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Rethink your Isarael visit

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….”to consider the facts of life in Israel and Palestine…

‘Rethink your Israel visit’ by Monako Dibetle , Johannesburg, South Africa

Nadine Gordimer

South African Nobel laureate Nadine Gordimer has come under renewed pressure to rethink her participation in the first International Writer’s Festival in Jerusalem later this month, which coincides with the 60th anniversary of the Israeli state.

This week 100 South African university students wrote to Gordimer asking her to boycott the festival, which Palestinians will not attend.

The Mail & Guardian has learned that a number of prominent South Africans have also written to her privately to urge her to reconsider her plans.

Contacted by the M&G on Thursday, Gordimer declined to comment, saying she would make a public statement soon. “I’m afraid I’m not giving interviews,” she said.

However, it is understood that the representations made to the world-renowned novelist have convinced her of the need to change her Israeli itinerary.

One complaint was that, despite her claim that she wishes to promote dialogue in Israel/Palestine, her original schedule included little contact with Palestinian activists on the front line.

In their letter to her the students complained that she planned only to visit the relatively peaceful Palestinian town of Ramallah.

They called on her to meet activists in conflict-torn West Bank towns, such as Nablus and Hebron.

Both the students and Palestinian intellectuals, including Haidar Eid, whose open letter to Gordiner was published in last week’s M&G, have contrasted her approach to the writers’ festival with her prominent anti-apartheid stand in years gone by.

Gordimer, winner of the 1991 Nobel Prize for literature, is one of many international writers invited to the festival.

According to the festival programme, she will present a discussion on “The writer’s role in a time of crisis”.

Jonathan Hodgeson, who represents the concerned students from the University of Cape Town and University of the Western Cape who wrote to her this week, said Gordimer should take the festival as an opportunity to help address the crisis in Israel/Palestine.

“We believe Gordimer will improve the situation best by boycotting the festival,” Hodgeson said. “We don’t think her attendance will do anything to solve the problems between Israel and Palestine.

“We want her to use her status and renown to bring [more] attention to the conflict. She should use this opportunity to bring attention to the fact that the Palestinian side of the story is never communicated thoroughly,” he said.

In their letter the students say they are not asking Gordimer to mirror every action she took in protest against apartheid.

However, they said they wanted her “to consider the facts of life in Israel and Palestine and take full advantage of the opportunity to change the situation.

“We believe that you would do more to change the awful situation … by withdrawing from the festival than by attending,” reads the letter.

The students said that the writer’s role was not to speak at conferences that projected normality, but rather to expose the abnormality and crisis in the Middle East.

The writers’ conference was not directed at addressing itself, within the paradigm of literature, “to the critical fault lines in Israeli society or the ongoing occupation of another people, or to the violence manifesting itself on both sides”, they said.

“Writers should engage Israelis and Palestinians in regard to ending the occupation and pursuing peaceful relations, but this conference does not intend to do that.

“Moreover, for someone of your history and stature, there is no non-political act; thus, although you will be engaging as a writer, we believe that you have also been invited, and will be received, partly as a political figure,” said the students.

Advising Gordimer — if she attends the festival — to visit cities like Hebron where most of the conflict was centred, they said this would allow for engagement with Palestinian activists, who would provide a more vivid picture of life in the occupied territories than would meetings with officials. * Source: Mail & Guardian (South Africa)