They just keep climbing on. More than 90 Canadian writers, including a lot of the big names, have come on board as signatories to an online letter to Israeli and Canadian authorities.
The writers are calling for two things: a halt in the eviction of 1,000 Palestinians from various villages in the southern Hebron Hills in the occupied West Bank which has been designed as a military firing range and, secondly, an end to a planned forcible relocation of an estimated 20,000 to 70,000 Israeli citizens of Bedouin background this coming August from their 35 communities in the Negev within the state of Israel itself.
Margaret Atwood, Michael Ondaatje, Yann Martel, Laurence Hill, Guy Vanderhaeghe, Lorna Crozier, Patrick Lane, Dr. Gabor Maté, Sheila Heti, Steven Galloway and John Ralston Saul are among the novelists, poets and non-fiction authors who responded positively to the petition organized by the Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East.
“I believe it is in response to the ask from the Israeli writers,” Atwood told rabble.ca by email. That is, the Canadian writers were demonstrating, she explains, solidarity with 21 Israeli writers including Amos Oz, AB Yehoshua and David Grossman — who have been campaigning against the eviction plans in the South Hebron Hills.
Since then, a second relocation scheme involving Bedouins in Israel under the Prawer Plan this August has received a first reading in the Israel Knesset and slated to begin in August. So, an effort was made by the CJPME to have the Canadian writers’ petition target Israel’s violation of the human rights of Indigenous Arab peoples who have lived for centuries in their respective lands.
The Canadian writers’ petition included the following: “We ask you to heed the European Parliament’s call to withdraw the Plan, which violates the constitutional rights of the Bedouin to property, dignity and equality. The actions planned are manifestly unjust, and will gravely damage Israel’s international reputation. We also respectfully ask our Canadian leaders to take diplomatic steps to encourage Israeli leaders to heed this call.”
Are we seeing the emergence of a more politicized bloc of Canadian writers? One might say it is about time after six years of Stephen Harper.
“When 88 [now over 90] Canadian writers get together like that that should mean something,” says Yann Martel, author of Life of Pi.
Margaret Atwood is a little more cautious. “I do not consider myself political, except insofar as I still believe in democracy, think governments should not lie to and rip off their citizens, should not discriminate against portions of their citizenry based on ethnicity. The usual stuff. Writers get asked to support things because they don’t have jobs and thus can’t get fired, and are mouthy. Also the usual stuff. No mysteries there.”
A third signatory, Vancouver-based writer and actor Carmen Aguirre, says she hopes this outpouring by Canadian writers will spur her colleagues in Canada to collaborate by taking stronger stances on other political issues.
“There were some names [among the Canadian writers who signed] that were not a surprise to me and I am of course happy that person signed,” says Aguirre. “Other names were a surprise to me. There were names of people that I didn’t know were politically involved in this way.”
“I personally come from a [Chilean] background where people look to artists to give their political opinion. It’s almost viewed [in Latin America] as part of the artist’s job/responsibility. Quite often here in mainstream Canada I come across the opinion — in the theatre community — that artists should be neutral and apolitical. I couldn’t disagree more.”
She also says she appreciated the organizers of the Canadian petition, the CJPME, for apprising writers like her who were not up to date on the Israel-Palestinian conflict and required a quick education on the planned eviction and relocation schemes before putting their signature.
Yann Martel says he was motivated to sign the CJPME petition because of the involvement of high profile Israeli writers like David Grossman in the first protest statement. “I just paid more attention and read into it, and I decided to sign on.”
He told rabble.ca that the middle position has disappeared when it comes to the Middle East.
“You have the pro-Israeli lobby, that has their rationale and their logic and their twisting of things, and their rationalization and you have the anti-Israel ones who just want to obliterate the country. So, it is very hard to have a middle ground, and wade into that. You take the risk of getting caught in the shouting match, but the cause seems worth it. When the cause feels like an injustice and you want to take a stand you just take a stand and whatever happens, happens.”
Until the CJPME approached him, Martel says he know about the planned eviction in the West Bank but had heard less about the larger forcible relocation of the Bedouins from the Negev inside Israel.
Whether this petition is a one time thing or part of a future trend, Martel is uncertain. He lives in Saskatchewan where it is difficult to get people up in arms about the Third World conditions of First Nations people on reserves, he told rabble.ca.
“We [as Canadians] have the luck of things working out quite well, over time, and so we are lulled into this sense of complacency, which is a terrible problem, of course.”
Furthermore, says Martel, “in Canada there are not [many issues] on a daily basis that will motivate a Canadian writer. So, the tradition I think is different in Chile, which had a bad government n Chile — [with] Augusto Pinochet.”
Author of the bestselling book on addiction In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts and a public speaker, Dr. Gabor Maté told rabble.ca he had no hesitation in signing a petition protesting Israel eviction and relocation schemes.
“The Canadian government has been particularly notorious in international [circles] for its unthinking and automatic and completely immoral backing of Israeli policy. The ethnic cleansing of Palestinians has been going on for decades; it is the longest ongoing ethnic cleansing operation of the past and present centuries.”
Dr. Maté says that Canadian writers could not have undertaken the organizing of the petition on their own. “So, somebody [i.e. the CJPME] took the initiative; that is what happened.”
Also, some of the writers involved like him assisted the CJPME in tracking the emails and contact information of other potential signatories among their colleagues.
While the medical doctor/author appreciates the need for writers to serve as “the conscience” in Canada on a host of important matters, he says it is more important for them to speak out on the political issues that are rarely discussed.
“I have less of a need to add my voice [to an issue like climate change],” Dr. Maté added. Even though there is a distorted media coverage of that, and far more attention is paid to deniers than is the case it merits … [Israel and the occupation] is an issue that is more under the radar. The more it is under the radar the more one is compelled to draw attention to it.”
“Canadian writers are demonstrating more backbone on these issues than Canadian politicians,” says Joan MacNeil, a spokesperson for the CJPME.
A full list of signatories to the open letter is available here.
Paul Weinberg is a freelance writer and journalist based in Hamilton. His website is www.paulweinberg.ca