(Article changed on December 16, 2013 at 07:18)
Sumayya and her cat in front of her demolished home 2002, 2nd Intifada
(Image by wikipedia) Permission Details DMCA
the most important Book Fair in the Spanish-speaking world, and second
in the world only to the Frankfurt Book Fair, the Guadalajara
International Book Fair in Guadalajara, Mexico, concluded this Sunday,
December 8th, under heavy security. The unusually high level of security
resulted from the guest of honor of this year's book fair, the State of
Israel. For the past 20 years, the book fair has honored a city,
country, or region as its guest. No earlier guests, however, have been
as controversial, or have aroused as much protest and dissent, as has
the State of Israel. Hence, the unprecedented levels of security.
Along with Mexican President Enrique PeÃ±a Nieto, the Israeli President Shimon Peres was in attendance. And although several protests against Israel's occupation of Palestinian territory, and demonstrations in support of the Palestinian people, took place outside the fair, there was little press coverage on the issue. Likewise, there was no acknowledgment within the fair of the political controversy - until the final day of the book fair.
As a guest I was invited to introduce my most recent collection of short stories, "El suicidio y otros cuentos" ("Suicide and Other Tales"), as well as a collection of essays on the catastrophic effects of NAFTA in the Mexican culture. To the great disappointment of my publisher, who attempted but failed to interrupt me, I surprised the assembled guests by raising the issue of international justice as it relates to the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As Marco Vinicio Gonzalez of Radiobilingue wrote, "the sophisticated security measures around the Israeli president Shimon Peres could not prevent the entrance of a Trojan horse." As this "Trojan horse", I brought with me and read a letter of solidarity written by the contemporary Jewish writer, attorney, and CounterPunch contributor, Elliot Sperber. While my Spanish translation of Sperber's letter has been printed in Spanish language media, and has generated a very grateful, engaged response from my readers, it has not been published in its original English version. It appears below.
Malou H.D.T. (MalÃº Huacuja del Toro).
I hope you won't find it presumptuous that, though we've never met, I should address you as neighbors. Though we don't know one another, however, the fact of the matter is (especially in light of instant telecommunications, and the ease of travel that has shrunk the world over the past few decades) that we are all neighbors on this planet. So, I would like to not only address you all as neighbors, and to think of you as neighbors, but to live with you as neighbors as well.
It is a profound honor to be, however marginally, a part of the 27th Guadalajara International Book Fair. When MalÃº asked me if I would write something (to address, in particular, the controversy surrounding this year's guest, the State of Israel), my initial reaction was: No, absolutely not. Although I have lived in Israel, and attended school in Israel, and briefly worked in Israel on a kibbutz - a collective farm - and though I have strong feelings about the injustice of the ongoing occupation of Palestine, among other aspects of the State of Israel's general aggressiveness, my initial reaction was that it would be best to remain silent. Why entangle myself in such a heated, complex controversy? Besides, there are certainly people more qualified than I am to speak on the subject. Israelis, perhaps. No thank you. Moreover, it's a book fair - a cultural event. Why drag politics into it?
Upon further reflection, however, it occurred to me that (though international book fairs hold out the promise of eradicating national differences, obliterating borders, and comprise an important dimension of the developing world community) insofar as International Book Fairs distinguish groups of people based on national affiliation - as opposed to merely cultural or linguistic associations - and because nations are thoroughly political institutions, an international book fair is a manifestly political event. And, as a political event, it is an entirely appropriate forum to raise important international political issues. It is in this context that I was reminded of the legendary Spanish writer Miguel de Unamuno's observation that "at times to be silent is to lie."
In addition to its other dimensions, Unamuno's insight shares an analogue with the jurisprudential concept of the criminal omission - which holds that crimes are not only committed by positive acts. In addition to positive acts, crimes can also be committed by omissions - when people fail to act. And it seems difficult to deny that it would be a singular crime of conscience to honor the State of Israel as a guest without raising attention to the fact (and this should not at all disparage the deservedly celebrated writers who hail from Israel) that the State of Israel - as a political entity - does not ever travel alone; wherever Israel travels, she is accompanied by her prisoner - the Palestinian people. For the two are not only physically, territorially, shackled together, they are morally shackled together as well. And while this enchainment is a tragedy for both parties, as the more powerful - as the jailer, rather than the jailed - it is Israel who holds the key to the lock. As the exponentially more powerful, it is Israel that holds the key to peace.
Since they arrive together, shackled together, in addition to honoring Israel as a guest, we must also honor the Palestinians, for they are here too. And their struggle cannot be ignored.
While it may sound peculiar to state so - in light of what was just said - it would be difficult to find a more appropriate choice for guest of honor at an international book festival than the State of Israel. This is not because of the fact that the Jewish people are known as Am Hasefer - the people of the book.
While the Jewish people are indeed known by this honorific, we must be careful not to conflate the rich cultural heritage of Judaism with the political entity that is the State of Israel. Though decidedly related, the two are distinct - as distinct as any political construct is from a cultural and social one. A Jew is not an Israeli. And an Israeli is not necessarily a Jew. Indeed, as the celebrated Israeli activist and writer Uri Avnery recently wrote, "Jewish Israelis are already a minority in the country ruled by Israel."