Cultural exchanges are good. Full stop. Unambiguous statement.
Here is a piece I submitted to The Herald for its Agenda column, which they couldn’t use because the space is already taken:
On my wall hangs a photograph of me in Gaza with two Palestinian boys my own age in 1965. For three weeks they were my best friends. One was conceived on his father’s farm, but his family was pushed off the land in the war of 1947, what the Palestinians call the Catastrophe, and he was born a refugee. He had never been home. I don’t know what became of them.
In 1973, year of Israel’s first entry in the Eurovison Song Contest, I was powerfully hurt on their behalf. Pleased, of course, that Israeli Jews could celebrate their strong ties with Europe – and why not, indeed? – there were nevertheless two serious problems. Firstly, they should be celebrating their close cultural ties with their immediate neighbours, and secondly I can read a map. Israel is not in Europe.
Israel is a racist state. How else to explain Prime Minister Netanyahu’s remark before the recent election: “This is not a state for all its citizens… it is the nation state of the Jewish people – and them alone”?
Israel objects strongly to being called an apartheid state. There are certainly differences between South African Bantustans and Israeli West Bank settlements. Israel openly refers to its policy of Hafrada; the Wall is Gedr Ha’hafrada, officially translated as The Separation Wall. There is no meaningful distinction between “apartheid” and “separation”, and as the locally given name fits best, there can be no objection to it being known as the separation state.
The unconditional recognition of the State of Israel was approved by the nascent United Nations in 1948 on a wave of grief and collective sympathy for the Jewish people. Undoubtedly, they needed a safe place to call their own. In retrospect, however, we can see that it may have been wiser to make recognition conditional upon them finding a reasonable accommodation with the native population.
After the 1967 war Israel occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank under the terms of the 4th Geneva Convention which explicitly prohibits forced movements of the local population and the importing of non-native populations. Both prohibitions are openly breached.
No period of time is mentioned in the Convention, but the decade or so that the Allies occupied Germany after the war is a generally recognised benchmark. The occupation by Israel of the West Bank now in its sixth decade seriously stretches the intention of the Convention. This is not the worst humanitarian situation in the world, but in the range and depth and longevity of the illegalities, and flouting of UN resolutions, this situation is unique.
According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), in the past two weeks alone Israeli occupation forces demolished 41 Palestinian-owned structures in occupied East Jerusalem and Area C of the occupied West Bank, displacing 38 Palestinians and affecting 121 others. This is happening all the time, but rarely gets into our news bulletins.
Read the language in the international press in accounts of flare-ups: indeterminate numbers of Palestinians die, while precisely counted Israelis are killed by militants. It’s strange how so many Palestinians seem to walk into bullets and find their homes blown up, and it’s hard to say what really happened.
Meanwhile, peaceful protests against and embargos on the Eurovision Song Contest are “divisive” or even “anti-semitic”. Cultural celebrations and exchanges are always to be encouraged. But we should all be fully aware of the contexts. Sadly, more vicious crackdowns on the Palestinians and illegal annexations of Palestinian territory are widely expected as soon as it’s over.