By PSCABI and Others
(An Open letter From Besieged Gaza to Cape Town Opera: Remember South African Liberation and Boycott Apartheid Israel.)
We are writing to you from the Bantustan of the Gaza Strip, from under a ‘medieval’ siege, our land, air and sea borders controlled and blockaded by the fourth most powerful military in the world – that of the Israeli State. We are shocked for your decision to perform the Cape Town Opera in the Sun City of the Middle East. We are Palestinian artists, students and teachers in Gaza who experienced first-hand Israel’s genocidal onslaught of Gaza for 3 weeks during the winter of 2009 that killed over 1400 people, including over 430 of our children, war crimes outlined in the United Nations Goldstone Report. We are asking you to cancel the Cape Town Opera performance in the Israeli state-sponsored Tel Aviv Opera House this November 12, joining the 2005 call by 171 Palestinian Civil Society organizations calling for “Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel until it complies with international law and universal principles of human rights”.
Five months before the Israeli slaughter of July 2008 which left a further 5300 injured, a South African delegation, including ANC members, visited Israel and Occupied Palestine. They unanimously concluded that the Israel 60 year long treatment of Palestinians was far worse than South African apartheid. Politician and former Deputy Minister of Health Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge said, “What I see here is worse than what we experienced – the absolute control of people’s lives, the lack of freedom of movement, the army presence everywhere, the total separation and the extensive destruction we saw….racist ideology is also reinforced by religion, which was not the case in South Africa.” Sunday Times editor, Mondli Makhanya added: “It is worse, worse, worse than everything we endured. The level of apartheid, the racism and the brutality are worse than the worst period of apartheid.”
Your appearance there would not only be turning your backs on us the Palestinians who have endured over 60 years of Israel’s horrific apartheid and ethnic-cleansing policies. It would also be a tragic example of the short memories of people wronged in the past by racial oppression.
We remind you of the British Musicians Union who joined the BDS campaign in 1961 and the British Screenwriters Guild that banned the distribution of British films in South Africa in 1965. In 1981 the Associated Actors and Artists of America unions banned any performance in South Africa and the Black Caucus successfully pressured the US administration to divest from and impose sanctions on the South African apartheid government. We will also never forget the impact of Artists United Against Apartheid and the song, “Sun City”.
What has happened to this spirit of resistance now? What could be a more peaceful way to fight injustice than to boycott a settler colonial state, described by United Nations Special Rapporteur John Dugard as the only remaining case after South Africa, “of a Western-affiliated regime that denies self-determination and human rights to a developing people and that has done so for so long.” As Angelo Gobbato recounted, we have come a long way in South Africa since 1971 when the Nico Malan performing arts complex and opera house was opened as a ‘whites only’ building. This time if you perform in Tel Aviv Opera House it will be us who have no right to come and see you with the Israeli Army surrounding us, occupying us and controlling our every move.
Because we are Palestinians, the undesired ‘ethnic group’ for apartheid Israel, victims of what the Israeli Academic and Historian Ilan Pappe describes as Israel’s, “slow-motion genocide”. Those remaining in the tiny Bantustans of land from where Israel has not yet expelled us face military occupation and attacks, continuous settler harassment and racial discrimination that echo the worst traits of apartheid. Most of the 8 million Palestinian refugees worldwide remain in squalid refugee camp ghettos, reminiscent of Black and Colored townships, deprived of the right to return to their land in complete violation of United Nations Resolution 194.
Do the Cape Town Opera members completely ignore the fact that instead of showing solidarity with us the voiceless and imprisoned, they will instead be performing to war-makers and Israeli soldiers and reservists? Those who have humiliated our Palestinian mothers in West Bank checkpoints, dropped bombs and white phosphorous on our civilian populations, bulldozed our villages, olive groves and farmland? Since its founding on the ruins of Palestinian refugees in 1948 Israel has violated more United Nations Resolutions than any other member state. As was successfully directed at the South African regime, the cultural boycott is a vital mechanism to hold Israel to account for crimes that have for so long been granted immunity by the International Community.
We call on the Cape Town Opera to join the global BDS initiative and build on the South African initiatives with COSATU and the historic first step from the University of Johannesburg to reduce ties with Ben Gurion University. We ask you to unite with the Irish, Scottish and British trade unions, Hampshire College, Sussex University, UC, Berkeley, University of Michigan, and Dearborn. To follow the example of courageous writers such as Arundhati Roy, John Berger and Henning Mankell as well as musicians Elvis Costello, Gil Scot-Heron, Carlos Santana, the Klaxons, Gorillaz Sound System, the Pixies, David Banhart, Massive Attack and Brian Eno who all refuse to perform in Israel.
As BDS advocate Archbishop Desmond Tutu said earlier this year, “I never tire of speaking about the very deep distress in my visits to the Holy Land; they remind me so much of what happened to us black people in South Africa. I have seen the humiliation of the Palestinians at checkpoints and roadblocks, suffering like we did when young white police officers prevented us from moving about. My heart aches. I say, "Why are our memories so short?"
We the besieged Palestinians of the Gaza Strip urge the Cape Town Opera to stand on the right side of history and remember how many did for South Africa when it was not fashionable to do so. Please reconsider your decision to perform in Israel, and oppose Apartheid once again.
Palestinian Students’ Campaign for the Academic Boycott of Israel (PSCABI)
University Teachers’ Association in Palestine
Association of Al-Quds Bank for Culture and Information
Arab Cultural Forum