Open Letter to Haruki Murakami about his Jerusalem Prize
Dear Haruki Murakami,
I have learned that you have won the "Jerusalem Prize," a literary award the City of Jerusalem, Israel, is heavily involved in. I am unable to extend my congratulations, however. According to what I have heard, this prize is awarded to authors who depict "the freedom of the individual in society." I urge you to decline. It is not that you are not eligible; It is just that they are not qualified to say anything about "the freedom of the individual in society."
You should know all this so I do not have to write it: until very recently, Israel was conducting massive operations against Gaza, Palestine, where economic sanctions had made most basic necessities scarce and the heavily sick had been dying in numbers, ruined the city, and killed more than 1,300 people, a third of them children. Although the attacks are getting less frequent, Gaza is still under economic sanctions, and a million and a half people are struggling to survive with little to eat in what has now become a gigantic prison.
On this situation, Sir Gerald Bernard Kaufman, a Jewish citizen of the United Kingdom who lost his family in the Holocaust, spoke in the British parliament on January 15:
…My grandmother was ill in bed when the Nazis came to her home town of Staszow. A German soldier shot her dead in her bed.
My grandmother did not die to provide cover for Israeli soldiers murdering Palestinian grandmothers in Gaza. The current Israeli government ruthlessly and cynically exploits the continuing guilt among Gentiles over the slaughter of Jews in the holocaust as justification for their murder of Palestinians. The implication is that Jewish lives are precious, but the lives of Palestinians do not count.
You may say that is what the Israeli Government has done, not the award. However, not only does literature remain political in some sense as long as it is about human beings, but the award itself is highly political, and Israel is using you as a testing ground. I imagine you, Mr. Murakami, are aware about it.
Let us say what if this award had been from South Africa under apartheid; how many novelists, poets, and critics would there have been to accept it?
Try another angle: let us think about this name, the "Jerusalem Prize."
Jerusalem is a historical city which used to be a religious, cultural, and social center of Palestine, where the Jews, Palestinians, and Muslims were living together (except for some temporary anomalies). The UN resolution of 1947 also designated Jerusalem as an internationally administered zone. The 1948 war partitioned it so the Western part was to be governed by Israel and the Eastern part by Transjordan. Israel incorporated East Jerusalem in the Six Day War and declared it its capital.
This annexation has not been internationally recognized, and no country has an embassy in Jerusalem.
Those Palestinians who live in East Jerusalem and pay heavy taxes to Israel are given a "Jerusalem Citizenship" [raito-to-bii-sitizun in za eresaremu] (which is not an Israeli citizenship) and "permitted to live" there. But the right is easily revoked based on a number of penalty regulations. House renovations are not allowed, and residences have been destroyed in violation of that rule. On the other hand, Jewish settlements, which are created by depriving Palestinians of their land, have been on the constant rise, so more than two hundred thousand Jews live there now.
See the map below for your reference on this:
Israel prohibits other Palestinians who live in the West Bank and elsewhere from visiting Jerusalem, and the government is reinforcing this policy with separation barriers (which are built even across East Jerusalem). You, Mr. Murakami, and I can enter Jerusalem, but most Palestinians cannot.
The mayor of the city, who is about to present you with the award, stands for this policy, Mr. Murakami. And "Jerusalem" of the "Jerusalem Prize" is "Jerusalem for Israel," which excludes Palestinians, is violating UN resolutions, and has been unilaterally imposed by Israel. By now you should realize how far the award is from "the freedom of the individual in society."
In an interview by the San Francisco Chronicle, you have said:
Q: It has been said that history has loomed larger in your recent writing. Do you agree?
A: Yes. I think history is collective memories. In writing, I'm using my own memory and I'm using my collective memory. I like to read books on history and I'm interested in the Second World War. I was born in 1949, after the war ended, but I feel like I'm kind of responsible for that war. I don't know why. Many people say, "I was born after the war, so I'm not responsible at all - I don't know about the comfort women or the Nanking massacre."
I want to do something as a fiction writer about those things, those atrocities. We have to be responsible for our memories. My stories are not written in realistic style. But you have to see reality. That is your duty, that is your obligation.
