discusses "The Shadow Over Israel"
with a brief intro by Michael R. Burch
As an editor, publisher and translator of Holocaust poetry, I have worked for
decades to encourage everyone to say "Never again!"
to the horrors of ethnic cleansing. Ethnic cleansing was a horror when it was
practiced on Native Americans forced to walk the Trail of Tears. Ethnic
cleansing was a horror when it was practiced on Jews, Gypsies and other victims
of the Nazis during the Holocaust. It was a horror when it was practiced during
the darkest days of apartheid in South Africa. Ethnic cleansing remains a horror
whenever we find it being practiced anywhere in the world. And ethnic cleansing
remains a horror when Israel practices it against Palestinians today.
I lived as best I could, and then I died.
Be careful where you step: the grave is wide.
Michael R. Burch, "Epitaph for a Palestinian
Margaret Atwood has formally opposed Israel's eviction of Palestinians and Bedouins
by signing an open letter addressed to Israeli and Canadian leaders.
Dr. Gabor Mat้, a Jewish Holocaust survivor, calls such evictions "nothing but ethnic cleansing"
and says "One thing I've learned is you don't be quiet when things
happen that shouldn't happen."
You can read Margaret Atwood's article "The Shadow Over Israel" below.
As she points out, Israel's horrendous treatment of Palestinians "haunts
everything" in the region, and a brutal military occupation that denies writing paper and pizza
to innocent children and their mothers can only be seen by the equality-loving
people of the free world as being incredibly unfair, cruel, petty and
vindictive. Jimmy Carter made a similar observation when he saw children in Gaza
being denied coloring books and crayons. How can an advanced nation like Israel
be so petty, so vindictive, so cruel?
You can also read a poignant letter written by Palestinian students who live in
Gaza, imploring Atwood to take a firm stand against what they called "the
brutal, hermetic, medieval siege that Israel is perpetrating against us, the 1.5
million Palestinians of the Gaza Strip."
The Shadow Over Israel
by Margaret Atwood
June 2, 2010
"Until Palestine has its own 'legitimized' state within its internationally
recognized borders, the Shadow will remain."
This article is part of a special edition of Haaretz, to mark Israel's book
The moment when, after many years
of hard work and a long voyage,
you stand in the centre of your room,
house, half-acre, square mile, island, country,
knowing at last how you got there,
and say, I own this,
is the same moment the trees unloose
their soft arms from around you,
the birds take back their language,
the cliffs fissure and collapse,
the air moves back from you like a wave
and you can't breathe.
No, they whisper. You own nothing.
You were a visitor, time after time
Climbing the hill, planting the flag, proclaiming.
We never belonged to you.
You never found us.
It was always the other way round.
Recently I was in Israel. The Israelis I met could not have been more welcoming.
I saw many impressive accomplishments and creative projects, and talked with
many different people. The sun was shining, the waves waving, the flowers were
in bloom. Tourists jogged along the beach at Tel Aviv as if everything was
there was the Shadow. Why was everything trembling a little, like a mirage?
Was it like that moment before a tsunami when the birds fly to the treetops and
the animals head for the hills because they can feel it coming?
"Every morning I wake up in fear," someone told me. "That's just self-pity, to
excuse what's happening," said someone else. Of course, fear and self-pity can
both be real. But by "what's happening," they meant the Shadow.
I'd been told ahead of time that Israelis would try to cover up the Shadow, but
instead they talked about it non-stop. Two minutes into any conversation, the
Shadow would appear. It's not called the Shadow, it's called "the situation." It
The Shadow is not the Palestinians. The Shadow is Israel's treatment of the
Palestinians, linked with Israeli's own fears. The worse the Palestinians are
treated in the name of those fears, the bigger the Shadow grows, and then the
fears grow with them; and the justifications for the treatment multiply.
The attempts to shut down criticism are ominous, as is the language being used.
