Commission for Asian Esperanto Movement (KAEM) of World Esperanto Association (UEA)
World Organisation of Young Esperantists (TEJO)
We, citizens in solidarity with the oppressed peoples of the world, and specifically the Palestinian people, have received with surprise, disappointment and dismay the news about the organisation of international Esperanto congresses in Israel in 2013: the Asian Congress in Jerusalem in April and the International Youth Congress in Nazareth in August. We write to you on behalf of all people pleading for peace, human rights and the upholding of international law who have joined the campaign for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against the Israeli system of occupation, colonialism and apartheid.
Ever since its violent creation in Palestine in 1948 and the expulsion of more than 750,000 indigenous inhabitants, Israel has subjected the Palestinian people to policies of dispossession, discrimination and occupation, which have been declared illegal in dozens of UN resolutions. Its colonialist regime oppresses the Palestinians in numerous and diverse ways, depriving them of their basic human rights. In the last decade alone, extrajudicial executions and war crimes carried out by the Israeli army have cost the lives of thousands of people. Currently, Israeli prisons still hold thousands of Palestinian political prisoners, many of them in administrative detention, without trial and without knowing what crime they are accused of. Israel is still practising torture, despite the fact it has signed the International Convention against this inhumane conduct.
Israel illegally occupies the Palestinian territories of the West Bank – including East Jerusalem – and controls the Gaza strip – which has no aerial or maritime sovereignty. (This is in addition to the occupation of the Syrian Golan Heights.) It restricts the freedom of movement of people in these disparate enclaves, separating people in one enclave from their families in others. Some of Israel’s prominent occupation policies are: the construction of the separation and annexation Wall in the West Bank, which was declared illegal by the International Court of Justice in The Hague; the unrestrained building of settlements in the West Bank; the demolition of Palestinian homes in Jerusalem; and the anti-humanitarian blockade suffered by 1.5 million people in the Gaza Strip.
In addition, Israel violates the right of return of millions of refugees, many of whom living in poor refugee camps in nearby countries, and also refuses the return of thousands of Palestinians, who had to emigrate to Europe, the United States or other countries in search of a decent life. Institutionalised racism also discriminates against nearly one and a half million citizens of Israel, the descendants of the Palestinian families who survived the ethnic cleansing carried out by Zionist militias in the late 1940’s and stayed in the territories where the State of Israel was formed. This community, which represents more than 20% of the population of Israel, does not enjoy the same civil, educational, cultural, lingual, social, economic and labour rights as the rest of the population, because they are not Jewish.
Considering the inability and reluctance of the international community to enforce the international law and protect the Palestinian population, more than 170 Palestinian civil society groups – human rights groups, NGOs, cultural and professional associations and trade labour unions – launched in 2005 the international campaign for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against the State of Israel, until it obeys international law. This international non-violent rights-based civil society campaign is inspired by the campaign which helped end the colonialist racist rule of South African apartheid.
Cultural and academic Israeli institutions are also a target for the BDS campaign, unless they explicitly recognize all Palestinian rights under international law, and do not cooperate with Israeli propaganda efforts. Culture can be manipulated for propaganda and ideological or political purposes. Israel is possibly one of the most remarkable examples of subjugating cultural institutions to government politics.The Israeli government invests large sums of money in sending artists and intellectuals to international stages, as well as organizing international cultural and artistic events in Israel, to which representatives, mainly from Europe, the United States and Latin America, are routinely invited.
The cultural project “Brand Israel” was initiated by the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 2006 with the explicit goal to improve Israel’s image abroad, and with another, implicit, objective: to serve as a smokescreen for its illegal occupation of Palestine, violations of international law and war crimes which go unpunished. The subjugation of Israeli culture to propaganda is demonstrated by Nissim Ben-Sheetrit, former deputy director general of the Israeli foreign ministry, publicly stating: “We see culture as a Hasbara [Israeli advocacy] tool of the first rank, and I do not differentiate between Hasbara and culture.”