Speaking of collective memory you refer to here, that of Palestinians about the foundation of Israel has always been forced into darkness, and the "Jerusalem Prize" has been playing a role in that operation. I would appreciate it if you could include in your collective memory just a bit of space for collective memory of the disenfranchised Palestinians and a small number of Jews against the Israeli policies. It would be great if you could include in "our memories" for which "we have to be responsible" the memories on what Israel started one year before you were born. "[A]trocities" are also shadowing the award you are to receive.
Of course, repeating what Susan Sontag did with the Jerusalem Prize is an option. This is what she said at the acceptance in 2001:
I believe that the doctrine of collective responsibility, as a rationale for collective punishment, is never justified, militarily or ethically. I mean the use of disproportionate firepower against civilians, the demolition of their homes and destruction of their orchards and groves, the deprivation of their livelihood and their access to employment, schooling, medical services, free access to neighboring towns and communities…all as a punishment for hostile military activity which may or may not even be in the vicinity of these civilians.
I also believe that there can be no peace here until the planting of Israeli communities in the Territories is halted, followed by the eventual dismantling of these settlements.
Declining the award, however, is also a way for you not to be complicit.
If you still insist on visiting Jerusalem to get it, Mr. Murakami, you should see East Jerusalem beforehand, the massive walls that divide and separate people, the plentiful checkpoints, and the cities in the West Bank which are surrounded and disabled; listen to the people of Palestine. It would be easy for you to escape from the Israeli guards'care and move around by yourself.
If you do not know where or how, make an arrangement with the following:
AIC - The Alternative Information Center
I just hope you will not betray your international readers and your own works.
To finish off, let me introduce an autobiographical essay by a Jewish researcher who lives in the United States. She here talks about how Israel is depriving the individual of freedom and dignity, and about collective memory of minority Israelis who dissent.
Sara Roy, "Living with the Holocaust: The Journey of a Child of Holocaust Survivors"
Bii Kamimura [aka p-navi],
Editor at Nablus Tsushin
Harold Pinter's acceptance speech could also help you:
The original letter by Bii in Japanese can be found here:
Translation always involves a trade-off: fidelity to the text, readability, time-budget constraints, etc; there are many things to consider and many things to pretend to forget about. This time, I decided to prioritize one thing and sacrifice everything else: my desire to keep on traveling, by which I mean this. January has been a special period for me. It all started with an infatuation with a law student in Kyoto. She rejected me in about three hours of the initial meeting, but was kind enough to give me something, something I did not used to have, and that's what got me started. I've been in the state of constant carelessness since and it's been like you-think-about-a-location-and-in-three-seconds-you're-there-already. But I can't go on like this forever because it isn't real life, which is always full of mistakes, pains, and tears and if you feel no pain, chances are you are somewhere else. It's time to get back to the reality, or none of it would amount to anything. So I've been looking for a closure. There's more than one way to close, and if I had to close, I'd like to do it my way. And so you've read the letter in English. This is my closure, for you to read it and carry it on. What do you think of it? Well, personally, I think Bii's kind of off the mark. Just to point out one thing, I'd say she is gravely overestimating Haruki and underestimating the Israeli dissenters and the international Jews. No, it's not his chance, but it's their opportunity to make a difference and some of them truly deserve this expectation. But forget about it. There are many ways to read a text, and one way is to ignore the designated addressee. Perhaps Haruki isn't the destination of her message after all. Perhaps it was meant for someone else. And I thought what if that someone were unable to read Japanese? Wouldn't it be sad if a message in a bottle were to remain by himself in the Ocean? It's been more than three days since Bii wrote the piece, and it seems like it has yet to reach its destination. So I thought, I could exit my January through this translation, a January that almost made me want to stay forever even if it meant entrapment. No, I know there's something called reality, I was born to make a difference there, and I'm going back. And Bii's message is a secret contact device between my dream reality and my real reality. Her writing moves me in a special way, and guess what, I wouldn't have felt it without this fantastic January. I haven't cleared copyright issues with Bii. Nor have I had my translation edited or proofread, which is sure to cause an embarrassment which I wouldn't normally risk. But it's January 31 today, and thank God there is a 31 in January. At the ultimate limit of my journey, I've found a portal between the dream and the reality. As I post this, my journey ends peacefully, and continues violently. Be assured, I'm a dialectical materialist, and according to Walter Benjamin, that's someone who is sure about a message arriving at its destinations and tries to intervene to create and/or defend the secret portal. Yujiro Tsuneno, Tokyo, Japan. (remenber, this is just a translation of a text which desrves multiple translations).