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The International Writers Magazine: Politics

Israel and the Arabs in the Parisian book world
Dr Marwan Asmar

Arabs were right to boycott the Paris book fair this time around for as the British would say it would not be cricket to attend while the French intellectual and political world honors the Israeli contingent of 39 Israeli writers while their countrymen indulge in beating the daylight out of Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank and the world looks on as this is the normal state of affairs.

Quite rightly so, the Paris Book Fair is a cultural gathering of knowledge where, in theory, enlightenment should replace dogmatism and intellectual petty-mindedness but we must not rail-road the event as if political and military objectives do not matter and become secondary to a presence and an honoring that is by its very nature political.

Politicians, men of letters and the international media should realize the gravity of such an honoring in the light of the Israeli destructive military machine and boycott is the least Arab countries and book publishers can do in a world that has become too insensitive to the feelings of a Palestinian nation that has been hard done bye.

The organizers of the Paris book fair needed to have thought twice when they made the invitation or where willing to take on such a large literary step in the light of the politics of the situation but this is an age where the strong is respected and where the weak has no place.

Israeli authors are being honored for their contribution to literature, disregarding the fact that they are the intellectual vanguards of a state and society that does not only look down upon to the other race, but has subjected and indeed embezzled them out of its existence as if fighting for a state was a poker game.

Israeli politicians are very happy by the French honoring; for them it an airline ticket, a carte blanche to do what it will to the Palestinians as if they had been rehabilitated in the international system that may have previously seen them as pariahs that would not take to heed. But little did Israel or Israelis care. Now of course the Paris honoring would certainly give Israel comfort that its bloody policies will at least be tolerated in western capital and may even be accepted as fair game.

The Arab boycott of the book fair should not be seen as bloody-mindedness or that Arabs can’t enjoy international culture as critics have been quick to point out but how can culture, literature, books, fables, poetry, treatises not be tainted by Israeli occupation where their literature, ideas, intellect have been twisted, turned around, cajoled to serve a blinded colonial-settler project based on forced dispossession, expulsion, subjugation and exclusion while we Arabs continue to be hounded from Europeans as well, that Israel remains the democracy par excellence in the region!
How can culture and politics not be enter-twined or how can they be excluded from one another as representing two different things as Israeli President Shimon Peres lamented when he said words to the effect that "its culture for goodness sake’ when he came to open the Israeli section of the book fair, seeking to ignore the fact that his struggle for peace over the years have been half-baked and disingenuous.

This is not a region that can afford to exclude politics and culture as they are intrinsically linked because of the commonalities of the struggle, the heartaches of the Palestinians which has been replaced by the heartache of the Jews which they seek to forget by their new acts.

Yes, its hooray for Israeli democracy and hooray for its writers, novelist, literary essayists, and those who hide under cover in their continuing beliefs for Palestinian statehood while turning a blind eye to the monstrous actions perpetrated by Israel! Sadly their intellectuals have become forces for the political, military and economic establishments all in favor of keeping the status quo.

No matter how enlightened they are or how much they accept the establishment of a Palestinian state, they are as guilty as the political and military vanguards choosing to live in a state that subjugates, occupies, humiliates and deals just as harshly with Palestinian children as it does with the women, and the old.

Israeli authors have unfortunately become the ideological apparatuses that prop an entity, and a social and political formation whose diversity only compounds the legitimacy of state action and occasionally polishes its image internally and in the eyes of the world.

It is a great pity for a French state, highly regarded in the Arab and Muslim worlds for its enlightened policies and its desire to be seen as different from toeing the American line, to suddenly jump on an Israeli literary bandwagon that is all too tainted with a political occupation rummaged by Israeli politicians and their military generals and soldiers.
For any decent thinker the honoring must be seen as a grave step which actually down-flushes the very humanities’ subjects associated with literature, philosophy, philology, linguistics and even social science and throw them out as if they are ok subjects as long as Israel benefits.

Finally, the honoring of their writers is a success story for Israel likely to be used and manipulated by its politicians who throughout its past decades sought to build a body of literary texts based on its short-existent heroisms of beating down the original inhabitants of the land, the Palestinians.

Adding justice to injury is the fact that this year is the 60th anniversary of the creation of Israel, a creation marred by blood, sweat and tears not for them but for the people they occupied.

© Marwan Asmar March 20th 2008
The writer is a freelance commentator on Arab and Palestinian-Israel affairs based in Amman. All communications on this subject with the writer please.

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