Cancel the Peres Visit!
Do Not Honour the Dishonourable!
Open Letter to the Master of Balliol College at the University of Oxford
Ramallah, Occupied Palestine
November 13, 2008
The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) views with grave concern the decision of Balliol College to honour Shimon Peres by inviting him to give a special lecture at the College on November 18th. The Campaign is also concerned about reports that a lecture series is being planned in Peres’s name.
We believe that honouring Peres is an affront not only to Palestinians, but also to a significant segment of UK academics. These academics’ determined support for Palestinian rights, by calling for the isolation of Israel in the world community and refusing to treat it as a normal nation until it fully respects international law, has earned the admiration of Palestinian and solidarity movements across the world.
We are indeed disheartened by your total neglect of the career of the man you have chosen to honour. Can it be that you do so without the knowledge of his personal record and his history as the president of a state that today practices the most pernicious form of colonialism and apartheid? Bear with us as we recount the most salient points of his career that directly point to a record of war crimes and other grave violations of human rights which will immeasurably tarnish the image of your College and of the University of Oxford, should you invite him to give a lecture and inaugurate a lecture series in his name.
In 1996, when Israel still occupied southern Lebanon, Shimon Peres was Prime Minister. He was in the midst of an election campaign, so he took a decision to do something to change his “dovish” image because doves are rarely elected in Israel. He launched “Operation Grapes of Wrath” causing massive destruction and forcing 400,000 Lebanese civilians to flee their homes, with almost 800 of them taking refuge at a UN base in the village of Qana, South Lebanon.
On April 18, the Israeli army shelled the UN shelter in Qana, killing 102 civilians, mainly women, children and the elderly. Many more were injured. Human Rights Watch, the UN and Amnesty International subsequently established that Israel’s attack on the UN base was deliberate, disproving Israeli propaganda to the contrary. Shimon Peres said at the time, “In my opinion, everything was done according to clear logic and in a responsible way. I am at peace.”
The Qana massacre led to Shimon Peres being denied the job he coveted at the time: that of UN Secretary-General. He should have been denied it anyway for being the architect of Israel’s nuclear weapons programme – one which remains outside the scrutiny of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) even as Israel hypocritically bays for the cessation of Iran’s pursuit of nuclear energy for civilian purposes.
Peres is implicated in the myriad crimes and international law infringements committed by Israel in the occupied Palestinian territory. He is directly responsible for building — even initiating the construction of — colonies on occupied Arab land, in direct violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention; endorsing a policy of extra-judicial killings and house demolitions; supporting the brutal siege on occupied Gaza, widely regarded as a form of collective punishment; and legitimizing the apartheid Wall and the elaborate system of roadblocks all across the occupied West Bank, in pursuit of “racial segregation,” a concept and strategy promoted by Peres more than most Israeli leaders.
Furthermore, Peres played a key role in whitewashing the Israeli army atrocities and wanton destruction of homes in the Jenin refugee camp in 2002, as well as in the carnage committed by the Israeli army in its recent war on Lebanon in 2006. Peres has also consistently defended the acquisition of land through military aggression, claiming that Israel has the right to the Golan Heights and large parts of occupied Jerusalem because it captured those territories during war.
All this makes Shimon Peres wholly unsuitable for addressing the faculty and students of an institution that has traditionally produced world leaders in all fields, including in human rights and international law. War criminals do not deserve such a privilege.
Palestinian civil society and international supporters of human rights and international law expect the University of Oxford to uphold the highest standard of respect for the human rights of all humans, including, most urgently, the Palestinians of the Gaza Strip who have suffered untold pain and destitution under a hermetic and illegal siege imposed by Israel for almost two years. Difficult and brave decisions need to be taken by international civil society to uphold justice and respect for international law, as the only path towards a sustainable peace.
Learning from the lessons of the struggle against apartheid in South Africa, where persistent international campaigns of boycott, divestment and sanctions helped bring about freedom and democracy, international civil society is called upon to boycott Israel’s colonial and apartheid regime, not celebrate it. At the very least, Israeli war criminals should be brought to justice, not rewarded.
* Endorsed by the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee (BNC). Members of the BNC include:
· Council of National and Islamic Forces in Palestine
· Global Palestine Right of Return Coalition
· General Union of Palestinian Workers
· Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU)
· General Union of Palestinian Women (GUPW)
· Palestinian Non-Governmental Organizations Network (PNGO)
· Ittijah: Union of Arab Community Based Associations
· Independent Federation of Unions – Palestine (IFU)
· Palestinian Farmers Union (PFU)
· Occupied Palestine and Golan Heights Advocacy Initiative (OPGAI)
· Grassroots Palestinian Anti-Apartheid Wall Campaign (Stop the Wall)
· Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI)
· Charitable Organizations Union
· National Committee for the Commemoration of the Nakba
· Civil Coalition for Defending the Palestinians’ Rights in Jerusalem (CCDPRJ)
· Coalition for Jerusalem
· Union of Palestinian Charitable Organizations
· Palestinian Economic Monitor