Open Letter to Susan Sontag
by Yehudit Keshet for the Coalition of Women for a Just Peace

Famed author Susan Sontag is to be awarded the Jerusalem Prize for Literature.  In response, the Coalition of Women for a Just Peace issued this letter to Ms. Sontag.  We post it here with kind permission from Gila Svirsky.

More information about the Coalition of Women for a Just Peace can be found below.

Dear Professor Sontag:

The Coalition of Women for a Just Peace represents 9 major Jewishand Palestinian women's organizations in Israel, which have joined together to work for a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Our principles, reprinted in full below, call for an end to the occupation and a just peace with the Palestinians, as well as the full participation of women in the peace negotiations.

Over the years, many of us have followed your struggle for human and women's rights.  We have considered ourselves your disciples in feminist theory and practice, and have eagerly read your literary works, regarding you as a leader and mentor.  For this reason, we were surprised and disappointed to learn that you have agreed to accept the Jerusalem Prize for Literature, to be awarded by Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert.

This prize recognizes not only your outstanding literary achievements but also your activities on behalf of human rights.  You may not be aware that Israel is engaged in a wholesale violation of the most basic human rights (freedom of speech, movement, employment, education, health, and housing) in the West Bank and Gaza.  You may not know that both Mr Peres and Mr Olmert have been, and continue to be involved in major breaches of human rights whether at the policy level or on the ground.

For instance, Mr Olmert has instituted a policy of home demolitions in Jerusalem and has developed the practice of revoking citizenship from Alestinian residents of the city, which in turn denies them the right to health, education and other basic services.  He plans to build yet another Jewish settlement in the heart of the Palestinian village of Abu Dis.  Such a settlement will serve no purpose other than to try Palestinian patience and expropriate more Palestinian land and water.  These abuses and violations are documented by Israeli and Palestinian human rights organizations and have been the subject of ongoing protest.

We would like to draw your attention to the fact that your acceptance of the prize, and your presence in Jerusalem at the ceremony, is a tacit legitimisation of the occupation, and of Mr Olmert's brutal policies against Palestinian residents of this city.  You would also be causing a serious setback to the feminist movement and to the Israeli civil rights movement as a whole, which is fighting an uphill battle to expose the suffering and despair of the Palestinian people under the occupation and is trying to galvanize Israeli public opinion on the side of reason and humanity.

Professor Sontag, we would like to take the liberty of suggesting that you not come to Jerusalem and publicly explain that you cannot, in the circumstances, accept this prize.  We have already seen a slight easing of some of the collective punishments against the Palestinians as result of the protests of the European Community and the US State Department.  Many Israelis were also affected by the refusal of the renowned soprano, Emma Kirkby, to carry out a planned concert tour here, a refusal accompanied by a declaration of opposition to the continuing occupation.  Alternatively, may we suggest that you use the podium of receipt of the prize to express your condemnation of the ongoing occupation and human rights violations by Israel of Palestinian land and its residents.

The role of artists and intellectuals as leaders and shapers of public opinion can be of inestimable value not only in the short term, but also in a historical perspective.  We hope and trust that your voice too will be raised in protest against a cruel and unjust occupation.

Cordially, The Coalition of Women for a Just Peace

The Coalition of Women for a Just Peace comprises:

The Coalition of Women for a Just Peace holds the following principles: