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Aosdána: Resolution on Israel
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A defence of the resolution which was attacked by the Israeli embassy on the ground that it was biased and misinformed. The author of the resolution explains its background and proves how she was not misinformed and did not mislead the Irish artists.
An open letter to Mr Zion Evrony, Israeli ambassador to Ireland.
Mr Ambassador, who the hell do you think you are, interfering with Irish artists, prescribing what we may or may not reflect upon? Headlines in the Irish Independent of 29 March 07: “ Israeli fury at biased call by artists: Aosdána members urge policy of non-cooperation with state-funded cultural institutions.” You are quoted as saying we had singled out your country for attack and that our decision was “fundamentally wrong, unjust, biased, and based on misunderstanding and misinformation of current affairs in the Middle East.” I wonder that the Irish government does not immediately break off diplomatic relations with Israel for your absurd violation of those articles in the United Nations Charter of Human Rights that guarantee free expression, free exchange of views, the sharing of information and so forth.
But what was it all about? The previous afternoon, at the Annual General Meeting of Aosdána, I had successfully put forward a resolution to the following effect: “Mindful of the 4th of August 2006 call from Palestinian filmmakers, artists and cultural workers to end all cooperation with state-sponsored Israeli cultural events and institutions, Aosdána wishes to encourage Irish artists and cultural institutions to reflect deeply before engaging in such cooperation, always bearing in mind the undeniable courage of those Israeli artists, writers and intellectuals who oppose their own government’s illegal policies towards the Palestinians.” In short, Aosdána members were asked to support their fellow artists in their fight for freedom of expression, unbounded by arbitrary frontiers. Irish artists for years were inhibited by censorship laws and anti-terrorist laws, and now, in our comparative freedom, our ideas, imagination, and skills to implement them, are there to be shared, and that is what we do. And we do have a right to show our opinion of the actions of any state, good or bad, especially when called upon to do so by colleagues who live there.
I proposed the motion to which you took such exception, (a) because I am a Jewish woman and inspired by another Jewish woman, the late Tanya Reinhart, distinguished Professor of Linguistics at Tel Aviv University, whose searing criticism of her own country and her support for an academic boycott brought upon her so much bullying and harassment inside the university that she was forced to leave Israel; and (b) because of my experience when I visited Israel last year. I am a Jew not by choice but by your own constitution which says that the children of female Jews have a right to be Jewish and claim their part in the homeland of Israel. I have therefore a particular right to criticize you, indeed to shout from the roof tops if need be and to get support from any one I please, just as I have a right to criticize my own Irish government and call it criminal when it upholds illegal war by facilitating the USA at Shannon, corrupting our Constitution and betraying the Proclamation of 1916.
Shortly after the Balfour Declaration my uncle in England studied Hebrew and Arabic in order to go to Palestine. However, he must have disagreed with Arthur Balfour’s extraordinary statement that “Zionism, be it right or wrong, good or bad, is rooted in age-long tradition, in present needs, in future hopes, of far profounder import than the desire and prejudices of the 700,000 Arabs who now inhabit that ancient land,” because when he arrived in Palestine he joined the Berit Shalom group which sought peace with the Arabs and a Jewish/Arab bi-national state. In the end he was assassinated, by an Arab. Later on, in the 1960s, his sister, my aunt, retired from medical practice in London to live in Israel, in Caesarea, where she ran a free clinic for poor Arabs and also Jews.
Much as I admire my relatives’ idealism, I have a right to question the origins of the Jewish settlements in Palestine prior to the setting-up of the state of Israel. For instance, in the early years of the 20th century settlers certainly bought land from Arab landowners and paid for it, but what regard was paid to the Arab labourers who were living and working on the land? How many of those landowners were in fact absentees, and how many of the labourers were forced off the land by the settlers?
You say I am misinformed and have misled others. Are you saying that the Women in Black deliberately misled me for their own bias? Every Friday, for nineteen years these Jewish women, now middle-aged and elderly, have stood in the midst of the main shopping area of Tel Aviv with their placards protesting against the illegal occupation of Palestinian territory. They have been vilified, harassed and spat upon. After their vigil is over, they put their placards back into plastic bags and go home to prepare the Sabbath meal. They told me of two gross violations of human rights. Palestinian civilians wounded by Israeli forces are treated in Israeli hospitals but are only allowed one relative to visit them – this person cannot leave the hospital grounds even to buy food, so the Women in Black have to bring it. Also, there are 1200 female prisoners and 300 children in a jail outside Tel Aviv – they are allowed one letter every two months and no Palestinian visitors.
