A Palestinian man holds a Palestinian flag during a demonstration against the separation wall in the West Bank village of Bilin west of Ramallah, November 17, 2006. (MaanImages/Fadi Arouri)
The following letters, by Palestinian filmmakers, including Annemarie Jacir and Azza al Hassan, were written to support the cultural boycott campaign of Israeli cultural institutions, and respond to Elia Suleiman’s withdrawal letter. In addition, Juliano Mer Khamis clarifies his position and expresses his support for the boycott.
Yes to Boycott - No to Nationalism!
Juliano Mer Khamis
Oct. 24th, 2006
My recent letter regarding the Palestinian filmmakers’ boycott against Israeli artists and cultural events has been misinterpreted and misused by certain individuals and journalists to justify their own stand against the boycott. I would like to make myself clear. I fully support the boycott, but I want to make a clear distinction between those we should boycott and those we shouldn’t, between who is a supporter and who is an oppressor.
Instead of fearing the presence and cooperation of those Israelis who support us, we must encourage them to continue and intensify their struggle against the occupation. We, the signatories, must not allow those who hypocritically call themselves supporters of the Palestinian cause to ride on our backs and indiscriminately boycott all Israeli artists as their ultimate means of struggling against Israel.
Amongst us are Jews and Palestinians - Muslims and Christians - who hold an Israeli passport, but not out of choice. We live under the Israeli regime but we see ourselves as Palestinians . I have been accused of being a hypocrite; of boycotting, while at the same time being active and performing in, Israeli theatres and cinemas.
To my accusers I say: I have left the Israeli stage, television and cinema as a clear move towards disengaging myself from a society which has narrowed its cultural, political, economic and social activity down to means of oppression, discrimination and humiliation of the Palestinian people. Through my letter I was hoping to call for an open debate to clarify our strategy and tactics, which this Intifada lacks the most - not to gain sympathy and support for myself or for my film. At this point I would like to take the opportunity to call upon my fellow artists and filmmakers to join us in the boycott against those Israeli cultural events and institutions which are supported by the government and which do not take a clear stand against the occupation. I would like to call upon you to join this boycott, which will hopefully expand from the purely artistic and cultural to the academic and financial levels.
Oct. 19th, 2006
Many of the opponents of a cultural boycott of Israeli institutions have been spreading misinformation about boycott and dismantling the hard work of many people. The most incorrect and most harmful fabrication is that the boycott is directed at individual Israelis. Elia’s Suleiman’s recent letter brings up some very important points, namely that certain Israeli individuals have indeed been mistreated at film festivals recently by people who also believe in boycott. This reality is a shame and should be addressed.
To be clear, the call for boycott has always been very explicit - always directed at institutions or organizations that receive Israeli government funds and/or remain silent on Israel’s brutal oppression of the Palestinian people. It has never been directed at individuals. In all the letters, petitions, calls and information about boycott, this has been made absolutely clear.
That is not to say that some people in the world, some who have happened to sign the boycott and some who probably don’t even know if its existence, have not acted on their own accord and possibly acted in ways that are harmful, racist or unfair.
Secondly the boycott is not called for “by Palestinian and Lebanese artists”. The boycott is, in fact, called for by Palestinian artists and asking for the support of the international community in this struggle. If you look closely at the signatories of boycott, you will see that the call is from 123 Palestinian artists. In the long list of non-Palestinian endorsements, you will also see that in fact, more Israelis and Jews have signed in support of boycott than Lebanese. (http://www.pacbi.org/boycott_news_more.php?id=315_0_1_0_C)
As a supporter of the boycott, I believe in what it attempts. As Nelson Mandela said, boycott is not a principle but a tactic depending on circumstances. For many, boycott is a non-violent method to resist the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians. Especially at a time where, after 58 years of resisting Israeli oppression and apartheid, nothing else has worked. So when certain individuals act in ways I may not agree with, I know they do it as independent people. And certainly not in the name of the boycott I signed and believe in.
And with all respect to the Israeli filmmakers who were mistreated, the case for boycott is much bigger than the random incidents that made them feel isolated. As true supporters of the Palestinian cause, I would hope they would understand that and that their solidarity is not so fragile or based on what happens to them at film festivals but rather at what happens to the millions of Palestinians struggling for their freedom every day.
Some Poeticism is Always Needed
by Azza al Hassan
I very much feel that in the history of the Palestinian struggle against Israeli occupation never have Palestinians felt so helpless as much as they feel today. There is an obvious lack of political proposition and as a result, a lack of means to fight this never ending suffering.
The little momentum which the petition for a cultural boycott of Israeli institutions was gaining and the support it was getting by some international artists, festivals and art venues, was like a statement in this dim situation that something can still be done. I know for a fact that if some Israeli artists did not sign this boycott petition, little progress would the boycott have achieved internationally. So attacking Israeli artists who are known to have fought against the oppression which the state of Israeli is exercising becomes like shooting yourself in the foot.
The boycott petition was clearly becoming a pressure tool on Israeli cultural institutions which have not taken a stand against occupation. Its message was clear: “Art and cultural institutions cannot and should not be oblivious to what their state is practising. Apathy is not allowed and the need to take a position against occupation is no longer a choice”.
I suggest that when someone feels a statement and request like the cultural boycott of Israeli institutions petition is being misused, then one should protest the misuse instead of attacking the actually petition. I believe that the reason people signed this petition is because of their strong belief and feelings that: “we should not be so helpless in front of human rights abuse” so I suspect that the petitioners are in no way interested in any “witch hunt”.
I actually signed the petition of the cultural boycott of Israeli Institutions a couple of years ago. When I signed it I wrote a statement saying that my signature is not against Israeli artists but against Israeli institutions which refuse to take a stand against occupation. Since then I have continued to exhibit with Israeli artists “whom I never asked about their political orientation” and in Israeli venues which protested occupation.
It is a great shame that such a simple request like to stand against occupation can be so misunderstood and also abandoned so easily. Maybe some poeticisim is always needed to remain faithful to the original idea.
Dear Mr. Elia Suleiman,
I received this letter that was forwarded from one person to another, and I am very surprised that you didn’t even bother to send it to the email address where you initially sent your endorsement. We will remove your name from the list.
However, your action of protest to boycott the boycott is, if you might allow me, naive. By signing a petition that nowhere includes the boycotting of individuals or individual work, nor does it promote racism or discrimination of any kind, does not make you guilty by association of the misuse by some of the signatories of the “cultural boycott”. If one of the signatories had committed a crime, I assure you, you will not be held responsible just for having your name mentioned on the same petition as that person.
Your quick action to support a fellow Israeli artist is commendable, however, the punishment of a growing campaign of resistance that goes beyond the hundreds of artists and filmmakers, and includes many organizations, and unions and intellectuals and academics in Palestine and around the world, cannot be justified.
[name withheld on request]
One of the petitioners