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A letter from SA students to Nadine Gordimer
Maya Goldman and others
5 May 2008

Dear Ms Gordimer
We are students, studying in democratic South Africa. Your literary and political work during apartheid preceded us, but no part of its significance is lost on us.
We write in regard to your participation in the International Writers Festival in Jerusalem. This festival coincides with the 60th birthday celebrations of the State of Israel and is being held in Jerusalem.
We do not ask that you unthinkingly mirror every action you took in regard to the South African apartheid government. We do want you to consider the facts of life in Israel and Palestine and take full advantage of the opportunity to change the situation. We believe that you would do more to change the awful situation in Palestine/Israel by withdrawing from the Festival than by attending. Surely the writer`s role is not to speak at conferences that project normality, but rather to expose the abnormality, the crisis. This is not a conference directed at addressing itself, within the paradigm of literature, to the critical fault lines in Israeli society, to the ongoing occupation of another people, or to the violence manifesting itself on both sides. Writers should engage Israelis and Palestinians in regard to ending the occupation and pursuing peaceful relations, but this conference fails to do that.
The Writers Festival Programme indicates that you will discuss `The Writer`s Role in a Time of Crisis`. We know that you have said that the Festival in Israel `is to assert vitally that whatever violent, terrible, bitter and urgent chasms of conflict lie between peoples, the only solution for peace and justice exist and must begin with both sides talking to one another`. However, the official programme reveals that no Palestinians living under the Occupation will be participating in the festival.
In 1988 you attended the Culture in Another South Africa Conference in Amsterdam. Afterwards you wrote: `We met in the conviction that a great responsibility devolves on artists and cultural workers to align themselves consciously with the forces of democracy and national liberation in the life and death struggle to free our country.` Famously, you refused to let the SABC air your writings because it was controlled by an unrepresentative government.
However, despite these objections, if you do attend, we believe that Ramallah is not an appropriate way to engage with the harsh reality of occupation. Ramallah is `Area A`, in terms of the Oslo Agreement, and thus under full Palestinian control. It is therefore not subject to the daily military and bureaucratic injustices with which most of the West Bank is all too familiar. Visiting a city like Hebron or Nablus, and engaging with activists, rather than officials, would offer a more vivid picture of life.
We are sure that you will be aware, and will bring to the attention of others, that the occupation is directed from Jerusalem, the very city in which you will speak. Recent decisions by the Israeli government in Jerusalem include restrictions on fuel and electricity to Gaza; the approval of thousands of new Israeli building permits for the occupied West Bank; and the extension of construction of the wall/fence being built deep inside Palestinian territory. In Jerusalem alone, since 1967, over 23378 dunams of Palestinian land have been expropriated by the Israeli government. 8269 Palestinian Jerusalemites have had their residence revoked. Thousands of Palestinian Jerusalemites can no longer live with their West Bank Palestinian spouses: to do so they must leave Jerusalem and risk losing residency. These figures come from B`Tselem, the respected Israeli NGO that documents the occupation. B`Tselem explains Israeli policy simply: `The government of Israel`s primary goal in Jerusalem has been to create a demographic and geographic situation that will thwart any future attempt to challenge Israeli sovereignty over the city.` In the wake of such policies, over 4486 Palestinians and 1032 Israelis have been killed since October 2000.
Maya Goldman (UCT)
Rahma Mohamed (UCT)
Robert Krause (UCT)
Jonathan Hodgson (UCT)
Katlego Matsila (UCT)
Doron Isaacs (exUCT)
Tabatha Paine (UCT)
Joseph (Joe) Fine (UCT)
Ilham Rawoot (UCT)
Sakina Grimwood (UCT)

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