After the controversy, the speech. The British author Ian McEwan had been urged first not to accept the Jerusalem Prize for literature and second not to attend the awards ceremony. McEwan did both, but during his acceptance last night he acknowledged that he “couldn’t escape the politics of my decision”.
He used the opportunity – before an audience that included Israel’s president, Shimon Peres – to attack “a great and self-evident injustice”.
In the most overtly political passage of his speech, McEwan dwelt on the destructive nature of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. First, he said:
Hamas, whose founding charter incorporates the toxic fakery of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, has embraced the nihilism of the suicide bomber, of rockets fired blindly into towns, and embraced the nihilism of an extinctionist policy towards Israel.
[It] was also nihilism that fired a rocket at the undefended Gazan home of the Palestinian doctor Izzeldin Abuelaish in 2008, killing his three daughters and his niece. It is nihilism to make a long-term prison camp of the Gaza Strip. Nihilism has unleashed the tsunami of concrete across the occupied territories.
McEwan attacked the “continued evictions and demolitions, and relentless purchases of Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem, the process of right of return granted to Jews but not Arabs”. He concluded:
These so-called “facts on the ground” are a hardening concrete poured over the future, over future generations of Palestinian and Israeli children who will inherit the conflict and find it even more difficult to resolve than it is today, more difficult to assert their right to self-realisation.
The author is donating his prize money (around £6,000) to Combatants for Peace, an organisation that brings together Israeli ex-soldiers and Palestinian ex-fighters. These ex-combatants go about in pairs, speaking in public to make the case that there can be no military solution to the conflict.