Once you start calling other people by vermin names such as "vipers," you imply
their extermination. To name just one example, such labels were applied
wholesale to the Tutsis months before the Rwanda massacre began. Studies have
shown that ordinary people can be led to commit horrors if told they'll be
acting in self-defense, for "victory," or to benefit mankind.
I'd never been to Israel before, except in the airport. Like a lot of people on
the sidelines not Jewish, not Israeli, not Palestinian, not Muslim I hadn't
followed the "the situation" closely, though, also like most, I'd deplored the
violence and wished for a happy ending for all.
Again like most, I'd avoided conversations on this subject because they swiftly
became screaming matches. (Why was that? Faced with two undesirable choices, the
brain we're told chooses one as less evil, pronounces it good, and
demonizes the other.)
I did have some distant background. As "Egypt" at a Model U.N. in 1956, my high
school's delegation had presented the Palestinian case. Why was it fair that the
Palestinians, innocent bystanders during the Holocaust, had lost their homes? To
which the Model Israel replied, "You don't want Israel to exist." A mere decade
after the Camps and the six million obliterated, such a statement was a
Then I'd been hired to start a Nature program at a liberal Jewish summer camp.
The people were smart, funny, inventive, idealistic. We went in a lot for World
Peace and the Brotherhood of Man. I couldn't fit this together with the Model
U.N. Palestinian experience. Did these two realities nullify each other? Surely
not, and surely the humane Jewish Brotherhood-of-Manners numerous in both the
summer camp and in Israel itself would soon sort this conflict out in a fair
But they didn't. And they haven't. And it's no longer 1956. The conversation has
changed dramatically. I was recently attacked for accepting a cultural prize
that such others as Atom Egoyan, Al Gore, Tom Stoppard, Goenawan Mohamad, and
Yo-Yo Ma had previously received. This prize was decided upon, not by an
instrument of Israeli state power as some would have it, but by a moderate
committee within an independent foundation. This group was pitching real
democracy, open dialogue, a two-state solution, and reconciliation.
Nevertheless, I've now heard every possible negative thing about Israel in
effect, I've had an abrupt and searing immersion course in present-day politics.
The whole experience was like learning about cooking by being thrown into the
The most virulent language was truly anti-Semitic (as opposed to the label often
used to deflect criticism). There were hot debates among activists about whether
boycotting Israel would "work," or not; about a one-state or else a two-state
solution; about whether a boycott should exclude culture, as it is a bridge, or
was that hypocritical dreaming? Was the term "apartheid" appropriate, or just a
distraction? What about "de-legitimizing" the State of Israel? Over the decades,
the debate had acquired a vocabulary and a set of rituals that those who hadn't
hung around universities as I had not would simply not grasp.
Some kindly souls, maddened by frustration and injustice, began by screaming at
me; but then, deciding I suppose that I was like a toddler who'd wandered into
traffic, became very helpful. Others dismissed my citing of International PEN
and its cultural-boycott-precluding efforts to free imprisoned writers as
irrelevant twaddle. (An opinion cheered by every repressive government,
extremist religion, and hard-line political group on the planet, which is why so
many fiction writers are banned, jailed, exiled, and shot.)
None of this changes the core nature of the reality, which is that the concept
of Israel as a humane and democratic state is in serious trouble. Once a country
starts refusing entry to the likes of Noam Chomsky, shutting down the rights of
its citizens to use words like "Nakba," and labelling as "anti-Israel" anyone
who tries to tell them what they need to know, a police-state clampdown looms.
Will it be a betrayal of age-old humane Jewish traditions and the rule of just
law, or a turn towards reconciliation and a truly open society?
Time is running out. Opinion in Israel may be hardening, but in the United
States things are moving in the opposite direction. Campus activity is
increasing; many young Jewish Americans don't want Israel speaking for them.
