The winner of the Jerusalem Prize for 2015 has been announced: 79-year old Albanian author, Ismail Kadare.

If he chooses to accept the accolade, Kadare will be awarded the prize by the Mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat, in an invitation-only ceremony on Sunday 8 February which will mark the opening of the Jerusalem International Book Fair. In 2011, author Ian McEwan was the subject of a campaign led by British Writers in Support of Palestine (BWISP) that took the form of an exchange in the letters page of the Guardian. BWISP expressed ‘profound disagreement with his decision to accept the Jerusalem prize,’ reminding McEwan that ‘the Jerusalem Municipality, which awards the Prize, openly pursues apartheid urban planning policies.’ As British-Palestinian filmmaker, Omar Al-Qattan wrote in response to McEwan’s widely lauded acceptance speech, ‘He refers to the Jerusalem prize, which he accepted despite the pleas of his admirers and colleagues, as a “tribute to a precious tradition of democracy of ideas in Israel”, giving the example of a novella about the destruction of a Palestinian village that was required reading in Israeli schools. He fails to mention, however, that while this precious tradition was maintained, so were the expulsions, military rule, house demolitions, confiscation of land and homes, bombing of refugee camps and so on…. McEwan should at least have had the decency to compare the astonishing achievements of Palestinian artists who have moved the world with their work, with a fraction of the support available to their Israeli counterparts.’

Four years on, Israeli human rights defender Ilana Hammerman has written a piece in the Hebrew edition of Ha’aretz (29 January 2015), entitled ‘Freedom of the Individual in the Shuafat Refuse Heaps,’ which has been translated into English by Richard Flantz. (h/t Sol Salbe)


On my desk lies an invitation to the 2015 Jerusalem Prize awards ceremony in the presence of the President of Israel and the Mayor of Jerusalem. The ceremony will inaugurate the 27th International Book Fair on the 8th of February. ‘The Jerusalem Prize for the Freedom of the Individual in Society’ will be awarded this year to the Albanian author Ismail Kadare. If I go to the ceremony, and if I have the civic courage, I’ll raise a handwritten placard in the hall. It’ll say that the Jerusalem Municipality does not have the right to award a prize for the freedom of the individual in society, because it does not respect the rights of the individual of myriads of its residents.

For example, the right of freedom of movement of my Jerusalemite friend. She’s a teacher. The school where she teaches is about five minutes drive from her home, but it takes her a lot longer to get there because her home is in a neighborhood that is enclosed by a high concrete wall. On one side of the wall is the spacious French Hill neighborhood. Not exactly a neighborhood of the wealthy, but its streets are clean, its sidewalks broad, with decorative trees planted in them, and there’s even a bicycle path. When you cross to the other side of the wall, not far from the fortified and cultivated compound of the Hebrew University, your eyes see and your nose smells only ugliness and filth. The alleys are narrow, they have no sidewalks and no traffic signs and no parking places. Trash rolls about in them and piles up here and there into heaps from which stinking black smoke rises. This is the Shuafat refugee camp, which is within the bounds of the Jerusalem municipality. The neighborhood’s residents are the Municipality’s residents, they have blue ID cards [as do all Israeli citizens] and they are required to pay rates.

When my friend makes her way to school, she crosses the wall that encloses her neigborhood through a checkpoint. At times the crossing is quick and at times it’s very slow: every car is checked, everyone in it and all its contents. Not long ago I crossed the checkpoint in her car, on the way from her home to the university. We were three women in the car, two Arab women and one Jewish. All of us residents of Jerusalem. The soldier at the checkpoint was astonished to see a Jewish passenger. Jews don’t come in here, to this Arab ghetto, and anyone who does come in and also wants to come out is suspicious.

He demanded our ID cards, glanced at them, and bent down to the window again and interrogated only me: Who am I and where from and for what purpose. I told him that I don’t have to give him any details apart from what’s on my ID card. I’m here in the city I live in, not in an army camp or at an interrogation, and I have freedom of movement. But I didn’t have freedom of movement: the barrier was closed before me and the soldier had my ID card. He looked at me with hostility and ordered us to get out of the car and to take out everything inside it. We got out and threw everything on the ground, blankets, sweaters, bags and purses. Hurriedly, quickly. Because dozens of cars were stuck behind us because of us. But the soldier didn’t hurry at all. He handed my ID card to his commander, another soldier checked in a computer, another made a call on a radiophone, another went off to eat something. We gathered up our belongings and waited.

For the residents of this imprisoned neighborhood — like the residents of more East Jerusalem neighborhoods that have been imprisoned behind walls and fences and checkpoints — this limitation of freedom of movement is a routine matter. But this is not the only right of theirs that is infringed every day. They are also denied the right to live in human conditions. The Jerusalem Municipality does not remove the trash from their streets, and does not look after the infrastructures for transport, electricity, water and sewage. Recently four neighborhoods were cut off from the water supply for weeks: Ras Hamis, Ras Shahada, the Shalom neighborhood and the Shuafat refugee camp. All of them, about 80,000 residents, imprisoned behind a wall even though they’re residents of Jerusalem.

But it’s not only the residents of these neighborhoods who are deprived of their rights. Here are some data about the state of human rights in Jerusalem: more than one third of the city’s residents, about 300,000 people, are Arabs. Since 1967 about 14,000 of them have lost the right to live in their city, most of them because they went abroad for several years for various personal reasons. Tens of thousands of others have been denied the right to build a home in their city, for 35% of the areas of East Jerusalem have been appropriated in order to build Jewish neighborhoods. More than 50,000 residential units have been built there for Jews only, while the Arab residents of the city have been given no more than 4,000 building permits.

The rest of the data can be seen with one’s eyes: Jerusalem today is a city with walls and ghettoes and checkpoints at its heart. The Jews mostly keep away from the neglected neighborhoods of East Jerusalem. But there are neighborhoods that they push into, like hoodlums. With the power of finance and arms and with the backing of the police & the municipality they evict Arab families from their homes and erect fortified compounds, They’ve done this in Sheikh Jarrah, in Silwan, in Bab el Amud.

Does the excellent author Ismail Kadare know the state of the freedom of the individual in the city whose municipality is awarding him the ‘Freedom of the Individual in Society’ prize this year? Perhaps not. He comes from a long way away. But we, residents of Jerusalem, need to know that the giving of this prize by a city that for decades has denied basic rights to such a large public of people who live within its bounds is a mockery of the ongoing and continually worsening tragedy of this public. It is an impudent and arrogant challenge to the very concept of the freedom of the individual in society.

Ilana Hammerman