It seems to me that hand-in-hand with the just condemnation of violent Palestinian response to Israeli occupation should go the encouragement of non-violent methods of resistance. And yet when Palestinian activists and their supporters propose a cultural boycott of Israel, Western libertarians get up on their high horses and castigate them for being against freedom of expression. Take the polemics surrounding the Salon du livre in Paris, which this year has decided to honor Israel, which is celebrating the 60th anniversary of its founding — no cause of celebration for the Palestinians whose familes were forcefully evicted from land they’d occupied for centuries.
The argument of boycott opponents that politics should be separated from a literary event like this is effectively demolished by the fact that tonight’s opening will be inaugurated by Israeli president Shimon Peres, sharing the podium with French cluture minister Christine Albanel.
As a sort of sop to Palestinians, France Culture this morning featured as its guest of honor the Palestinian philosopher Sari Nusseibeh, president of Al Quds, the Arab University of Jerusalem, and author with Anthony David of “Once Upon a Country: a Palestinian Life” (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007). Asked about the boycott, Nusseibeh had a diplomatic response but terminated by simply stating that the issue could have been avoided by France simply not making Israel the guest of honor. I think a better solution — and one that would have promoted real dialog, not the fake interchange defended by the opponents of the boycott — would have been to make both Israel and Palestine the guests of honor. Instead, we were treated with the embarrassing moment where France Culture’s morning host terminated the interview with Nusseibeh by suggesting he check out the Salon du livre. “After all, it’s open to the public.”
Discussing the Palestinian point of view, Nusseibeh shared that he had once asked his mother, who because many of her relatives are among the dispossessed Palestinian diaspora is very bitter towards the Israelis, what she would have done if in the 1930s, a rabbi came to Palestine, knocked on her door, explained what was happening to the Jews of Europe and asked if they could return to Palestine. His mother looked at him shocked and said, “Of course I would have welcomed them.” He concluded by pointing out that one of the problems is that Israel has never recognized that by installing itself in Palestine it inflicted pain on Palestinians.
No one is denying the pain inflicted on Jews during the Shoah nor Israelis by rockets fired and bombs exploded by Palestinians. The problem is that there is not equivalence — Palestinian pain is not accorded equal value to Israeli pain. It seems to me that reconciliation on a local or global scale needs to start with a mutual recognition of the worth of the other’s pain.
For more on the the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, click here.