Two Palestinian Harry Potter Fans respond to J.K. Rowling

Dobby Keffyeh Kuffiya
Obligatory Dobby with a Keffyeh. Designed by Kareem Chehayeb from The Beirut Syndrome.

Expressing their deep disappointment at J.K Rowling’s misleading “Culture for Coexistence” letter in The Guardian newspaper, Palestinian fans of Harry Potter have published open letters to the author of our childhood imagination. The first letter was published by Mia Oudeh, a music teacher in Dunfermline, Scotland, on her Facebook page and the second was sent to me by a Palestinian man who wished to remain anonymous.

Who was behind the letter? The Electronic Intifada’s Sarah Irving reveals some very damaging facts:

What the letter doesn’t make clear, however, is that one of the driving forces behind Culture for Coexistence is Neil Blair, JK Rowling’s literary agent.

Blair is also on the board of the UK branch of the Abraham Fund. That “coexistence” group is sponsored by Hapoalim, an Israeli bank that finances the construction of Jewish-only settlements in the occupied West Bank.


Here’s Mia’s letter:

Dear J. K. Rowling,I am an avid fan of yours, and have continuously read your Harry Potter books non-stop since the…

Posted by Mia Oudeh on Friday, October 23, 2015

Source: Scotland Herald:
J.K Rowling, Left. Mia Oudeh, Right. Source: Scotland Herald

Dear J. K. Rowling,

I am an avid fan of yours, and have continuously read your Harry Potter books non-stop since the age of 11. My whole house is splattered with memorabilia, and I have just returned from visiting Harry Potter World which was one of the most amazing trips of my life. I’m 100% obsessed with your books, and frequently dream about them – in particular, the Battle of Hogwarts, where my sub-conscious always brings in my own personal battle, but a battle in which I think everyone should be taking part.

I am writing to you in response to your public support for Israeli-Palestinian dialogue and opposition to the BDS movement in the Guardian’s “Culture for Coexistence” letter [1]. As a Palestinian, I have to say that I was completely disappointed when I read about this, because your books have been the very source of all the hope I have for peace and justice in my homeland someday. You see, my Battle of Hogwarts dreams have always had the death eaters as Zionists, and Harry and his peers as Palestinians. Knowing that the idea for your epic novels was from World War II and the Nazis, I naturally drew parallels between the books and Zionist Israel and Palestine. I am therefore entirely confused and heart broken at your support for this letter, because to me, as a Palestinian Potterhead, it does not quite make sense.

The letter in question states,

“Cultural boycotts singling out Israel are divisive and discriminatory and will not further peace … Open dialogue and interaction promote greater understanding and mutual acceptance … Cultural engagement builds bridges, nurtures freedom and positive movement for change. We wholly endorse encouraging such a powerful tool for change rather than boycotting its use.”

I feel that this letter has not contextualised the grim reality of Israel/Palestine, and is paradoxical in its nature. In this response to your support of the letter, I will be drawing parallels between the Harry Potter world and the Palestinian world in order to demonstrate my confusion.

Firstly, “boycotts singling out Israel are divisive and discriminatory,” is a ridiculous sentence in itself. I’m not sure whether you know the history of Israel, but it did not exist before 1948. It is a settler-colonial state which operates on the apartheid of an indigenous people and has broken international law and UN resolutions every single day since its existence. [19] The practices Israel enforces in its culture and every day functioning are in themselves divisive and discriminatory. No cultural engagement between Palestinians and Israelis will ever build bridges, because rather than the “two sides are to blame” argument the letter you signed endorses, there are no two sides.

When the death eaters take over the Ministry of Magic and begin to run the magical world, would you have placed them in an equal side to the Potter trio? I definitely would not; the death eaters ran a ministry of oppression – from the “Magic is Might” statue of the naked muggles being used to support the robed wizard, to the brutal treatment of muggle born students at Hogwarts. Additionally, the death eaters had the advantage of fighting together using the Unforgivable Curses, having an army of brutal magical creatures including giants and dementors, having magical spells to track the Potter trio’s movements and having full control of the magical world through their position of power.

In contrast, Harry was working in isolation with the support of his two friends. His “side” were terrorised families who could not step one foot out of line in fear of being tortured and/or killed, or who were in hiding and on the run. It was a completely uneven distribution of power and most definitely not two sides. It was a case of the oppressor and the oppressed.

Now let’s consider this in the Israel/Palestine context. How can we, as Palestinians, sit and conduct peaceful dialogue with Israelis, as equal sides, both to blame for a “conflict”, when there is also an uneven distribution of power?