America, snarled in two chaotic wars and facing increasing international anger
over Palestine, may well be starting to see Israel not as an asset but as a
Then there are people like me. Having been preoccupied of late with mass
extinctions and environmental disasters, and thus having strayed into the
Middle-eastern neighbourhood with a mind as open as it could be without being
totally vacant, I've come out altered. Child-killing in Gaza? Killing
aid-bringers on ships in international waters? Civilians malnourished thanks to
the blockade? Forbidding writing paper? Forbidding pizza? How petty and
vindictive! Is pizza is a tool of terrorists? Would most Canadians agree? And am
I a tool of terrorists for saying this? I think not.
There are many groups in which Israelis and Palestinians work together on issues
of common interest, and these show what a positive future might hold; but until
the structural problem is fixed and Palestine has its own "legitimized" state
within its internationally recognized borders, the Shadow will remain.
"We know what we have to do, to fix it," said many Israelis. "We need to get
beyond Us and Them, to We," said a Palestinian. This is the hopeful path. For
Israelis and Palestinians both, the region itself is what's now being
threatened, as the globe heats up and water vanishes. Two traumas create neither
erasure nor invalidation: both are real. And a catastrophe for one would also be
a catastrophe for the other.
From the Year of the Flood, Margaret Atwood's latest novel:
God must have caused the Animals to assemble by speaking to them directly, but
what language did He use? It was not Hebrew, my Friends. It was not Latin or
Greek, or English, or French, or Spanish, or Arabic, or Chinese. No: He called
the Animals in their own languages. To the Reindeer He spoke Reindeer, to the
Spider, Spider; to the Elephant He spoke Elephant, to the Flea He spoke Flea, to
the Centipede He spoke Centipede, and to the Ant, Ant. So must it have been.
And for Adam himself, the Names of the Animals were the first words he spoke the
first moment of Human language. In this cosmic instant, Adam claims his Human
soul. To Name is we hope to greet; to draw another towards one's self. Let
us imagine Adam calling out the Names of the Animals in fondness and joy, as if
to say There you are, my dearest! Welcome! Adam's first act towards the
Animals was thus one of loving-kindness and kinship, for Man in his unfallen
state was not yet a carnivore. The Animals knew this, and did not run away. So
it must have been on that unrepeatable Day a peaceful gathering at which every
living entity on the Earth was embraced by Man.
How much have we lost, dear fellow Mammals and fellow Mortals! How much have we
wilfully destroyed! How much do we need to restore, within ourselves!
The time of the Naming is not over, my Friends. In His sight, we may still be
living in the sixth day. As your Meditation, imagine yourself rocked in that
sheltering moment. Stretch out your hand towards those gentle eyes that regard
you with such trust a trust that has not yet been violated by bloodshed and
gluttony and pride and disdain.
Say their Names.
Let us sing.
Gaza students to Margaret Atwood: reject Tel Aviv U.
Palestinian Students' Campaign for the Academic Boycott of Israel
The following open letter to Canadian author Margaret Atwood was issued by the
Palestinian Students' Campaign for the Academic Boycott of Israel on April
Dear Ms. Atwood,
We are students from Gaza representing more than 10 academic institutions
therein. Our grandparents are refugees who were expelled from their homes in the
1948 Nakba. They still have their keys locked up in their closets and will pass
them on to their children, our parents. Many of us have lost our fathers, some
of us have lost our mothers, and some of us lost both in the last Israeli
aggression against civilians in Gaza. Others still lost a body part from the
flesh-burning white phosphorous that Israel used, and are now permanently
physically challenged. Most of us lost our homes, and are now living in tents,
as Israel refuses to allow basic construction materials into Gaza. And most of
all, we are all still living in what has come to be a festering sore on
humanity's conscience the brutal, hermetic, medieval siege that Israel is
perpetrating against us, the 1.5 million Palestinians of the Gaza Strip.
