Open letter to Ian McEwan

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AKULBI | 15/02/2011 |

As signers of the call in Norway for academic and cultural boycott of Israel (www.akulbi.net), we ask you to reconsider your acceptance of the Jerusalem Prize which you are to be awarded at the Jerusalem International Book Fair on the 20th of February.

We understand from the newspapers that you want to make a distinction between a civil society and its government, but the distinction is not easy to make in this case. The Jerusalem International Book Fair is organized by the Jerusalem municipality and managed by the Ariel Municipal Company. The Jerusalem municipality is a key institution of the Israeli state, instrumental in the illegal colonization of East Jerusalem, evicting Palestinians from their homes and demolishing their property.

The prize will be awarded you by Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barakat, possibly in the presence of the Israeli president. Mayor Nir Barakat was elected, among other things, due to his promises to the settler public. The US demand for a settlement freeze in East Jerusalem has not weakened his support for example for the settlers who moved into Beit Yehonatan, in the heart of the Palestinian neighbourhood Silwan. According to the director of Peace Now, Yariv Oppenheimer writing in the Israeli daily Maariv on December the29th, the settlers living in the building are escorted in and out of the area by an army of private security guards, all of which are funded by the Israeli taxpayer.

The Israeli government and in particular the foreign ministry, is working hard to improve Israel’s image abroad, not the least after their war on Gaza in 2009. International scientific and cultural conferences held in Jerusalem (and not in the capital Tel Aviv) serve to “rebrand” the state as an attractive cultural centre. Foreigners learn to think of an undivided Jerusalem as the Israeli capital, in violation of numerous UN-resolutions stating that East-Jerusalem is occupied.

Previous winners, prominent writers like Susan Sontag and Haruki Murakami , have made the same point as you, of trying to differentiate between government and book fair. They have also made acceptance speeches very critical of Israeli politics. However, such speeches obtain little publicity. We ask you to make a statement that will reach further and lead to debate. The illegal settlement policy is transforming Jerusalem into a frightening case of urban apartheid ; with no room for “freedom of the individual in society” – the theme of the prize. By declining to accept the prize, you can make your disapproval known.

Hans Ebbing ; writer/prof Univeristy of Bergen

Lasse Efskind ; writer

Morten Levin ; writer/prof. Norwegian university of Science and technology, Trondheim

Gerd von der Lippe ; writer/prof. Telemark University College

Peder Martin Lysestøl ; writer/ Associate professor - Sør Trøndelag University

Gert Nygårdshaug ; writer

Torgeir Rebolledo Pedersen ; writer

Olav Randen ; publisher

Unni Rustad ; writer/journalist

Arne Ruste ; writer