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A Letter Regarding UN Sponsorship of Joint Palestinian-Israeli Orchestra
Mr. Robert Serry,
UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process
The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) is alarmed that the UN is organizing a concert for the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra (WEDO), to be held at the Augusta Victoria on July 31st, 2012. Given WEDO’s political agenda that promotes normalization  and conflicts with the Palestinian struggle for rights and upholding international law, we call upon you to cancel this ill-conceived concert.
PACBI is part of the BDS movement, which is supported by the overwhelming majority in Palestinian civil society. The global BDS movement targets Israel’s occupation, colonization and apartheid and is based on an unambiguous commitment to international law and universal principles of human rights, as well as an unwavering rejection of racism in all its forms .
In 2010, PACBI criticized the government of Qatar for inviting WEDO to perform at the celebration of Doha as the Arab Cultural Capital for 2010, expressly because inviting an institution that goes against the boycott guidelines cannot but be seen as an act that contributes, even if inadvertently, to whitewashing Israel’s violations of international law. Earlier, in 2009, PACBI, along with the General Union of Palestinian Writers, the Union of Palestinian Expressive Artists, the House of Poetry, among other leading cultural organizations and associations, opposed the Divan’s performance in Ramallah on the same grounds .
PACBI’s objections to WEDO arise from the Orchestra’s violation of the cultural boycott guidelines set by Palestinian civil society  and its role in undermining the Palestinian struggle for freedom, justice and equality. WEDO identifies itself  as seeking “to enable [an] intercultural dialogue and to promote the experience of collaborating on a matter of common interest.” Combining”musical study and development with the sharing of knowledge and comprehension between people from cultures that traditionally have been rivals,” WEDO “is not only a musical project, but also a forum for dialogue and reflection on the Palestinian-Israeliproblem.” Boasting an “equal number of Israeli and Arab musicians,” WEDO aspires, in its own conductor’s words, to “have an important role in overcoming political and cultural differences between the countries represented in the workshop. In this model, an orchestra serves as a good example of democracy and civilized living.”  [All emphases added]
In other words, the Orchestra’s self-definition turns occupation and colonial oppression into a mere “problem” or “barrier” to be discussed between “traditional rivals” who hope to settle their “differences” and build “bridges” of understanding through music and dialogue to encourage “listening to one another” and to set “a good example of democracy and civilized living.” As such,
By promoting this false symmetry or balance between the “two sides,” WEDO is indeed promoting normalization. The Divan refuses to even recognize, let alone oppose, Israel’s ethnic cleansing, occupation and system of racial discrimination as the root causes of the Arab-Israeli colonial conflict, sanitizing the very real oppressive reality on the ground with benign terms that are intended to project symmetry between colonizer and colonized. This conforms to the definition of normalization, a term used across the Arab World, especially in Palestine, to describe joint Arab-Israeli projects that ignore or bypass the reality of oppression altogether, and/or fail to contribute to the struggle to end it, hence presenting to the world a deceptive image of “civilized” coexistence despite Israel’s patently illegal and uncivilized colonization and apartheid system.
Under conditions of colonial oppression, be it South Africa yesterday or Palestine today, joint projects claiming to be “apolitical” or aimed at promoting music, science, environmental protection, etc. as domains that are “above politics” are misleading and injurious to the struggle against injustice. By overlooking the oppressive reality of Israel’s human rights violations these projects in effect legitimize and contribute to perpetuating and normalizing oppression. In addition, they have often played into the hands of Israel’s official propaganda, especially its well-oiled, but so-far futile, “Brand Israel” campaign , which markets Israel not only as a “normal” nation, but also as a “democracy” that excels in the arts, academic research and hi-tech.
More than twenty years of such projects in Palestine, mostly under the rubric of “constructive engagement,” have led to nothing but further entrenching and covering up Israel’s colonization and progressive denial of Palestinian rights, while exonerating Israel on the international scene as a civilized entity trying to bridge gaps with the native Palestinians. This important historical experience has taught the Palestinians, as it did South Africans, crucial lessons: false symmetry between the oppressor and oppressed only results in further empowering the oppressor, hence prolonging the bloodshed and injustice. Palestinian civil society has learnt from this experience and devised a different model of civil resistance, the BDS movement.
Its musical mission notwithstanding, the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra is a politically-motivated forum with political objectives that advocates “dialogue” without justice. We therefore urge you to cancel this concert, in respect for the Palestinian people’s struggle for our UN-sanctioned rights.