An open letter to Sally Rooney from Gaza | Arts and culture

Dear Mrs. Rooney,

I am a Palestinian-South African scholar who teaches literature at Al-Aqsa University in Gaza. I wish to salute you for your decision in principle not to grant the Israeli publisher Modan the right to translate your novel Beautiful World, Where Are You? and violate the cultural boycott of Israel – a key aspect of the general Palestinian civil society call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS).

As we learned of your decision in Gaza, we celebrated, with obvious relief, that someone of your caliber is hearing our voices. Such relief has become a scarce commodity since Israel imposed a medieval blockade on our little strip over ten years ago.

Every day we face new challenges and growing difficulties in this open-air prison once known for its beauty, historic sites, cultural hiding places and vibrant commerce.

As I write this letter to you, Gaza is in darkness again. Daily power cuts lasting several hours are now part of our daily lives in this besieged city.

Since 2009, Israel has carried out four massacres in Gaza. The most recent, in May, killed 260, including 67 children.

We are anxious, frustrated, and angry.

But your act of solidarity has given us real hope. It made us realize that there are still people in this world who recognize our suffering – who refuse to turn their backs on our call for justice.

Archbishop Desmund Tutu, Nobel Peace Prize winner and anti-apartheid activist, said: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on a mouse’s tail and you say you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.

You, listening to our call to boycott all attempts to whitewash Israel’s crimes against our people, have made it clear that you have chosen to be on the side of the oppressed. And we Palestinians are eternally grateful.

After more than seven decades of dispossession, ethnic cleansing, massacres and what amounts to an international conspiracy of silence about Israel’s crimes, we still resist our oppressors in any way we can. But we need support – we need the international community to recognize its responsibility to stand up to the crimes committed against us with impunity.

Our demands are simple. We want Israel to comply with international law and respect the most basic human rights of Palestinians.

To show that it respects international law, Israel must:

  • end the occupation of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem
  • revoke discriminatory laws and policies that hamper the lives of its 1.2 million Palestinian citizens
  • implement UN resolution 194 calling for the return of Palestinian refugees to their ancestral lands

Palestinian civil society has launched the BDS appeal to encourage people of conscience around the world, like you, to speak out and play an effective role in the Palestinian struggle for justice. It means a lot to us that you have answered our call.

In my classes I often teach novels and short stories by Ghassan Kanafani – a renowned Palestinian writer who was assassinated by the Mossad in 1972 for writing literature that encouraged Palestinians to resist their oppressors.

Coincidentally, when we heard the news of your policy decision, I was discussing Kanafani’s well-known novel, Man In the Sun, with my students.

The short story, written just a decade after the 1948 Nakba, tells the story of three Palestinians in Iraq who attempt to smuggle into Kuwait to find employment. In the end, they suffocate in the tank of the smuggled truck – and in these not-so-beautiful people, no one hears their dying cries.

Kanafani’s grim ending is a reminder of the importance of solidarity – the importance of hearing the “cries” of ordinary people in need. After all, if those screams fall on deaf ears, we are all doomed to extinction.

So when I heard about your decision while discussing this story with my students, I saw it as a teaching opportunity.

I told my students, who are all refugees living in Gaza camps and all suffering under Israeli occupation, that the world is changing. Let a famous, talented and influential Irish novelist hear the cries of the grandsons and granddaughters of those men who choked alone in the Gulf dessert in Kanafani history.

It was as if you were there in the same Gaza classroom as us, reading Kanafani’s words and responding, “I hear you!

In answering our call, listening to our plight, courageously refusing to be a part of Israel’s efforts to whitewash its crimes, you have joined a long list of artists who put their principles and commitment to human rights first. human rights before their immediate personal gain.

And for that, we thank you from the bottom of our hearts.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.


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