[Published 5 March 2011]
Novelist Ian McEwan displayed crass ignorance of the Arab-Jewish conflict when recently accepting the US$10000 Jerusalem Prize - awarded to a writer whose work best expresses and promotes the idea of the ‘‘freedom of the individual in society.’‘
The Prize was awarded to McEwan by Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat at a ceremony attended by Israel’s President Shimon Peres and Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat.
Mc Ewan was self-deprecating as he told the audience that he had resisted calls to boycott the ceremony understanding that in doing so he couldn’t escape the politics of his decision.
Those present may have felt heartened when he stated:
“Some of the previous recipients of this prize have spoken their thoughts in a gathering like this and have upset people. But everybody knows this simple fact: once you’ve instituted a prize for philosophers and creative writers, you have embraced freedom of thought and open discourse, and I take the continued existence of the Jerusalem prize as a tribute to the precious tradition of a democracy of ideas in Israel.”
McEwan then took the opportunity to express his thoughts and upset people - basing them on a series of factual inaccuracies that have become mainstream thinking among many intellectuals. His public embrace of these inaccuracies rendered his thoughts of no real credibility or value.
Ian McEwan - Factual Inaccuracies Distort Opinion
Consider the following:
1. McEwan equated the murderous policies of Hamas with the tragic - but accidental - death of four young girls in Gaza when stating:
“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.”
Was McEwan unaware of the following facts and would he have had a different opinion if he had known that:
(i) The Gaza incident took place in 2009 during Operation Cast Lead - not 2008 - when a rocket fired by Israel during that operation accidentally hit the doctor’s home located in a refugee camp from which rockets were being fired into Israel
(ii) Operation Cast Lead occurred only after a cease fire between Israel and Hamas had been breached between November 2008 - December 19, 2008 when 170 mortars, 255 Qassams, and 5 Grads had been indiscriminately fired upon Israel’s civilian population centres from Gaza.(http://idfspokesperson.com/2009/01/03/rocket-statistics-3-jan-2009/)
2. McEwan spoke of a
“tsunami of concrete across the occupied territories.”
If he was speaking of Jewish settlements was he cognizant of the fact that they are located on less than 5% of the West Bank?
Why did he choose to use the term “occupied territories” rather than the term “disputed territories”.
As a master of words McEwan would know the inference to be drawn from using such a term is to deny Israel has any legal or historical claim to any part of the West Bank.
3. McEwan decried
“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.”
It was obviously irrelevant to McEwan that such evictions and demolitions followed court orders legally obtained by the owners of these properties against occupants who were found to be illegally trespassing or squatters.
Obviously he resents the purchase of Arab owned land by Jews in transactions freely agreed upon between willing vendors and purchasers. He was silent on expressing any view about the many murders perpetrated on Arab vendors found to have sold land to Jews.
In advocating an Arab right of return he was serving to inflame - and continuing to encourage - an Arab demand that has been rejected by every Israeli government of different political persuasions since 1948. This demand has been one of the principal obstacles to creating a Palestinian State in the West Bank and Gaza.
4. McEwan mused:
“Palestinians are split, their democratic institutions are weak or non existent, violent jihadism has proved self-defeating. They have been unlucky in their leaders. And yet many Palestinians are ready for a solution, the spirit is there.”
Fine and encouraging words indeed. But who are these Palestinians? Can he point to the writings of any such Palestinians to support his grand statement?
5. McEwan called for “an end to the settlements” - empty words - unless accompanied by what he thought should happen to the 500,000 Jews who would have to suffer the consequences of that decision. The freedom of these individuals to not be thrown out of their homes obviously was of no consequence to McEwan.
6. He claimed without specifying in any detail that the Palestine Papers had revealed that
“Israel casually brushed aside remarkable concessions from the Palestinian Authority?”
Surely the use of the words “casually brushed aside remarkable concessions” required some amplification. The inference that Israel has no say in accepting or rejecting Palestinian Authority concessions was clear.
Israel’s offer to cede its claims to more than 95% of the West Bank was obviously not remarkable enough for him to point out or highlight as having been refused by the Palestinian Authority.
McEwan’s acceptance speech was a farce and indicated that he had a closed mind on the conflict - rather disappointing, considering he had this to say:"
"the novel as a literary form was born out of curiosity about and respect for the individual. Its traditions impel it towards pluralism, openness, a sympathetic desire to inhabit the minds of others.”
Any attempt by him as a novelist to display these attributes was clearly missing in the biased and controversial viewpoints he expressed.
Mc Ewan is certainly entitled to express his opinion. Those listening to him are equally entitled to consider his reliance on factual inaccuracies in the formation of such opinion as sufficient reason to dismiss that opinion as irrelevant and of little value.
Mc Ewan is undoubtedly a novelist of great distinction. He should stick to fiction - which was clearly evident in his inaccurate representation of the realities of the Arab-Jewish conflict.
Come to think of it - given his inaccurate remarks - McEwan would probably have been better staying at home and receiving the award of the Jerusalem Prize in absentia.