Ian McEwan 311.
(photo credit: Annalena McAfee)
British author Ian McEwan joined the weekly protest in the east Jerusalem
neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah on Friday, just two days before he was set to
receive the Jerusalem Prize.
McEwan is in Israel as guest of the 25th
Jerusalem Israel Book Fair, held at the International Convention Center from
Awarded biennially to an author whose work “reflects and
promotes the freedom of the individual in society,” the Jerusalem Prize is
Israel’s most distinguished international literary award. Previous laureates
include Bertrand Russell, J.M.
Coetzee, Mario Vargas Llosa and Haruki
Murakami, the most recent recipient of the Prize in 2009.
The prize is
considered particularly prestigious by the international literary community,
with four former laureates subsequently awarded the Nobel Prize for
McEwan, 62 is the author of 11 novels – including the 1998
Booker Prize-winning Amsterdam and 2010’s Solar – two short story collections,
two children’s books and several screenplays. He originally faced pressure from
pro-Palestinian groups to decline the Jerusalem Prize, which the British Writers
in Support of Palestine group called a “corrupt and cynical honor” in a letter
to the British Guardian newspaper. Acceptance of the award, the letter said, was
evidence of “an unprincipled approach” and would “make him a collaborator with
Israel’s worst human rights offenders.”
McEwan announced in late January
that he would accept the award. On Friday, he joined Israeli author David
Grossman (Someone to Run With, The Zigzag Kid, The Book of Intimate Grammar), a
regular participant in the Friday protests in Sheikh Jarrah.
“I hope that
the next time that I come to Israel, there won’t be any need to demonstrate in
these types of circumstances,” McEwan said at the protest, but added that he was
not optimistic. He recently said that “the present outlook for negotiations is
bleak” and that “many Israeli writers feel this way, too.”
In a letter to
The Guardian responding to the pro-Palestinian groups calling on him to refuse
the prize, McEwan wrote: “I’m for finding out for myself, and for dialogue,
engagement, and looking for ways in which literature, especially fiction, with
its impulse to enter other minds, can reach across political divides. There are
ways in which art can have a longer reach than politics.”
protests, organized by the Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity Movement, draw hundreds of
left-wing activists each week. The protests started in November 2009 in response
to three families who had been evicted from their homes, after which Jewish
families moved in. The al-Kurd, Ghawi, and Hanoun families lived in tents
outside their former building from August 2009 until late spring
Foreign visitors have often come to the Friday protests, including
former US president Jimmy Carter and Peruvian writer and 1995 Jerusalem prize
recipient Mario Vargas Llosa.
McEwan will receive the Jerusalem Prize at
the opening ceremony of the Book Festival on Sunday evening. On Friday, he
dismissed calls for a cultural boycott of Israel, maintaining that such actions
run contrary to the importance of cultural engagement between
Speaking at a press conference arranged by organizers of the
book fair, McEwan observed that since Israel is a country that supports a “true
democracy of opinion,” his participation in the fair cannot be interpreted as
endorsement of all aspects of the country’s domestic and foreign
McEwan, who arrived in Israel Thursday, acknowledged that it
was a depressing time to visit Israel, particularly in the context of the
stalled peace talks between the Israel and the Palestinian Authority. He felt it
was a “bad sign” when politics invaded every aspect of life, but said this made
it all the more urgent to engage with the reality of the situation. Dialogue is
always better “than to freeze any nation out,” he said.
laughter at the press conference when he admitted that he had already learned
the word dugri (“straight talking”). He also expressed admiration for Israeli
writers Amos Oz, A.B.
Yehoshua and David Grossman – who had invited him
to visit Israel last year – and mentioned that he had just finished reading S.
Yizhar’s classic Khirbet Khizeh.
First held in 1963, the Jerusalem
International Book Fair this year features the participation of over 600
publishers from more than 30 countries.
The Jerusalem Prize will be
awarded to McEwan by Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat at the fair’s official opening
on Sunday, in the presence of President Shimon Peres and Minister of Culture and
Sport Limor Livnat.