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An open letter to the French Cultural Centre, Nairobi

Israeli cultural and academic institutions, as well as cultural products like films, directly contribute to maintaining, defending or whitewashing the oppression of Palestinians, as the Jewish nation deliberately tries to boost its image internationally

Alliance Française,
Loita/Monrovia Street,
Nairobi, Kenya.

To the Alliance Française, June 6, 2013

RE: The Nairobi Israeli Film Festival, 2013

It has come to our attention that the Alliance Française will be hosting the Israeli Film Festival from June 11th to June 15th, presented by the Embassy of Israel. As Kenyans and people concerned about social justice and human rights, we would like to express our views on the hosting of such an event.

To begin with, we want to draw attention to the numerous violations of human rights that Israel commits on a regular basis. Beginning with its establishment in 1948, Israel has sought to permanently remove en masse the indigenous Palestinian population of the country for the creation of a Jewish state. Since then, Israel has denied Palestinians their fundamental rights of freedom, equality, and self-determination through ethnic cleansing, colonization, racial discrimination, and military occupation. [1] Israel has also repeatedly and systematically violated international human rights and humanitarian law and defied UN resolutions.

To give just a few examples: since 2006 when Hamas won the elections in Gaza, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have been crippled by economic sanctions imposed by Israel. In 2008 to 2009, over 22 days during the military operation Cast Lead, Israel killed an estimated 1387 Palestinians in Gaza, including families and children, and repeatedly exploded white phosphorus munitions over populated areas, as has been carefully documented by Human Rights Watch. In November 2012, Israel bombed Gaza again in the Operation Pillar of Defense. According to B’Tselem, the Israeli Information Centre for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, 167 Palestinians were killed by the Israeli military. Over half of them were civilians.

In the occupied West Bank, a territory manned by military checkpoints, Israel has continued to construct settlements on occupied land, despite the fact that these settlements are considered illegal under international law. These are only some of the abuses Israel carries out in occupied Palestine. We have not mentioned in detail the detention of political prisoners, displacement of Bedouin communities, daily harassment and humiliation of Palestinians at checkpoints, bulldozing of lands, uprooting of olive trees and so on.

It is not only Palestinians who have suffered from policies implemented by the Israeli government or have been killed by the Israeli military. In 2003, American peace activist Rachel Corrie was crushed to death by an Israeli Defense Force (IDF) bulldozer. In 2010, 9 Turkish activists aboard a humanitarian ship to Gaza, the Mavi Marmara, were killed in an Israeli operation. Just three days ago, Israel made a decision to deport 60 000 migrants from Eritrea and Sudan to an unidentified third country. Last year, dozens of African asylum seekers were injured in violent race riots in Tel Aviv. [2]

In an official report commissioned by the South African government in 2009, the Human Sciences Research Council confirmed that Israel, by its policies and practices, is guilty of the crime of apartheid. Numerous others, including South Africans who have a deep familiarity with racial oppression, for instance Nobel peace Laureate Desmond Tutu, have spoken of life in the shadow of Israeli repression as akin to or worse to that under apartheid in South Africa. [3]

People all over the world are condemning Israel’s policies toward Palestinians. Many have joined the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign, which calls for a boycott of Israel until Palestinian rights are recognized in full compliance with international law. Israel citizens as well greatly support the call for BDS campaigns.

It is important to make the point that Israeli cultural and academic institutions, as well as cultural products like films, directly contribute to maintaining, defending or whitewashing the oppression of Palestinians, as Israel deliberately tries to boost its image internationally through academic and cultural collaborations. As part of the boycott, academics, artists and consumers are campaigning against such collaboration and ‘rebranding’. [4]

Importantly, a number of artists, especially musicians, filmmakers, and writers have refused to perform in Israel or have cancelled scheduled performances following pressure from the BDS movement including Bono, Snoop Dogg, Jean Luc Godard, Elvis Costello, Gil Scott Heron, Carlos Santana, Devendra Banhart, Dustin Hoffman, Meg Ryan, Faithless, the Pixies, Cassandra Wilson, Cat Power and Zakir Hussain. British writer John Berger, Indian novelist Arundhati Roy, US poet Adrienne Rich, British film director Ken Loach and screenwriter Paul Laverty are other prominent voices that have joined the call for BDS. [5]

As Kenyans and people who support the Palestinian struggle for freedom, justice and the end of apartheid, we are urging the Alliance Française to cancel the Israeli film festival and to find ways to raise awareness about the occupation in Palestine. It is ironic that the Israeli embassy wants to use this festival to ‘celebrate 50 years of its relations with Kenya’ and to ‘enhance Kenyan’s view of Israeli life and culture’ when Kenya has experienced its own history of colonization with its accompanying abuses, torture and repression. For us to celebrate our fifty years of independence and to acknowledge those who struggled and died for it, it is imperative that we take a stance against the colonization and oppression of others.

Should you need further reasons to cancel the festival, we would like to call attention to some of the problematic themes in the films that will be screened. The films ‘Turn Left at the End of the World’ and ‘Campfire’ both include the depiction of settlements, which, as mentioned above, are illegal under international law. Neither film addresses this fact, but rather, detracts attention by addressing themes such as romantic love and cultural communities.

A film festival may appear to be an innocuous public event, but in fact it is not. To support cultural products from Israel while Palestinians continue to struggle for freedom from Israeli occupation is to make a political statement. We urge you, as people who believe in the rights of all people to live in dignity and freedom from oppression, to stand in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle for self-determination and alongside the people globally who have committed to the Boycott, Sanctions and Divestment campaign against Israel.


Kenya Palestine Solidarity Committee


[1] Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Campaign (online), “Apartheid, Colonization and Occupation,”

[2] The Guardian, (online), “African Asylum Seekers Injured in Tel Aviv Race Riots,” May 24, 2012,

[3] South African Artists Against Apartheid,

[4] BDS Movement, (online), “BDS Intro,”

[5] BDS Movement (online), “BDS Victories,”