Rejecting boycott, Tom Rob Smith and Tracy Chevalier prepare for Jerusalem International Writers Festival

Israel/Palestine
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‘If a single dominant theme could be said to emerge more from the especially diverse program of the third Jerusalem International Writers Festival, which opens this Sunday night at Mishkenot Sha’ananim and runs through Friday morning, it’s evil’, writes editor of Haaretz Books, David B. Green. He specifies: ‘Nazism, Marxism, radical Islam, nationalism’. 

A lesser evil, narcissism, may be a prerequisite for being a successful writer, so it is perhaps unsurprising that in his only response to a public appeal to boycott the International Writers Festival, British novelist Tom Rob Smith began by underlining his importance to the Hebrew-speaking Israeli public on his Facebook page:

As a writer I’m already highly engaged with my Israeli readers and have been for several years, my three novels are translated into Hebrew, I’ve celebrated their success, conducted interviews with newspapers, answered emails from readers – this visit is a continuation of my relationship with those readers and I’m looking forward to meeting some of them for the first time.

He had no answer for commenter and Israeli citizen from Jerusalem, Ofer N. who invited him to ‘By all means, please engage with your Israeli readers. Naomi Klein and Judith Butler have done that. But the writers’ Festival is an Israeli advocacy tool, sponsored by the highest echelons of Israeli corruption, apartheid corruption to be precise. You and other international friends will be rubbing shoulders and legitimizing people like Shimon Peres, a serial offender against elementary principles of human rights.’ 

The festival is sponsored by the Jerusalem Foundation which, together with the Jerusalem municipality and settler organizations, is responsible for projects of ethnic cleansing in Jerusalem. From their own documents:

The Jerusalem Foundation has pioneered much of the archaeological discovery and preservation projects including the City of David excavations, the major gates of the Old City Walls, the Tower of David Museum and much more.

This gives rather a different meaning to their spiel about how the Foundation’s work ‘touches every population – Jewish, Muslim and Christian – of every social group of every age, in every neighborhood of the city.’ Indeed, the impact is huge and devastating for non-Jews. As War on Want recently reported:

Seven new demolition orders have been issued in the Palestinian town of Silwan. Israeli officials, accompanied by soldiers, sealed off part of Silwan’s al-Bustan neighbourhood on Tuesday while they issued the demolition orders to several homes and businesses. Residents have been given 30 days to appeal.

These new demolition notices come on top of 88 demolition orders already out on homes in the area. The bulldozers can come at any time, and the population lives in fear of imminent eviction. Children in Silwan often take their favourite toys to school, in case their homes are demolished during the day.

The planned destruction of al-Bustan is to make way for a ‘City of David’ tourist site. The tourist industry is a particular flash point, and tensions are running extremely high in East Jerusalem. The new demolition orders in Silwan come on top of the Jerusalem authorities’ announcement that they will build 1,100 new hotel rooms in East Jerusalem in Givat Hamatos, another Palestinian site over the Green Line, and the recent founding of a new settlement in nearby Beit Hanina.

Tom Rob Smith continued, ‘I have no idea what topics of conversation will arise during my sessions. No one at the festival has given me any instructions, or made any demands – I can speak freely.’ This appears to be corroborated by Uri Dromi, director of the Mishkenot Sha’ananim cultural center who was forced to issue a press statement denying the embarrassing assertion of festival director Tal Kremer just one day earlier that “in light of what happened with Nir Baram, we asked this year’s authors to give us the text of their speeches.” 

Other writers targeted by the boycott call, including Tracy Chevalier, are attempting to ‘balance out’ their naïve endorsement of Israeli state apartheid policies by asking Dromi to facilitate meetings with Palestinian authors in Israeli occupied territory, according to Ynet. This is in spite of a further fact they seem to be ignorant of – that the General Union of Palestinian Writers are active members of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee (BNC). 

Palestinians artists and intellectuals do not exist to help ease the consciences of international guests of the Israeli state and agonised Israeli liberals who just want to be ‘better’ soldiers. It is extraordinary to see the number of pitiful appeals by Jewish Israelis targeted by the boycott for ‘support’ and ‘understanding’ from the international community, whilst insisting they cannot give up the privileges they enjoy in an ethnocracy. The BDS campaign asks international artists to ignore these ‘shoot and cry’ Israelis, set aside their own egocentric and private concerns or interests, and stand on the side of the oppressed.

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