Many of us have encountered your writing during our university studies. Although
your books are not available in Gaza because Israel does not allow
books, paper and other stationary in we are familiar with your leftist,
feminist, overtly political writing. And most of all, we are aware of your
strong stance against apartheid. You admirably supported sanctions against
apartheid South Africa and called for resistance against all forms
Now, we have heard that you are to receive a prize this spring at Tel Aviv
University. We, the students of besieged Gaza, urge you not to go. As our
professors, teachers and anti-apartheid comrades used to tell us, there was no
negotiation with the brutal racist regime of South Africa. Nor was there much
communication. Just one word: BOYCOTT. You must be aware that Israel was a
sister state to the apartheid regime before 1994. Many South African
anti-apartheid heroes, including Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu,
have described Israel's oppression as apartheid. Some describe Israeli
settler-colonialism and occupation as surpassing apartheid's evil. F-16s, F-15s,
F-35s, Apache helicopters, Merkava tanks and white phosphorous were not used
against black townships.
Ms. Atwood, in the Gaza concentration camp, students who have been awarded
scholarships to universities abroad are prevented every year from pursuing their
hard-earned opportunity for academic achievement. Within the Gaza Strip, those
seeking an education are limited by increasing poverty rates and a scarcity of
fuel for transportation, both of which are direct results of Israel's medieval
siege. What is Tel Aviv University's position vis-a-vis this form of illegal
collective punishment, described by Richard Falk, the UN Special Rapporteur on
Palestinian Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, as a "prelude to
genocide?" Not a single word of condemnation has been heard from any Israeli
Participating in normal relations with Tel Aviv University is giving tacit
approval to its racially exclusive policy towards Palestinian citizens of
Israel. We are certain you would hate to support an institution that upholds so
faithfully the apartheid system of its state.
Tel Aviv University has a long and well-documented history of collaboration with
the Israeli military and intelligence services. This is particularly shameful
after Israel's bloody military assault against the occupied Gaza Strip, which,
according to leading international and local human rights organizations, left
over 1,440 Palestinians dead and 5,380 injured. We are certain you would hate to
support an institution that supports a military apparatus that murdered over
By accepting the prize at Tel Aviv University, you will be indirectly giving a
slight and inadvertent nod to Israel's policy of ethnic cleansing and genocide.
This university has refused to commemorate the destroyed Palestinian village on
which it was built. That village is called Sheikh Muwanis, and it no longer
exists as a result of Israel's confiscation. Its people have been expelled.
Let us remember the words of Archbishop Desmond Tutu: "If you choose to be
neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor."
As such, we call upon you to say no to neutrality, no to being on the fence, no
to normalization with apartheid Israel, not after the blood of more than 400
children has been spilt! No to occupation, repression, settler colonialism,
settlement expansion, home demolition, land expropriation and the system of
discrimination against the indigenous population of Palestine, and no to the
formation of Bantustans in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip!
Just as every citizen knew that she or he had a moral responsibility to boycott
apartheid in South Africa after the Sharpeville massacre, Gaza 2009 was the
world's wake-up call. All of Israel's academic institutions are state-run and
state-funded. To partake of any of their prizes or to accept any of their
blandishments is to uphold their heinous political actions. Israel has
continually violated international law in defiance of the world. It is illegally
occupying Palestinian land. It continues its aggression against the Palestinian
people. Israel denies Palestinians all of the democratic liberties it so
proudly, fictitiously flaunts. Israel is an apartheid regime that denies
Palestinian refugees their right of return as sanctioned by UN resolution 194.
Attending the symposium would violate the unanimously-endorsed Palestinian civil
society call for boycotts, divestments and sanctions (BDS) against Israel. This
call is also directed towards international activists, artists and academics of
conscience, such as you. We are certain that you would love to be a part of the
noble struggle against the apartheid, colonization and occupation that the
Palestinian people have been subjected to for the past 61 years, a struggle that
Ms. Atwood, we consider you to be what the late Edward Said called an
"oppositional intellectual." As such, and given our veneration of your work, we
would be both emotionally and psychologically wounded to see you attend the
symposium. You are a great woman of words, of that we have no doubt. But we
think you would agree, too, that actions speak louder than words. We all await
Margaret Atwood signs on to Canadian letter opposing Palestinian
by Philip Weiss on July 16, 2013
for Canadians for Justice and Peace in the
Yesterday we posted a letter from more than 70 Canadian writers calling on
Israel and Canadian leaders to stop the eviction and relocation of several
Palestinian communities in the West Bank and the Negev. The letter is gathering
speed. Margaret Atwood (The Handmaid's Tale) and John Ralston Saul (Voltaire's
Bastards) have signed on too.
