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Novelist Ian McEwan plays for both teams in East Jerusalem

The British author visited the Sheikh Jarrah protest – but also intends to receive the Jerusalem Prize for Literature from the patron of the city’s settlers, mayor Nir Barkat

Authors Ian McEwan and David Grossman at the Sheikh Jarrah protest (photo: Solidarity Sheikh Jarrah)

The celebrated British author Ian McEwan joined today the weekly protest in the neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, where Palestinian families have been evacuated from their homes to make room for Jewish settlers.

Ironically, McEwan arrived to Israel to receive the Jerusalem Prize for Literature from the hands of the city’s mayor, Nir Barkat. Mayor Barkat is one of the driving forces behind recent attempts to expand Jewish settlements and housing projects into Palestinian East Jerusalem. Currently, he even refuses to carry out an Israeli court order demanding the immediate evacuation of a house in the Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan, illegally built by rightwing settlers. Many grassroots activists blame Barkat for the rising tension between Jews and Arabs in the city.

Before flying to Israel, McEwan rejected calls from a group called British Writers in Support of Palestine to turn down the Jerusalem Prize. In his replay he wrote:

“There are ways in which art can have a longer reach than politics […] Your ‘line’ is not the only one. Courtesy obliges you to respect my decision, as I would yours to stay away.”

The protest in Sheikh Jarrah started a year and a half ago, following the evacuation of two Palestinian families from their homes. Since then, more eviction orders have been issued, and construction began for a new housing project for Jews at the site of the old Shepherds Hotel, also in Sheikh Jarrah. Solidarity Sheikh Jarrah, which leads the protest in the neighborhood, has recently organized demonstrations in other parts of the city where Palestinians are threatened by eviction orders and by new municipal plans, among them in Silwan.

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    1. we can say the same of everyone who is an activist on behalf of the rights of the palestinians but go to the army of Israel. WE dont play for the both teams?. Everyone of us(israelies) know what the army do and, maybe we can ask to do service not in the territories or far away of the “heat zone”, but in the end is the same.
      Barkat will give it, but it is not the “Barkat Prize”. Writers like Borges, Simone de Beauvoir, Graham Greene, Don DeLillo, Susan Sontag got it. And I dont know the super big difference between get it from the hands of Olmert and Kollek than from the hand of Barkat. Anyone of this mayors contribute to rising tension between Jews and Arabs in the city.
      And yes, Kollek too!!
      I think we have to apreciate that he was in Sheikh Jarrah instead of eating hummus in the “City of david ” or Beit Yonathan.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Plays for both teams? If only it were that simple to reduce complex human interactions down to seeing them as being for one side or the other. That seems to me to be what helps create immovable barriers – either you’re for us or against us, whereas permeable barriers have more potential.

      I too think we have to be glad Ian McEwan went to Sheikh Jarrah where he could be photographed, filmed and written about. Maybe he too will write about it all. That would be great.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Roberto Ventrella

      Ci sono persone come McEwan, come Grossman, che si fanno fotografare a Sheikh Jarrah e poi vanno a stringere la mano a Barkat… Poi verrà Umberto Eco che farà altrettanto, poi Yehoshwa, poi Oz, e poi , e poi, e poi ancora altri. Poi ci sono persone, che pur invitati a ricevere un premio in Israele, non ci andranno mai! Tra queste due tipologie di persone c’è una differenza sostanziale che i napoletani definiscono molto semplicemente così: “uommene e uommenicchi”, con l’aggiunzione, a volte e non obbligatoria, di un terzo attributo: “uommen’ ‘e merda”, sostituito , in casi estremi, da un altro termine: “quacquaracquà”.
      È solo una questione di semplice onestà (non necessariamente intellettuale).

      Reply to Comment
    4. I’d only see a dilemma if McEwan acted in an opportunistic manner. He did not. Instead, he bravely used the stage to tell some unpleasent truths, e.g.

      “I’d like to say something about nihilism. Hamas whose founding charter incorporates the toxic fakery of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, has embraced the nihilism of the suicide bomber, of rockets fired blindly into towns, and embraced the nihilism of an extinctionist policy towards Israel. But (to take just one example) it was also nihilism that fired a rocket at the undefended Gazan home of the Palestinian doctor, Izzeldin Abuelaish, in 2008, killing his three daughters and his niece. It is nihilism to make a long term prison camp of the Gaza Strip. Nihilism has unleashed the tsunami of concrete across the occupied territories. When the distinguished judges of this prize commend me for my ‘love of people and concern for their right to self-realisation’, they seem to be demanding that I mention, and I must oblige, the continued evictions and demolitions, and relentless purchases of Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem, the process of right of return granted to Jews but not Arabs. These so-called ‘facts on the ground’ are a hardening concrete poured over the future, over future generations of Palestinian and Israeli children who will inherit the conflict and find it even more difficult to resolve than it is today, more difficult to assert their right to self-realisation.”

      Reply to Comment
    5. ilana sebba

      There is no irony and no contradiction; Ian McEwan is accepting a LITERARY prize and stating his views, he is trying to present a balanced view, and i think it’s great.

      Reply to Comment