Submitted by Rahela Mizrahi*
February 28, 2009
UNESCO, a specializedagency of the United Nations, has as its stated goal to “contribute to peaceand security by promoting collaboration among nations through education,science, and culture in order to further universal respect for justice, for therule of law and for the human rights and the fundamental freedoms” proclaimed inthe UN Charter. UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and CulturalOrganization, is politically accountable to the international community. When schools under the UN flag aretargeted, when children are targeted, when a whole population is systematicallydeprived of food and water, sanitation and electricity, UNRWA, UNICEF andUNESCO, are not to be content with protest; they should live up to theirresponsibility by taking action. Below areappeals to UNESCO to fulfill its role in the maintenance of justicethrough cultural preservation and respect by a) revoking Israel’s membership in UNESCO, and b) joiningthe cultural and academic boycott of Israel.
These appeals come as Israelmakes the Gaza Strip into the largest concentration camp in the world.Conditions grow steadily more insufferable for the 1.5 million Palestinians wholive there. Deliveries of food, medicine and fuel are hampered or stoppedaltogether. Child malnutrition is increasing. Water supplies and drainage haveceased to function. People die for lack of healthcare. Tunnels to Egypt, dug byhand, provide the only breathing space.
Half of Gazaresidents are refugees of one of the biggest crimes of the 20th century. In1947-8, the Zionist paramilitary terror organizations that would later becomethe IDF carried out a well planned ethnic cleansing ofPalestine, then under the custody of the Britishmandate; they demolished over 500 villages and 13 cities, and deported close to800,000 indigenous Palestinians, systematically committing tens of massacressimilar to the latest Gazamassacres of 2008-9. That ethnic cleansing is the reason Gaza is one of the most populated areas inthe world. Israel, the U.S. and most of the Western world would like toexpunge that 1948 crime from the record altogether and with it Palestine and the Palestinian people. Theresistance today in Gazais the revolt of a people that refuses to be erased.
The crimes of 1948 are not a finished chapter in thehistory books, but an ongoing reality that has been unfolding for at least 60years and continues to unfold today: ongoing theft and expropriation of theremaining Palestinian land and water, demolition of thousands of homes, themaking of the Gaza strip and Palestinian cities in the West Bank and Gaza stripinto concentration camps surrounded by an eight-meter-high cement wall andelectrical fences, inside which reign unemployment, poverty, and hunger anddespair, in addition to the mass incarceration of three generations ofPalestinians (currently above 12,000). On the flip side of the steadydecimation of the indigenous Palestinian people, Israel,with U.S. and Europeansupport, imported to Palestineone million immigrants, mostly Europeans, during the nineties. Land theft andcolonization were carried out under a fake discourse of peace, promoted by a fake Israeli peace movement andNGOs financed by U.S. andE.U., using the Oslo agreements as tools for thecomplete elimination of Palestinefrom the map.
Appeal to UNESCO to remove Israel from its membership
In November 1974, responding to a call from academicsof different nationalities, UNESCO terminated assistance to Israel and excluded it fromUNESCO’s activities and regional groups. By doing so, UNESCO recognized that Israel’sactions, the systematic and violentdestruction and vandalization of the indigenous Palestinian civilization andculture, was the very opposite of UNESCO’s mission. Nonetheless, and despite nochange in Israeli policy, Israel’sfull membership was reinstated by 1977.
Beginning in 1947, before, during, and after theethnic cleansing, and continuing into the 50s, the destruction of more than 500villages and 13 cities decimated an entire Palestinian cultural environment:the looting of artifacts, books, ancient manuscripts and of course thedestruction of architecture, including dozens of churches, hundreds of mosquesand graveyards. The occupation of 1967 allowed Israel to conduct another massiveround of cultural destruction through the ethnic cleansing of an additional 170villages and towns in the Syrian Golan andalso 19 villages in the newly occupied Palestinian territories. Some of thedestroyed villages were turned to National parks after a massive forestation, amethod used systematically to erase the traces of Palestinian villages. Also in1967, Israel demolished awhole neighborhood in Jerusalemold city, the “Mughrabi” neighborhood, and brazenly broke international law by executingmassive archeological excavations in the territories just occupied.
Israel continues with its destructiveassault on Palestinian and Arab c
ulture, looting the Palestinian libraries andfilm archive in Beirut during its invasion into Lebanon,vandalizing the Al-Sakakini cultural center in Ramallah during the 2002invasion, carrying out illegal archeological excavations while vandalizingMuslim and Arab findings, and recently excavating under the Al-Aksa mosque andthus endangering its foundation.