Aware of this manipulation, important public figures from all over the world dedicated to art and culture publicly declared their refusal to perform and to participate in cultural events which occur in Israel or under the auspices of Israeli institutions, conforming to the recommendations of the campaign for cultural boycott against Israeli apartheid. Artists and intellectuals of many nationalities and origins, including Israelis and Jews, proclaimed their support of cultural boycott as a means to pressure Israel in order to end this colonialist regime. Among the best known are Elvis Costello, Emma Thompson, Roger Waters, Carlos Santana, Pixies, Mike Leigh, Ken Loach, Snoop Dogg, Damon Albarn, Klaxons, Jean-Luc Godard, Brian Eno, Yes Men, Cassandra Wilson, Peter Brook, Udi Aloni, Devendra Banhart, Iain Banks, Eduardo Galeano, Stéphane Hessel, Juan Goytisolo, Ilan Pappe, Naomi Klein, Henning Mankell, Mahmud Darwish, John Berger, Arundhati Roy, Alice Walker and others.
According to Ronnie Kasrils, former senior member of the African National Congress and Minister of Intelligence Services of South Africa, the situation of the Palestinians today is worse than that of black South Africans during apartheid. A visit to Palestine inspired South African Archbishop and Nobel prize laureate Desmond Tutu to say: “Just as we said during apartheid that it was inappropriate for international artists to perform in South Africa in a society founded on discriminatory laws and racial exclusivity, so it would be wrong for Cape Town Opera to perform in Israel.”
The Asian Congress of Esperanto has been scheduled to take place in Jerusalem in April. Do you know that Israel illegally occupies the whole eastern part of Jerusalem, including its Old Town? Do you know how many homes of Palestinians have been demolished by the municipality of Jerusalem in the past decade? Do you know that the Israeli police closed down a Palestinian theatre in order to prevent a Palestinian festival of culture and literature from taking place in Jerusalem?
So severe is the persecution of the Palestinian population in Jerusalem, that the Israeli poet Aharon Shabtai refused to take part in the International Poetry Festival in Jerusalem in 2006, and declared: “Thank you for the invitation to participate in the International Poetry Festival in Jerusalem, 2006, and for the details. I ask that you remove my name from the list of participants. I read nowadays of the barbarism of the Qalandiah checkpoint. I object to an international poets festival in a city where the Arab inhabitants are systematically and brutally oppressed, imprisoned between walls, being robbed of their rights and their livelihood, humiliated in checkpoints, and international laws are trampled. I think that even poets were not allowed in the past, and are not allowed in the present, to ignore persecution and discrimination on a racist and nationalist background.” We add that, all the more so, Esperantists should not ignore it!
International cultural events in Israel are in fact a means of propaganda for normalisation, whitewashing, which can only succeed through the absolute concealment of racial discrimination, ethnic cleansing, and through absolute contempt towards, and disregard towards the indigenous people.
Unfortunately, the Esperanto movement seems not to be an exception to this attitude. In announcements and other updates about the congresses, and in other publications by the Esperanto movement in Israel, there is almost no reference to the Palestinian people, who have been living in what is known today as Israel for centuries, and who have been expelled, persecuted, discriminated against and marginalised for decades. There is also no reference to their culture, language, history or mere existence. They speak of Jewish culture and history and of the Hebrew language, as if Israel were a country of Jews alone. Ignoring and disrespecting the Palestinian people is a phenomenon which seems to pervade Esperanto circles as well. The congress announcements mention the Old Town of Jerusalem and Qumran (near the Dead Sea) as if they were part of Israel, ignoring the fact that they are located in what is not internationally acknowledged to be part not of Israel, but of the occupied Palestinian territories. Additionally, they do not mention that in order to reach Qumran one must travel by roads forbidden or restricted for non-Israelis – even though they are outside Israel.
The relocation of the International Youth Congress to Nazareth (an Israeli city almost exclusively inhabited by Palestinian citizens of Israel) and the inclusion of several indigenous people in the organising committee of the Congress seem to indicate a new trend among Israeli Esperantists. However, the core problem remains unchanged. The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) has defined normalization as “participation in any project, initiative or action which seeks (implicitly or explicitly) to bring together Palestinians or Arabs and Israelis (individuals or institutions), and whose main goal is not resistance and condemnation of the Israeli occupation and all forms of discrimination and oppression against the Palestinian people.” And Esperantists are doing precisely that: all collaborations between Palestinians and Israelis which evade the recognition of the fundamental rights of the Palestinian people have only one name: “Normalisation” (i.e. propaganda, whitewashing the image of a racist apartheid state).
We believe that Esperanto should not be used as a tool of complicity in discrimination and the oppression of an entire people through our silence or disregard.
For these reasons, we appeal to you, asking that the 2013 Asian Congress of Esperanto, as well as the 2013 International Youth Congress not be held in Israel, and that, if possible, they be organised in a country free of racial discrimination, which respects human rights and international law.
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