By Mahmoud El-Yousseph
On April 4, 2012, an 84-year-old German writer and Nobel literature prizewinner Gunter Grass published the poem: ‘What Must Be Said’ (‘Was gesagt werden muss’) in several European newspapers. In this poem Grass expressed concern that an Israeli military strike against Iran could ‘wipe out people of Iran’. In response, Israel declared him persona non grata. Not welcome to Israel.
Why is it that a country claiming to be the ‘only democracy’ in the Middle East cannot tolerate her critics? After the publication of the poem, Israel went ballistic! Mr. Gunter was referred to as a Nazi and as–surprise, surprise–anti-Semitic. However, Mr. Gunter was drafted into the German army by age 14 toward the end of the war, was assigned to a tank division and had not served at any prison camps. There’s nothing anti-Semitic in his poem whatsoever, unless you want to call the truth ‘anti-Semitic’. He’s talking about Israel’s mighty nuclear arsenal and the danger it poses for world peace. He criticizes Germany for providing Israel with a submarine from which nukes can be launched. As a German he doesn’t want to be responsible for a nuclear war and that’s perfectly legitimate.
It is quite bizarre that even tan Israeli writer group sent a letter on April 11th to the Swedish Academy in charge of selecting laureates for the Nobel Prize in Literature demanding the award of German novelist Gunter Grass be revoked. Luckily, the Academy response was, “no can do!”
This is by no means the first time Israel acted with hostility towards its critics. Not long ago, true humanists like Dr. Norman Finkelstein and professor Noam Chomsky had each received a ten year ban from entering Israel. Both are Jews and strong critics of Israeli policy toward Palestinians.
Keep in mind that Palestinians who live under the occupation are often shot at or sent to jail for resisting the occupation and/or protesting the theft of their land and the separation wall erected by Israel. When the international court of justice ruled in 2004 that the barrier being built around the West Bank was illegal and should be pulled down, saying that the “security wall” infringed the rights of Palestinians and added that Israel should pay compensation for the damage it had caused, Israel (as always) ignored the court’s ruling.
Another case worth nothing is the story of Mordechia Vanunu. He is an Israeli citizen who is banned from leaving the country for the last nine years, as well as being prohibited from having contact with any foreign nationals or foreign media. Mr. Vanunu was kidnapped from Rome by Israeli Mossad agents in 1996 and was smuggled into Israel where he was sentenced for 18 years jail time. His only crime according to American author Eileen Fleming was “telling the truth and providing photographic proof to London Sunday Times of Israel’s seven-story underground WMD facility in Negev’.
A few months after his release in 2004, he was re-arrested on Christmas Eve for attempting to celebrate his first Christmas out of prison at the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem.
And lastly, as I am writing this, up to 1,500 activists, mostly from Europe and some from North America, who had been planning to travel directly from Ben Gurion airport to Tel Aviv and then to Bethlehem in Palestine for a week-long program of educational and cultural activities under the banner of “Welcome to Palestine” are being prevented from doing so.
The latest news is that the Israeli military has deployed 600 soldiers at the airport near Tel Aviv and turned it into a military compound, with one section of the airport set up as a prison camp. Israel submitted a “black list” to various airlines of 342 participants from the ages of 9 to 83 to prevent them from boarding planes, thus, sparking huge protests in several international airports.
As of this hour, 50 French peace activists and 9 Israeli citizens are behind bars. The organizers of the event who are mainly French and Belgium citizens accused Israel of being paranoid and hysterical. As she has demonstrated, Israel is all-too-willing to detain people who have committed no crime and have done nothing but say they came to visit Palestine.
Members of the British Parliament have expressed support for the Welcome to Palestine Campaign, as well as the Confederation de Syndicats National (Quebec, Canada) representing 300,000 members supporting the WTP 2012 campaign who have denounced the denial of one of their members Julie Lachapelle her right to visit Palestine as part of the WTP campaign.
All of the aforementioned is clearly a case of free speech vs. Israel and reveals clearly just how much the ‘only democracy’ in the Middle East cherishes free speech. People who can defend such actions by the Jewish state are in the same category as any tyrant or oppressor that history has condemned.
That should be shouted from the rooftops.
– Mahmoud El-Yousseph is a retired USAF Veteran. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.