As we both are Colombians, I think there’s no need to detail what the experience of civilians in an armed conflict is. In Colombia, from different perspectives, we have experienced it. However, I would like to invite you to imagine the situation when it’s not about a conflict but a military occupation, one of the longest in recent history. I am talking about Palestine, living under Israeli occupation and colonization for 63 years. You have been invited to a country commonly known as Israel, but actually it is Palestine, Historic and Occupied Palestine, the one they have pretend to erase from geography and memory. 5 million of Palestinian refugees around the world are living testimony of this occupation that I’m talking about.
Thousands of those millions of Palestinian refugees are here in Colombia. Surely at some time you have crossed path with them in the streets of your native city. Barranquilla, from where you are and so is my father, was one of the cities that hosted many of the Palestinians who came to our country expelled from their lands. Customs, families, and surnames among Barranquilla society, talk about this history of exile; stories of grandparents and great grandparents who remember how they were forced to leave Palestine. They also keep hope that someday Israel will enforce International Law and allow them to return or at least visit their own lands.
You have chosen to participate at the Israeli Presidential Conference. I would like to tell you about the political use Israel will give to your visit. Mr. Israel Maimon, president of the Conference Steering Committee, announced the participation of “prominent artists who use their art and fame to change the world and impact the future”. Now let me tell you that Israel uses that art and fame to hide its daily crimes and assaults on Palestinians. The international events Israel promotes are used to construct a facade of a country at the forefront of democracy and development. But Israel lies, simply because real-democracy it’s something out of its concern. When words are not backed by concrete facts and actions, they are simply rhetoric. My invitation, Shakira, is to not become part of Israel rhetorical-democracy.
What is not rhetoric are the crimes Israel commits, these are all well corroborated by actions that have been documented by United Nations and organizations such as International Amnesty, Oxfam and Save the Children. I found so paradoxical that you have been invited to speak on the importance of early childhood education, by a country that is not properly recognized in this area, but instead constantly violates not only children’s right to education, but the most basic rights of all Palestinians. “Facing Tomorrow” is the title of the conference, let me tell you that Israel has not even been willing to face the reality of the millions of Palestinians that are under its occupation.
As early childhood is the subject of your presentation, let me tell you about Palestinian children: through an illegal blockade on Gaza Strip, Israel collectively punishes 1.5 million of Palestinians, of whom 44% are children under 14 years. Israel restricts the entry of school materials, medical equipment and supplies and basic goods. As a result 80% of the people in Gaza depend on humanitarian aid to survive and 61% of the families faces food insecurity and have at least one child with a parasitic infection. Due to the lack of minerals and vitamins in children’s diet, in 2008 several schools in Gaza had to cancel classes such as computers and sciences lab, which require a high energetic consumption. Among the most common illnesses in Gaza, are the psychological disorders and traumas. Over 50% of children in Gaza have faced a violent experience, about 25% have lost a loved one and 30% have been forced to leave their homes. 20% of children suffer Post-Traumatic Stress Disorders (PTSD) and 13% have been diagnosed with depression associated with the fear of going to sleep, play or walk to school. Gaza children’s drawings reflect this reality: in a recent study 82% of the children drew pictures related to Israel’s military attacks on Gaza. During military operation “Cast Lead” between December 2008 and January 2009, Israel murderer 1,500 Palestinians of whom 300 were children; also 36 Palestinian schools were bombed.
Do you really think a State that perpetuates such crimes have any authority to discuss the challenges of tomorrow? Or children’s education? In my opinion, no; Israel should first deal with the present, which includes the reality of millions of Palestinians exposed to inhuman life conditions. But they won’t deal with it; they already have shown that Palestinians are not a matter of interest to Israel. Let me predict what will happen at the conference: Israeli leaders and spokespersons will talk too much about the present and future of their own country, while the cruel realities of Palestinian population will be completely ignored.
Let me remind you that you’re not only from Barranquilla, where thousands of Palestinians arrived after being ousted from their lands; also your father is Lebanese. Who better than him to tell you about the more than 400,000 Palestinians among the 12 refugee camps in Lebanon that not only live under extreme poverty, but also don’t have any access to social or civil rights. Perhaps your father also remembers the massacre of thousands of Palestinians in the refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila in West Beirut in 1982. Even you must remember Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 2006; you publicly spoke out against it. Please do not forget it.
It is because of impunity that Israel has been able to constantly commit crimes, but also because there is complicity, whether by action or omission and silence. I invite you to not make part of it. Dozens of artists, musicians, politicians and actors have already expressed their support to the International Campaign for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel, and decided to cancel their participation in events organized by Israel; they have decided to break the chain of complicity and stand up in defense of the Palestinians legitimate rights that Israel denies. Among them are Roger Waters, Brian Eno, Mike Leigh, Vanessa Paradis, Carlos Santana, Elvis Costello, Devendra Banhart, Gil Scott-Heron, Pixies, Tindersticks, Leftfield, Faithless and Massive Attack.
I am convinced on the importance of public figures that are socially committed, but the commitments must be coherently assumed. The most recent example on that are the different artist, political and cultural figures that will be part of the Freedom Flotilla consisting of 12 ships and more than 800 activists who are about to sail to Gaza with the objective of breaking the illegal Israeli blockade. All these people are clear evidence of commitment and coherence; the kind of coherence that has to do with being always on the side of the oppressed and not of the oppressors.
By participating in this conference you are legitimizing an oppression and apartheid system. That is why I would kindly ask you to reconsider your decision. You should know that while Israel presents itself to the world through a carefully-arranged international event, millions of Palestinians are being hidden in what Israel has converted into his backyard: Gaza and the West Bank. Please do not forget it.
Natalia Margarita Parada
In support of the Palestinian call for BDS http://boycottisrael.info/www.bdsmovement.net