South African Writer Condemns Sharon and the Israeli Occupation
Leading South African writer Breyten Breytenback publishes an open letter to Ariel Sharon condemning his policies and the continued Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.
You Won't Break Them
Breyten Breytenbach: A leading South African writer's passionate open letter to Ariel Sharon
Saturday April 13, 2002
You don't know me. There's no reason why you should and little cause for you to listen to what somebody like myself may have to say. Should it interest you, I'm a writer born in South Africa, now living and working abroad. As a writer, I'm deeply apprised of the need to keep words uncluttered of any urge to rouse easy emotions. This is what facile comparisons do - they nullify the understanding of complexity by a rush of outrage, heating the throat and staining the adversary with vicarious condemnation. Apartheid was not nazism, though to say so was a striking slogan. And the policies now perpetrated by Israeli forces on the Palestinian people should not be equated with apartheid. Each one of these processes and systems is evil enough to merit a thorough description of its own historical singularity.
And yet, it is all only too familiar. The underlying assumptions informing your actions are racist. As was the case with the South African regime, the methods by which you hope to subjugate the enemy consist of force and bloodshed and humiliation. Cynically you think you can get away with this as long as you play up to the supposed vital interests of the United States. I don't think you really care a fig for America's interests. Your doppelgänger, Netanyahu, employs this crude propaganda more openly. But you too, by echoing the American president, who describes every "other" as a terrorist, have shown that you take the rest of the world for fools. Surely, not all of us agree that the highest good in the world is America's greed for cheap oil, and that we are hence expected to adhere to the inviolability of corrupt regimes in the region.
It is blatantly averred, again and again, that any criticism of Israel's policies is an expression of anti-semitism. With that assertion the argument is supposed to be closed. Of course, I reject this attempt at censorship by thus disqualifying the grounds for debate. No amount of suffering - be it of the Tutsis, Kurds, Armenians, Vietnamese, Bosnians or Palestinians - can confer immunity from criticism. No reference to some ostensibly sacrosanct Greater Israel can camouflage the fact that your settlements are armed colonies built on land shamelessly stolen from the Palestinians, festering there as shards in their flesh, or snipers' nests, intended to thwart and annul any possibility of Palestinian statehood. There can be no way to peace through the annihilation of the other, just as there is no paradise for the "martyr".
Why should we look the other way when it is Israel committing crimes? A viable state cannot be built on the expulsion of another people who have as much claim to that territory as you have. In the long run, your immoral and short-sighted policies will furthermore weaken Israel's legitimacy as a state. As provocateur, cold-blooded and cruel, you stand out among your peers. In your dogged attempts to subvert previous agreements and scupper the possibility of peace - except for the peace of the graveyard and of exile, premised on the "total transfer" or disappearance of the Palestinian entity - you are bringing turmoil to the region. It remains to be seen whether the growling of your principals in Washington will inflect your campaign of calculated terror and wanton destruction - or whether it is but a smokescreen behind which to better align the "free world's" war on "terrorism" - and for the domination of resources and a global control of markets, cheap oil and "democracy".
I recently visited the occupied territories for the first time. And yes, I'm afraid they can reasonably be described as resembling Bantustans - reminiscent of the ghettoes and controlled camps of misery one knew in South Africa. The few days I spent there left me with strong but conflicting impressions. How inextricably linked your peoples are. The stones everywhere. The topography of names familiar from the Bible. The beautiful light. The attempts to make the place look like Switzerland by planting out-of-place conifers. The inhospitality of the land, except for lush coastal plains. How abysmally sad the villages are. The green lights in the mosques and all the unfinished habitations. The ugliness of the architecture. The inanity of your occupation - all those lit-up detour roads built for the exclusive use of settlers and Israeli citizens. The surly pettiness of your controls at checkpoints, having little to do with security and everything with the primitive urge to humiliate, harass and drive to insane rage an occupied population.
The extreme youth of your soldiers. The ruthlessness with which you destroy the Palestinian economy. The ancient revenge: bulldozing houses, destroying olive groves. The Berlin walls around your settlements in Gaza (and behind them university extensions, research institutes, American-linked hotels, golf courses), and then the rubble of destroyed Palestinian quarters looking now like Ground Zero.
The ebullience of the intellectuals and artists under siege in Ramallah - arguing, laughing at their own plight. How they all say : "We don't want to be heroes, we don't want to be victims, we just want to lead normal lives". Their wry despair. The visit to Yasser Arafat, a holed fox, his waxed yellow hands clinging to the empty cliches of "a peace of the brave" and "the conscience of the international community". And a human rights lawyer claiming : "We are grateful to Sharon for two things: he united all the Palestinian factions and he took away every option except to resist". Later on, the same haunted man, chain-smoking and with the sweat of death already on him, remarked bitterly that repression has penetrated the skin of the people, and that now they have nothing else to defend themselves with except their skins. Hence the human bombs.
You have not broken the spirit of the Palestinian people. They are now more resolute than ever to build a state. They saw the renewed onslaught coming, they knew you were but playing footsy with General Zinni. They also know that, since you have now made them stronger, you must strike harder and deeper, because you are caught in a conundrum of your own making. Like Bush in his crusade against the infidel and the disobedient, you have to accelerate your distension of international public ethics. They know that nothing they can do will appease you, short of turning turtle. They fear you will have to compound this crime against humanity which you are committing at present, that you may indeed break their hopes for a secular, modern and democratic state responsible to its population, and bring forth the devil among them. They also know that this will profoundly divide and weaken Israel. But you don't care, do you? This is the pity and the horror.
· Breyten Breytenbach was recently part of an International Parliament of Writers' delegation to the occupied Palestinian territories .
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