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Nobel Prize to Annie Ernaux should switch global attention from Ukraine to Palestine

Oct 12,2022 - Last updated at Oct 12,2022

The award of the Nobel Prize for Literature to French writer Annie Ernaux should switch global attention from Ukraine to Palestine for a moment or two. She won the world's most coveted literary award despite a long history of supporting the Palestinian cause and the boycott, divestment and sanction (BDS) campaign against Israel and dared to state that Israel imposes apartheid on Palestinians living under its rule.

Following Israel's 2021 expropriation of Palestinian homes in occupied East Jerusalem and deadly bombing campaign on besieged and blockaded Gaza, Ernaux joined other intellectuals by signing a letter condemning Israel. This letter stated, "We demand an immediate and unconditional end to Israeli violence against Palestinians...We call on all governments that allow this crime against humanity to put in place sanctions, mobilise international accountability bodies, and end their trade and economic relations."

The letter continued, “It is wrong and misleading to present this [conflict] as a war between two equal sides. Israel is the colonising power. Palestine is colonised. This is not a conflict, this is apartheid,” said the letter.

In 2018, she and scores of other French artists submitted a letter criticising the French and Israeli governments of staging joint cultural events to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the establishment of Israel. "It is a moral obligation for any person of conscience to refuse normalisation of relations with Israel," this letter stated.

In 2019, she joined others in accusing Israel of using the Eurovision Song Contest to "whitewash" its occupation and colonisation of Palestine.

And, she has courageously called for the release from a French prison of Georges Abdullah, a Lebanese communist who in 1982 assassinated in France Israeli diplomat Yaakov Var-Simanov and US Colonel Charles Ray, an assistant military attaché. He accused the Israeli of being a Mossad agent and US military man of suppporting Israel. Abdullah was also accused of involvement in the attempted murder of an ex-US consul in Strasbourg in 1984.

These attacks were in response to Israel's colonisation of Palestine and 1982 invasion and occupation of Lebanon which was supported by the US. Abdullah — who was arrested in 1984 and, sentenced to life — has been imprisoned for nearly 39 years although the maximum sentence for murder is 30 years. While he has long since completed both the minimum and maximum periods in detention for his crimes, he has repeatedly been denied parole due to pressure from Israel and the US even though his release would have involved deportation to Lebanon. His case is supported by Human Rights League (France), the French Jewish Union for Peace, and the Association France-Palestine Solidarite. 

At 71 years, he is the oldest and longest detained person in Europe and is regarded as a "political prisoner" by backers, including then Lebanese prime minister Najib Mikati who, in 2021, called for his release. Abdullah has been imprisoned longer than South Africa's Nelson Mandela and is being treated in the same way the US is dealing with Palestinian Sirhan Sirhan who killed presidential candidate Robert Kennedy in 1968 in reaction to his support for the 1967 Israeli conquest of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza.

With Abdullah on their minds, pro-Israeli commentators levelled the standard charge of  "anti-Semitism" against Ernaux. Backing away from instead of backing Palestine is the common choice of writers who aspire to recognition for distinguished work.

The first French woman to win the prize, Ernaux triumphed over Salman Rushdie who survived a stabbing attack by a man angered over his book, “The Satanic Verses”, which is regarded by Muslims as insulting and hurtful.  She is also the 17th woman to become a Nobel literature laureate out of 119. In 1909, Sweden's Selma Lagerlof became the first woman to win the prize.

The Nobel jury explained its decision to award Ernaux the prize "for the courage and clinical acuity with which she uncovers the roots, estrangements and collective restraints of personal memory."  Whatever that means.

She was born in a small town in 1940 in Normandy where her parents ran a cafe and grocery in a working-class area. At 20, she went as an au pair to London before returning to France to study modern literature at the universities of Rouen and Bordeaux. After a period of teaching she was employed for 23 years by the National Centre for Distance Education, which provides online courses from kindergarten to university. She began her writing career in 1974 with an autobiographical novel and has produced 20 books in this genre since then, winning one distinguished literary prize after another. Her books have joined the few by French women authors to be included in the country's school curriculum. Her association with Palestine demonstrates clearly her leftist orientation while her books about the working class and escaping that limiting life indicate she is a socialist. Her writing is anchored in the political, social and cultural environments of her characters.

Ernaux is best known internationally for "The Years", published in 2008. This work documents her own life and French society in general from the 1940s to the 2000s.

Speaking to the press upon learning of the award, Ernaux pledged “to continue to fight injustice in all its forms”. The prize produces, she added, “a responsibility towards women and towards those who are dominated”.

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