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At-Home with Gila Svirsky

10 May 2001
Subject: Susan Sontag comes through

Friends: I would have liked more, but
in my opinion Susan Sontag did well.
Below is the Ha’aretz write-up of her
acceptance speech last night. Maybe
our faxes and calls had an impact, or
maybe she planned to say this anyway.
Even she probably wouldn’t know.
Thanks to all who leaned on her.


Prize-winner Sontag blasts collective punishment

By Ori Nir
Ha’aretz Correspondent

Susan Sontag, the celebrated American essayist and novelist, yesterday criticized Israel’s “disproportionate use of fire power” against the Palestinians as she collected the Jerusalem Prize at the capital’s Annual International Book Fair yesterday.

After accepting the prize from Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert, Sontag called on Israel to stop building settlements and to demolish them instead as part of a peace agreement with the Palestinians.

Sontag told those present at the convention center: “I believe the doctrine of collective responsibility as a rationale for collective punishment is never justified, militarily or ethically. And I mean of course the disproportionate use of fire power against civilians, the demolition of their homes, the destruction of their orchards and groves, the deprivation of their livelihood and access to employment, to schooling, to medical services, or as a punishment for hostile, military activities in the vicinity of those civilians.”

Sontag said in her opinion there will never be peace in the Middle East until Israel first suspends its settlement activity, and then later demolishes them. Her comments were met with a wave of applause from those present. Others however left the hall in protest.

The 68-year-old author of In America received the prize with these words: “I accept it in homage to all the writers and readers in Israel and Palestine struggling to create literature made of singular voices and the multiplicity of truth.”

On the bohemian New York scene of the early sixties, New York-born Sontag swiftly acquired a reputation as the radical-liberal American woman, who had not only deep knowledge of ancient and modern European culture, but who could reinterpret it from the American point of view.

A selection of her writings appeared in Against Interpretation and Other Essays (1968), where she stated that understanding art starts from intuitive response and not from analysis or intellectual considerations.

Sontag is the 20th person to receive the Jerusalem Prize, but only the second woman to win the coveted $10,000 award. Foreign Minister Shimon Peres described her as “one of the greatest writers of our time.”

At-Home with Gila Svirsky

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© 2001 Gila Svirsky. News story copyright 2001 Ha’aretz.

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