In Jerusalem I met a group of Menonites who had come to monitor the demolition of a Palestinian village and to help Palestinian children going to school; the children’s homes were divided from the school by border controls and they had to wait every day for the arbitrary and changeable hours of the opening of the gates. Israeli settlers would descend like marauders from the hill above, to hurl rocks at the Menonites. The day before my arrival, one of the latter, a young Swiss woman, had been badly hurt.
I went to Ramallah to meet a women’s group. In that city the whole infrastructure has collapsed because of Israel’s economic boycott, no wages paid for months to civil servants, teachers, doctors, nurses, their debts are mounting and many of them have to rely on relatives in the rural areas for food. Hamas is the only organization to provide anything in the way of welfare: it is as though Israel has deliberately engineered the consequent popularity of Hamas in order to justify its own propaganda. While I was with the women’s group, a phone call came in to tell them that Gaza was completely sealed off and there was no milk for any of the babies there. The sense of desperation and imprisonment is only intensified by the huge wall that has been built between the communities, too high to see over, blocking out the sunlight.
I went to Nazareth, a predominantly Arab location, where I visited “Sawt el-Amel, the Laborer’s Voice.” This group is currently resisting the Wisconsin Plan – the latest example of economic and social exploitation, a pilot project of privatised welfare compulsory for the unemployed in several regions. In case of non-cooperation or work-refusal by a participant, his/her income benefits are cut for one or two months; if the companies do not save the state more than 35% of its welfare expenditures, they are sanctioned. It has devastating effects on the populations in the pilot area, which are made up mainly of Arab citizens and new immigrants from Russian-speaking countries and Ethopia … In Nazareth there is a sharp increase of poverty and social disruption.
I entered Israel from Jordan, where 60% of the population are displaced Palestinian refugees, living in limbo. I visited one of the refugee camps where the people have been living for years, scarcely knowing who they are any more – they can neither go back to their land in Palestine nor are they allowed to integrate as Jordanian citizens. I found that crossing from one country into the other was fraught with uncertainty as the opening and closing of the border is completely arbitrary. I was shocked by the arrogance and ignorant discourtesy of the young soldiers of the Israeli border guard, not only towards Arabs: their treatment in particular of three hundred elderly people from India – a “forgotten tribe” of Indian Jews who had decided to immigrate into Israel – was brutally insulting. I witnessed this. Were the soldiers attempting to misinform me by their behaviour?
On the day of the Aosdána meeting, I received a letter from Israel. The writer – a member of the Coalition of Women for Peace – told me, “If I had to capture the current Israeli mood in two words, they would be ‘national disenchantment.’… Is it any wonder that Israelis have begun to notice that patriotism, integrity, and austerity are only words, and the name of the game is profitability? … The ongoing conflict with the Palestinians no longer fills Israel with a sense of meaning … More and more young men and women are avoiding military service … both those who openly and courageously refuse to show up for the draft,” [i.e. risking jail] “as well as those who find excuses for not being able to serve ... The principle of ending the occupation has prevailed.”
Also, the same day, in the Dublin freesheet, the Herald, a headline from Gaza: “Five die as torrent of sewage swamps town.” This is due to the fact that “local authorities have scant resources. Western donors have halted direct assistance to the Palestinian government and Israel has frozen most tax revenues.”
If you really believe I have been misinformed and am now misleading others, why do you not invite every single woman whom I met in Israel and let them tell you what they said to me. Or are you implying, because we are women, that we have no minds of our own and cannot see what we look at? You have impugned not only my honour and the honour of Irish artists but the honour and integrity of hundreds of women in Israel, Arab and Jew.
Incidentally, my organization Women in Media & Entertainment (which has consultative status at the UN, ESOC) wrote a letter to the Israeli Mission at the United Nations, asking how far you are implementing the Security Council Resolution We have not yet had an answer. We were not singling Israel out but sent the same questions to the Missions of Syria, Russia, Iran, Colombia, China, the UK, the USA, Ireland, Angola, Uganda, Sudan and many others. Our theme was “Let the women of the world confront the nations of the world.”