During the latest massacres in Gaza, Israeldemolished the largest university in the strip, as well as UN schools, in whichcivilians were taking shelter. Altogether, Israelbombed and destroyed 64 schools and 41 mosques in a matter of days. Thebombing of mosques follows the patternalready established at the time of the ethnic cleansing of 1948, during whichhundreds of mosques were destroyed. This is the direct result of a Zionistideology that targets Arab and Muslim culture, including the Arab-Jewishcivilizations and cultures, in the name of “secularism and progress”as a justification for extermination of the civilization of the Other.
UNESCO, as an organization committed to “promotinginternational collaboration…through education, science, and culture in order tofurther universal respect for justice, human rights and fundamental freedoms,”should take immediate action to protest Israel’ssystematic violence and assault on Palestinian culture by expelling Israelfrom its membership.
Appeal for UNESCO to join the cultural and academicboycott of Israel
Boycott is the very minimumthat a decent human being can do against the on-going crimes against humanitysystematically committed by Israel with the unlimited support of the U.S.,Europe and most of the Western world, which relies on Israel for the continuedoppression of Arab people while looting their natural resources with the helpof neo-colonial Arab ruling elites. Cultural and academic boycott of Israel are ofparticular importance. The Israeli academy is one of the most important basesof racist Zionist thinking, which is white Ashkenazi-Jewish, Euro-centric andcolonial. All Israeli universities have departments devoted to the Orientalistresearch of the Middle East as a tool forcolonial control. Other departments completely ignore non-Western, Arab andIslamic cultures, language and thought, literature, music, history, andphilosophy, reflecting Israel’sattitude towards Arabs and Muslims as uncivilized and uncultured. Thisintellectual work done by the Israeli academia is instrumental in thedehumanization of Palestinians within Israeli public discourse, a necessarycondition for the continuation of the genocide.
Academic boycott addresses the fact that universitydepartments develop weapons that are used in Israel’s crimes. Tel Aviv University for example has a departmentdevoted to “Security Studies,” where weapons for “smart”(computerized) extermination are developed.The Israeli academy devotes significant resources toward facilitating the military and political controlof Palestine and the MiddleEast. The silence ofIsraeli academia in the face of the bombing of the only university in Gaza is another reasonfor an academic boycott.
Israeli culture is dominated bywhite Ashkenazi Euro-centric Zionist colonial thoughts and attitudes. Zionistsauthors such as Amos Oz, A.B. Yehushoa and David Grossman, inaccuratelyconsidered a part of the so-called “peace movement”, promote colonialand racist messages in their texts and even more so in the subtext of theirtexts. They loudly supported the recent invasion into Lebanon and have written statements in supportof the massacres in Gaza.In addition to citizens, women and elders, Israel assassinated one of the mostprominent Palestinian authors, Gassan Kanafani. Israeli popular music is deeplyrooted in the Israeli army: most of Israel’s important popularmusicians started their careers in a military band promoting militarism andchauvinism. Israeli fine arts and dance are stealing the Palestinian heritageand presenting it all over the world as “an ancient Jewish heritage,”in line with the appropriation of Palestinian food (e.g. Falafel) and clothing(e.g. Kufiya), in order to present their European colonialism as a continuationof an ancient Jewish ownership of the land, and erase the existence of aPalestinian people who owns this heritage.
Nowadays, Israeli cultural agents are conscripted into the normalization ofIsrael’s ongoing crimes andapartheid by representing it as a two-sided conflict inside a hollow peacediscourse, without history, and with the erasure and normalization of the1947-8 crime: the elimination of Palestine by anapartheid Jewish state called “Israel”.Israeli cultural workers are highly appreciated all over the worldas peace seekers instead of being rejected as active participants in theZionist oppression of the indigenous people of Palestine.
Until today, there is no international recognition ofthe 1948 ethnic cleansing of Palestineas a crime against humanity. The West helps to bury this crime. Today, afterdecades of denial, the historical truth of the ethnic cleansing of 1948 isfinally recognized. However, this recognition is void of a legal component thatascribes responsibility or demands rights for the victim. Today one can writeabout the Nakba (the 1948 ethnic cleansing) in Israeli academia, andgain a degree, honor, and credit for being a bold and moral researcher byrepeating facts that Arabs and Palestinians have written about for years,although no one was willing to listen. This helps paint Israel as aprogressive state while being one of the most violent, racist, oppressive, andundemocratic regimes in the world. With the exception of very few voices, suchas Illan Pappe’s, the Israeli academy is silent with regard to demanding an endto the suffering of the victims, and compensating Palestinian people for the crimesZionism and Israel have perpetrated. Israeli academics are appropriating thePalestinian voice, as did for example Gannit Ankori writing about Palestinianart, for personal academic gain and as a way of white washing their Zionist stances.They should be boycotted as well.
