May 4, 2011
Dear Ethan and Joel Coen,
We are a group of Israeli citizens and residents, Jews and Palestinians; many of us have been fans of your work since the early days of Blood Simple and have found much inspiration in your cinematic inquiries into themes of morality and human relations.
We recently learned that you have been awarded the Dan David prize, administered by the University of Tel-Aviv (UTA), for your achievements in film and cultural contribution to society. We hope that you will allow us the opportunity to illuminate the implications inherent in participating in international cultural events facilitated by Israel, and urge you to refuse the Dan David prize as well as your participation in the UTA symposium.
Your acceptance of the Dan David prize will endorse Israel's 'rebrand' campaign directly. This campaign attempts to distract attention from Israel's ongoing violations of Palestinians's human-rights and legitimize institutions complicit in Israeli crimes such as UTA. It is precisely because your work means so much to us that we write to you today to ask that you refrain from lending it to Israel's efforts to whitewash its systematic violations of international law.
We realize that the measure of refusing a one million dollar prize may seem drastic, but this should be understood in the context of Israel's utilization of international cultural events to construct a facade of normalcy to a reality in which 1.6 million Palestinians (44% of which are children under the age of 14) are kept under siege in Gaza[i], 2.5 million are kept under martial-law in the West Bank with no civil rights, and millions more are subject to racially discriminating laws[ii] inside Israel.
In the context of the UTA symposium, this also means, for instance, that a Palestinian fan of your work living under Israeli occupation will not be allowed by law – and denied by an illegal[iii] wall built on annexed private Palestinian land, fences and checkpoints – the chance to attend it.
In recent years, as the international community has come to understand the need for international pressure on Israel in order for it to change its policies, hundreds of artists, academics, filmmakers, and writers worldwide have expressed their support for the human rights based Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement, and recognized its pivotal role in the process of bringing an end to Israel's systematic human-rights violations.
Mobility in the West Bank is just one of the examples which illustrate the environment in which international cultural events in Israel take place. But Israel's human-rights abuses against Palestinians go much further than this: nightly violent invasions[iv] into Palestinian villages, systematic arrests of children[v] as young as 11, the killing[vi] of non-violent demonstrators – these are not single occurrences of atrocities, they are the infrastructure of a system of oppression, practically unaffected by any criticism or international rulings that demand changes.
Israel's violations have been documented by the UN and respected human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Oxfam, and recognized as unlawful by international judicial bodies. The necessity in steady substantial pressure on Israel has also been highlighted in a recent report[vii] by 21 human rights organizations in regard to ensuring "an immediate, unconditional, and complete lifting of the blockade” of Gaza, where Israel implements a policy of “deliberate reduction[viii]” for basic goods – using mathematical formulas to measure the amount of food sufficient to keep Gaza inhabitants alive at a near-malnutrition level[ix]; allowing in an average of less than a third[x] of the needed goods[xi].
Artists United Against Apartheid, who made it unfashionable for artists to play South Africa, had a huge impact on the South Africa divestment movement; the financial pressure of that divestment movement was instrumental in bringing free elections to South Africa. The Palestinian call for Boycott Divestment and Sanctions[xii] (BDS) against Israel until it complies with international law and universal principles of human rights, was launched in 2005 by over 170 civil society Palestinian organizations. As with the boycott movement in South-Africa, it took people time to discern the reality from behind the constructed facade of normalcy they were presented with, and for the movement to gain momentum.
Today, the BDS campaign, backed by almost the entire community of Palestinian cultural workers [xiii], is supported by Archbishop Desmond Tutu[xiv], the international alliance Artists Against Apartheid[xv], South-African Artists Against Apartheid[xvi], Creative Workers Union of South Africa, 500 Montreal artists[xvii], 200 Irish artists[xviii], and many acclaimed cultural figures worldwide[xix] including director Ken Loach, musicians Roger Waters[xx] and Brian Eno, and UK duo Massive Attack[xxi]. In the past year alone, dozens of artists, actors, and cultural figures have expressed their support for BDS and canceled their scheduled performances in Israel. Among them are Mike Leigh[xxii], Venessa Paradis, Elvis Costello[xxiii], Devendra Banhat[xxiv], Gil Scott-Heron, The Pixies, Tindersticks[xxv], Leftfield, and Faithless[xxvi].
The decision of Palestinian organizations to call for a cultural boycott campaign, as well as that of Israelis to support it, was not taken lightly. Civil society has stepped up in its call for boycott because Israel has been utilizing cultural events to whitewash its crimes and render its system of oppression invisible.
In a radio program discussing a new law-proposal that would fine boycott supporters in Israel, an Israeli Foreign Ministry representative announced that their office endorses cultural events “so that people (abroad) will see the humane values of Israel”. Heeding the Palestinian call for boycott is instrumental to the attempts to bring an end to Israel's human rights violations, because it first and foremost opposes Israel's message of 'business as usual' and "humane values" facade.
We urge you to heed the call Palestinian civil society has placed, and ask that you do not undermine the efforts of a rapidly growing human rights based international movement to bring a just solution to the oppressed In Israel/Palestine.
On behalf of
Boycott! Supporting the Palestinian BDS Call from within