Accepting the Jerusalem prize for literature last night, novelist Ian McEwan attacked Israeli policies towards the Palestinians. His audience, which included President Shimon Peres, Culture Minister Limor Livnat and Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat, listened in what the Israeli paper Haaretz described as “polite but tense silence.”
McEwan described “a strand of nihilism which is closing off the future here…Hamas has embraced the nihilism of the suicide bomber… (but it is also)… nihilism to make a long-term prison camp of the Gaza Strip. Nihilism has unleashed a tsunami of concrete across the occupied territories.”
In particular, he condemned the “continued evictions and relentless purchases of Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem, the process of the right of return granted to Jews but not to Arabs, the so-called facts on the ground of hardening concrete over the future, over future generationsof Palestinian and Israeli children who will inherit the conflict and find it even more difficult to resolve than it is today.”
Two days earlier, McEwan had joined Israeli author David Grossman and other peace activists at the weekly protest in Sheikh Jarrah, an area of East Jerusalem where Jewish settlers have been evicting Palestinians. After that event he said, “The welcome I had from various strands of the Israeli peace movement completely vindicated my decision to come. They feel the tide is running against them. I feel it’s very important to support that important hope and conscience. It was very stirring.”
In Britain, McEwan had been subjected to a well-publicised campaign demanding that he refuse the prize and boycott the event. The organisers, calling themselves ‘British Writers in Support of Palestine’, are part of the ‘Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement’, which thinks that Israel is an “apartheid state” and opposes any contact whatsoever with Israeli institutions or individuals, regardless of the politics of those institutions and individuals. One of their supporters, Dr Mona Baker, once sacked two people from their jobs soley on the grounds that they were Israeli citizens. But most of these people are probably not anti-semites who wish to see the destruction of the state of Israel so much as well-meaning but politically ignorant people who want to publicise the fact that they’re on the side of the Palestinians.
McEwan had already answered these people in a powerful reply in their organ of choice, the Guardian. His speech and actions in Jerusalem last week simply went to prove, once and for all, how right he was to choose to help the Israeli peace movement and the Palestinian cause rather than make a futile, counter-productive gesture.