Zionism IS racism. Zionism is a Jewish, Ashkenazi,white, colonial and Euro-centric ideology that seeks to make Palestine Jewish and Western, and hencenon-Muslim and non-Arab. Every Israeli is subjected to this ideologicalindoctrination from the moment he is born: at home, at school, in the academy,in the Hebrew media, often in completely explicit ways, but mostly throughallusions, presentation and subtext – through education and culture.
The official name given to the assault on andmassacre in Gazais “Oferet Yetzuka” (Operation “Cast Lead”). This name is taken from a linetwice repeated in a Zionist Hanuka children’s song, so that Israeli childrenwill from now on celebrate genocide whenever they celebrate Hanuka. The factthat Jewish Israelis read and hear only Hebrew despite their location in thecenter of the Arab world facilitates this indoctrination. A limited access toEnglish does not help since most of the English press has bought into Zionistperceptions and attitudes hook, line, and sinker.
Zionism rejects any Palestinian right on their land,their right to live in their homeland, and even their basic civil or even humanrights. Zionism means that the right of Jews over Palestinian land is always abovehuman and moral considerations, often invoking the fundamental Euro-centricracism that considers Arab and Muslim cultures as inferior and facilitatestheir de-humanization. Zionism is the ideological background that permitsturning Gaza and Palestinian cities into concentrationcampsand creates the wide public support for the latest genocidal massacre in Gaza. The only split inthe Israeli public was between those who tried to cover up for the massacreswith humanitarian crocodile tears and ethical “justifications” (left-Zionists)and those who were honest in their bloodlust (right-Zionists). Zionism co
lonizationis a racist project that is deadly for both Palestinians and Israelis. Zionismhas to be confronted and defeated both politically and culturally. Culturalboycott is essential to the well-being of everyone in the region.
The first step in moving towards a complete culturalboycott of Zionism is a confrontation of the European and Western adoption ofZionist apologetics and white washing. The Nobel committee awarded the NobelPeace prize to Itzhak Rabin, one of the ten architects of the ethnic cleansingof Palestine in1948, and the second ethnic cleansing in 1967. He was also directly responsiblefor a few large massacres, one of them a massacre of more than 150 civilianstaking shelter in the Dahamsh mosque in al-Lid. Another Nobel Peace Prize wentto Shimon Peres, responsible for bringing nuclear weapons to the Middle East. Even among Israel’s critics, prominence isoften given to those Israelis who moan the atrocities committed by their statebut refuse to disassociate themselves from the racism of Zionism that underliesthese atrocities. What is more amazing is that the alternative Nobel PeacePrize was given to Uri Avneri. Avnerialso participated in the 1948 ethnic cleansing, as well as in the persecutionof the Palestinian refugees right after it. He remains Zionist to this day andaccepts the 1948 crime as legitimate. Western ideological support for Zionismis partly a matter of material interests, partly reciprocation for the Zionistreflection of Euro-centrism, and partly the effect of the successful Zionist mobilization and cynical abuse of the Nazi holocaust and the historical guilt overantisemitism. This support must be challenged.
Western governments and institutions broadly supportthe isolation of the Palestinian resistance. They refuse to deal with thosePalestinians who refuse to let Palestine beburied and who do not accept the inhuman living conditions imposed by Israel.Although the latest assault on Gazawas resisted by a united Palestinian front that included all military factions,including even Fatah’s “al-Aqsa Martyr’s Brigade,” Hamas is identified as thePalestinian resistance. This move makesPalestinian resistance appear more alien and threatening, using and reinforcingWestern Islamophobia. Hamas won thePalestinian democratic elections, and as a result Israel,supported by the U.S.and the E.U., imprisoned their parliament members. Hamas is universallyacknowledged for its probity and lack of corruption, yet Western countriesinsist on dealing only with the secular Fatah, adopting the racializedcolonialist identification between secularism and progress that served Zionismas an excuse for the destruction of Arab cultures. The destruction of 41mosques in Gaza within a few days is not acoincidence, but the continuation of the systematic demolition of hundreds ofmosques during the ethnic cleansing of Palestineand the ongoing vandalization of Muslim sacred places.
