opinion is monolithic, even within its establishment. But Israeli policy is clothed in respectability by the talent and creativity of the country’s artists and intellectuals, and by the willingness of those outside Israel to take part in its cultural and academic life. So a refusal on our part to co-operate is at the very least, a refusal to turn our backs on the Palestinians and a refusal to be make their plight worse by being enlisted in the Israeli government’s propaganda war.
Jeremy Hardy, comedian
As we rightly remember the Holocaust that killed so many Jewish people and destroyed much of Jewish culture across Europe, so we also need to remember the devastating violence being directed at Palestinian people and their culture today – and ponder the disturbing fact that this is being organised by the Jewish state created after World War II.
Ian Christie, cultural historian, broadcaster
Until there is peace and parity in Palestine, with every citizen able to live free from oppression and access to all necessary resources for a dignified life, there will be no peace in the world.
Tracy Gillman, theatre artist
A racist apartheid wall; an armed occupation in support of land theft; countless human rights violations against Palestinians, and notably their children, (violations often chronicled by Israeli human rights organisations); unchecked settler violence against civilians, property and crops. All these offences are deemed illegal by the UN and the International Court of Justice. [Still to be known are the war crimes Israel committed in its brutal slaughter in Gaza in 2014.] People around the world express their revulsion and yet the Security Council and Governments (here in particular) do NOTHING. ‘Democratic’ Israel meanwhile continues to flout international law with impunity. It is left to us as individuals in civil society to say ‘ENOUGH’. Boycott!
David Calder, actor
In the absence of any meaningful action from western governments ordinary people need to speak up against oppression wherever it occurs. As a ‘small scale’ practicing artist, I am unlikely ever to be invited to participate in any Israeli linked initiative or project, but in any case would undoubtedly refuse. Human rights seem to have no part to play in the current plan to destroy the Palestinian community.
Sarah McDade, artist, ceramics
Apartheid is Apartheid. Injustice is Injustice. Occupation is Occupation. This is all things.
Inua Ellams, artist
The last 60+ years of the Israel/Palestine conflict strongly suggest that military power continues to be of greater relevance to political outcomes in the modern world than ideas like human rights, an international sense of fairness, the UN, the global media etc.. This is a poor reflection on humanity. Among many other things, it puts the artist in hock to the soldier – something few artists would like to be true.
Adrian Hornsby, theatre writer
I abhor the way in which the Palestinian people are being used by fundamentalists, both Zionist and Islamic, who stand against most everything I believe in, persecuted for wanting to live in their own country and used as human shields in their exile.
James Mackay, moving image producer and curator
This inhumane stranglehold over the dignity and day-to-day existence of the Palestinian people must be dissolved. If by adding my signature to this pledge, I can add my support for a struggling nation to the rippling groundswell of opinion, if it will help to reanimate hope for a trauma free future, help even one child to enjoy their childhood without constant fear of punishment or incarceration, then I feel it’s worth it. To be a working artist means to care about injustice on a personal and international level. Not to speak out is to be complicit in an unjust, racist mindset. This particular boycott, supported by many voices around the world, could be a powerful tool in helping to create a new paradigm based on equality and justice, rather than power and paranoia.
Not in my name.
Norma Cohen, actor
I believe very strongly in this boycott and you can read my analysis of its impact on music here.
Somaye Zadeh, singer/musician
We the people.
We the people are responsible for the lives of the people in
our home, in our community, in our country and in our world.
We the people are connected.
I breathe. You breathe.
We breathe the same air.
I breathe. You breathe.
When we laugh, we laugh together.
When we cry, we cry together.
Regardless of difference we are one.
Borders may separate us.
Distance may separate us.
But our heads, hearts and hands know the truth.
Underneath my identity, my shame, my fear I love you.
If I speak, we speak. Our dialogue breaks boundaries.
If I act, we act. And our actions together co-create the future.
Ruth Cross, cross collaborations arts activist
I am horrified by the actions of Israel. They must be made to see reason for the sake of the innocents on both sides of the conflict and the whole of the Middle East.
Katharine Marshall, music artist
No to Israeli Apartheid. Justice for Palestine!
Pablo Navarette, film director and producer
In 1968 I shot and co-directed a film in a Palestinian village in Israel entitled ‘On our land’. The film was about the Palestinians who had fled from their land in 1948 in response to Israeli aggression. The people in the village who had very little, looked after our crew, including the female producer, and were always kind and considerate to us in direct contrast to the Israeli settlers who now farmed their old land.
Jeff Perks, artist and film-maker
I support the application of absolutely any pressure that can be put on the Israeli government to end their illegal occupation of Palestine, remove the blockade of Gaza, and evacuate the Israeli settlements on Palestinian land. Only then can we begin to address the long-term issues of equality between the Arab and Jewish populations.
Douglas Robertson, photographer
Having grown up in a so called republican heartland of Northern Ireland there is one thing I do know: there is no way, in anyone’s universe, that a population would give their vote to a terrorist organisation that used their children as human shields. It’s not logical. What is logical is that Israel is lying.
Abbie Spallen, playwright
It is important our skills are not appropriated by countries that do not respect International law or basic human rights and Israel is one.
Chris Thomas, film director
Whatever happened to empathy in the Jewish story? Ordinary Israelis, rise up against your warmongering leaders whose actions are wholly lacking in imagination.
Guy Sherwin, film artist/performer and teacher
We absolutely cannot plead ignorance of the fact that this is genocide of the Palestinian people. The one-sided, often blatantly wrong reportage in the west is not just about bad journalism and ugly domestic agendas – this sort of response to injustice to protect the economic and political status quo fosters a loveless world. If the footage of wounded children and their desperate parents, bombings of schools and funerals that reaches us every few hours, can’t open our hearts and show us the consequences of apathy and playing political over human agendas then it is a scary time we live in. I believe that people are good but sometimes our goodness gets confused by fear and extremism. This is one such time and it is a small step towards taking responsibility for allowing these Israeli military attacks to go unchecked to boycott economic and cultural exchanges with Israel.
Rita Kalnejais, theatre and film writer
I’m happy to lend my support for this – as I am sure the vast majority of people worldwide do against the shameful and inhuman actions of the Israeli military in Gaza – and sadly so many other atrocities against people – innocent or otherwise – by governments around the world in recent months. Please add me to the petition – as publicly as is helpful to the cause.
Kit Hammonds, independent curator, senior tutor in contemporary art
I ask Israel to turn the other cheek, keep your word and forget playing to the politics of selfishness, so that the real world, of which artists are a part, can do the right things to help end this hideous criminal anger that Israel is displaying.
Paul Watson, documentary filmmaker, writer and teacher
May peace be restored however possible to the people who live in Palestine and Israel.
Tabitha Pope, architect