Margaret Atwood and John Ralston Saul have added their names to a list of 90
writers who have signed an open letter to Israeli and Canadian leaders. The
letter asks Israeli leaders to halt the imminent "firing zone" evictions of
1,000 Palestinians from the Southern Hebron Hills, and the Prawer Plan for the
forced displacement of 20,000-70,000 Bedouin citizens of Israel from the Negev.
Yann Martel (The Life of Pi), Lawrence Hill (The Book of Negroes),
Guy Vanderhaeghe (The Englishman's Boy), Nino Ricci, Rohinton Mistry
and Jane Urquhart are also among the additions to an impressive list of
well-known Canadian writers.
Michael Ondaatje (The English Patient), Vincent Lam, Lisa Moore, Lorna
Crozier, Alberto Manguel, George Bowering, Edeet Ravel, Patrick Lane, Sheila
Heti, Kyo Maclear, Dr. Gabor Mat้, Michel Tremblay and Canada's current
Parliamentary Poet Laureate Fred Wah are among the best known of the original
signatories. Dozens of nominees or winners of the Governor General's literary
awards, the Giller Prize, the Impac Dublin Literary Award, the Commonwealth
Writers' Prize, the Man Booker Prize, and other honours, including the Order of
Canada, figure in the list. (See text of letter and full list of signatories
"It's nothing but ethnic cleansing," said one of the signatories, Gabor Mat้, in
an interview with Postmedia News last week. Mate is a Jewish Canadian
and Holocaust survivor, and said that personal conviction compelled him to
co-sign the letter. "One thing I've learned is you don't be quiet when things
happen that shouldn't happen," Mat้ added in his interview with Postmedia.
"These writers' compassion and clear-mindedness are refreshing at a time in
which Canadian politicians seem to have abandoned all principles, especially
when determining Middle East policy," says CJPME President Thomas Woodley. CJPME
points out that Canadian politicians are almost always silent when Israel
violates international law by confiscating Palestinians' land and establishing
Israeli-only "settlements" in the occupied Palestinian territories (oPT). CJPME
is appalled that a spokesman for Foreign Minister John Baird last week dismissed
the Prawer Plan as an "internal" Israeli matter.
"Given the sheer numbers of people slated for forced displacement 20,000 to
70,000 it's tragic that Canadian leaders are acquiescing to such cruelty,"
adds Woodley. The Israeli arguments that they are dislocating the Bedouin "for
their own good" are reminiscent of similar arguments once made for placing
Canadian aboriginal children in residential schools.
The European Parliament and various Israeli human rights groups, such as the
Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) and Adalah Legal Centre for Arab
Minority Rights in Israel, have urged the Israeli Knesset to reject the Prawer
Plan. B'Tselem, Breaking the Silence (a veterans' group) and ACRI, as well as
internationally prominent Israeli writers such as David Grossman (To the End
of the Land) and Amoz Oz have energetically opposed the evictions of
Palestinian villagers from the Southern Hebron Hills (oPt) to make way for an
Israeli firing zone.
Professional journalists wishing to interview CJPME representatives and some of
the signatories to the Canadian writers' open letter may contact Patricia Jean
at 438-380-5410 for further details.
About CJPME Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME) is a
non-profit and secular organization bringing together men and women of all
backgrounds who labour to see justice and peace take root again in the Middle
East. Its mission is to empower decision-makers to view all sides with fairness
and to promote the equitable and sustainable development of the region.
Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East www.cjpme.org