Hamas enjoys both democratic and cultural legitimacyas a movement of resistance to Zionism that is rooted in Arab and Muslimcultures. It cannot be excluded; attempts to exclude it are manifestations ofWestern Euro-centrism, colonialism and racism. International institutions such as UNESCO have the moral and politicalobligation to challenge such destructive and illegal policies.
The world must break its silenceover Israel’scrimes of 1948. It must start using the word apartheid to describeIsrael’s political, economic and social structure, as was recently called forby the President of the U.N. General Assembly, Father Miguel d’Escoto Brockman.And the world must support the call by Civil Society to apply to Israel the same strategies that were effectivein ending Apartheid in SouthAfrica-Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions.
As an international institution in its own right,UNESCO’s maintenance of its own standards requires it to revoke Israel’smembership. In tandem with this act, supportingacademic and cultural boycott of Israel would be a vital expressionof UNESCO’s commitment to its stated goal of contributing to peace and security by promotinginternational collaboration through education, science, and culture, promotinguniversal respect for justice, human rights and the fundamental freedomsproclaimed in the UN Charter.
If order to have a practical impact, the boycott mustbe wide enough to influence the daily lives of the Israelis and the world’smost respected cultural workers. Without this boycott strongly in place, thehypocrite beetle Paul McCartney visited Israel recently, as did the Africansinger Cesaria Evora, as if Africa was not under the same colonial oppression.Mercedes Sosa, who sings about the dispossession of indigenous people in LatinAmerica, came to Israelto entertain the people who commit genocide against the Palestinian people.There are many other artists like them. And meanwhile,Israeli musicians, artists, and curators are welcomed all over the world becauseinternational institutions have not questioned their presence in theinternational community.
The world needs a culture ofBoycott, a culture that refuses to turn a blind eye to genocide in the name ofart, a culture that takes a moral stancetowards Zionism and its crimes, and changes the public and official discourse.UNESCO’s support of cultural boycott would support this trend, and help todeter and halt the role of cultural expression in reinforcing systemicviolence.
* The author of this paper, Rahela Mizrahi, signedthe Palestinian call for the cultural boycott of Israel in 2006. She has a 1stdegree in fine arts from the Betzalel Academy in Jerusalemand is currently completing her 2nd degree writing on the “Patternsof Expropriation, Conversion, and Appropriation of Palestinian Heritage throughIsraeli Art” at TelAviv University.
 The Mughrabi neighborhood was turned into the Kotel yard
 The Gaza “Waqf” (the Muslim religious authority) reported 41 demolishedmosques and 51 partially damaged ones (http://www.palestine-info.co.uk/en/default.aspx?xyz=U6Qq7k%2bcOd87MDI46m9rUxJEpMO%2bi1s7Eo83%2bCXjvR4ICQ2Kgbx%2b3Cdnwzndmi%2bNuzUNGywm3vRSmnSZLtNWXY8SCcrJXdF7fj2UarQI1So%2fA5JXetkfUCYx8tGRNtDoRvwEobFRRfE%3d).
A partial list of mosques whichIsrael destroyed in Gaza (until 12/1/2009), in addition to the IslamicUniversity: ‘Omar ‘Aqal mosque in Gebaliya refugee camp, ‘Omar Abu-BakerAl-Sadik mosque in Beit-Hanun, Al-Naser mosque in Beit-Lahiya, which is a 600year old mosque, Al-Shafa mosque in west Gaza, while demolishing the Al-Shafamedical center, ‘Omar ibn Al-Khatab mosque in Bureij refugee camp, Al-KhulafaAl-Rashidin mosque in Jebaliya refugee camp, Al-Abrar mosque in the villageBnei-Sahila, ‘Az Al-din Al-Kassam mosque in Khan Yunes, Abu Hanifa Al-Nu’amanmosque in south Gaza, which is a part of a complex containing two schools,press and medical offices, Ibrahim Al-Mukadama mosque in Beit-Lahiya, bombedduring the evening prayer, Altakwa mosque in north Gaza, Al-Nur Al-Mahmadimosque the biggest mosque in G
aza strip (a picture below).
 Short of, andas a vehicle toward, ethnic cleansing, one of the most basic ways that Israel ridsitself of and controls the Palestinian population is by concentratingPalestinians into areas. These areas arepoliced, confined, and militarized variously and increasingly over time withpolice (inside of Israel), check points and the apartheid wall (in the WestBank), and borders (in Gaza). The term‘concentration camp’ is used in the generic sense through which a statedisposes of populations defined as undesirable, limiting their presence andobliterating their political existence. The possibility of actual death, as wesee in Gaza, isnever far away.