Tue. Dec 7th, 2021

Dear Mrs Rooney,

I am a Palestinian-South African academic who teaches literature at Al-Aqsa University of Gaza. I want to salute you for your principled decision not to give the Israeli publisher Modan the right to translate your novel Beautiful World, Where Are You? and violates the cultural boycott of Israel – a key aspect of the general call for boycott, rejection and sanctions (BDS) of Palestinian civil society.

The moment we heard of your decision in Gaza, we celebrated, with obvious relief, the fact that someone of your caliber was hearing our voices. Such relief has become a rare commodity since Israel laid a medieval blockade on our small strip more than a decade ago.

Every day we are confronted with new challenges and increasing problems in this open-air prison that was once known for its beauty, historical sites, cultural hiding places and lively trade.

As I write this letter to you, Gaza is in darkness again. Hourly, daily power outages are now a common part of our lives in this besieged city.

Since 2009, Israel has carried out four massacres in Gaza. The latest one, in May, resulted in the deaths of 260 people, including 67 children.

We are anxious, frustrated and angry.

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

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

You, by listening to our call to whitewash 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, the Palestinians, are eternally grateful.

After more than seven decades of expropriation, ethnic cleansing, massacres, and amounting to an international conspiracy of silence over Israel’s crimes, we are still resisting our oppressors in every way we can. But we need support – we need the international community to acknowledge its responsibility to stand unpunished against the crimes committed against us.

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:

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

Palestinian civil society has made the BDS call to encourage conscientious objectors 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 heeded our call.

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

When we happened to hear the news of your principled decision, I discussed Kanafani’s famous short story, Man In the Sun, with my students.

The novels, written just a decade after the 1948 Nakba, tell the story of three Palestinians in Iraq who try to smuggle themselves to Kuwait to find work. In the end, they suffocate in the tank of the truck they are smuggling – and in this not so “beautiful world”, no one hears their dying screams.

The grim ending of Kanafani’s short stories recalls the importance of solidarity – the importance of hearing the “screams” 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’s camps and all suffering from Israel’s occupation, that the world is changing. That a famous, talented, influential Irish novelist hears the screams of the grandsons and granddaughters of those men who suffocated alone in the Gulf dessert in Kanafani’s story.

It felt like you were in the same Gaza classroom with us, reading Kanafani’s words and responding, “I hear you!”

By heeding our call, by listening to our fate, by bravely refusing to be part of Israel’s efforts to whiten its crimes, you have joined a long list of artists who share their principles and commitment to human rights. prioritize over immediate personal gains.

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

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial views.

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