Israel has the fourth largest army in the world and receives $10.2 million in military aid daily from the U.S. [2]. Palestine has no army and receives no money for military aid. When you look at news articles and pictures of the so-called “conflict”, you can see the Israeli Defence Forces kitted out in uniform, armed with guns and helmets and tanks and illegal chemical weapons and f16s and drones. In contrast, you see Palestinians with rocks and handmade weapons, if they are lucky enough. You can see the damage made with something like drones or white phosphorous in contrast to the damage of “Hamas rockets” [3] (the media’s favourite phrase). This very example shows the uneven distribution of power, and sets the base for why it is argued that Israel and Palestine are not two sides, but the oppressor and the oppressed.

In the magical world, the muggles and muggle borns were completely exploited and ridiculed by the death eaters. Muggle borns were named the derogatory name “Mudblood” and were accused of “stealing magic” if they could not provide proof of magical relatives. Muggle-born students were singled out in Hogwarts when the death eaters started teaching there, and some muggle borns had to go on the run and were often rounded up by Snatchers. The death eaters’ hatred and discriminatory practices against the muggle borns were not a secret; they were plain for everyone to see, much like the treatment of the Palestinians by Israel.

How can we talk about cultural bridges when Israelis live in illegal settlements (under international law) with unlimited supplies of running water and electricity, whilst meters away Palestinian villages have one of the worst droughts in the world?[4] As one of my dear friends so aptly put, will these bridges of peace bridge the Palestinians who are literally fenced into ghetto villages by an 8m concrete wall, checkpoints and watch towers (which eerily look like the watch towers of Nazi concentration camps) to the land they have been cut off from, which Israelis can access at any time?[5] Will our cultural bridge of peace bridge Shuhada street in Hebron, where Palestinians literally have to use a specific walkway separate to Israelis (much like the bus services around the country)?[6] Shall we invite the Israelis, who are off-duty from their military tasks in for a cup of tea before they return to bombing us with one of the world’s most advanced armies? Maybe when they come over they can wear their t-shirts depicting pregnant Palestinian women, saying “1 shot 2 kills” [7] and talk about how distressed they feel as their leaders are celebrating their regime saying “we are the masters” [8].

Have you ever even looked at the type of Zionist statements made against Palestinians? For example, just two weeks ago 13 year old Ahmad Salih Manasra was shot and a video taken of the scene documented Israeli onlookers shouting, “Die, son of a whore!” and ordering police to “Give him one in the head” whilst he lay bleeding and struggling to breathe on the floor [8]. Perhaps Ahmad would like to have those onlookers as visitors at the hospital he’s now recovering in – they can bring in flowers, see how he’s doing and he can listen to how threatened they felt watching him be attacked.

The suggestion of dialogue is as absurd as an oblivious muggle who has no awareness or willingness to understand of the context between a death eater and muggle born. It’s like Vernon Dursley shaking his head, saying that we’re all being foolish and peace will come if only Dean Thomas, whose father was killed because he refused to serve the death eaters, and Antonin Dolohov sat together and “talked it out”. Of course, that would never happen because Dolohov was outwardly for the expulsion of anyone against Voldemort, and could have been the very person who plotted and killed Dean’s dad. How could Dean ever contemplate sitting with someone who’s colleagues killed his father, who was actively seeking out his peers from school, and who was torturing and maiming people for their identity?

How about, when the death eaters storm and wreck Xenophilius Lovegood’s house looking for Harry in false exchange for Luna, they all pause their “conflict” and talk to each other about how all of this is making them feel. Because, the death eaters’ feelings are just as valid as Xenophilius’. Because there are two sides to every story.

Just like Palestinians when they face daily military incursions, house arrests and house demolitions. I’m sure the families in Sheikh Jarrah (East Jerusalem) would love to talk to the Israelis who made them homeless by illegally kicking them out of their houses so that they can use them as holiday accommodation, and who force them to pay for their water, gas and electricity bills even though they don’t have access to them.[9] Or perhaps my friends in Susiya village, who have had their homes and temporary tent shelters demolished time and time again [10], would love to invite the illegal Israeli settlers who stole their farm and the Israeli soldiers responsible for their demolitions over for some dinner. Because the illegal holiday making settlers who thieved their homes and farms, and the Israeli soldiers who order house demolitions on tent shelters have feelings just as valid as the families whom they stole their homes from. Two “sides” to every story.

I have a feeling, with all due respect, that you have never spoken to a Palestinian before. Your signature on this letter seems to be made from a judgement purely based on privilege and monetary benefits. I therefore welcome you to come visit me and talk to my family about whether they would like to have some dialogue with Israelis and build a cultural bridge of peace.

Maybe you could ask my father, who lived through three wars before the age of 25; who grew up with drones flying over his head during his early childhood; who lost contact with his parents, siblings and family whilst he was at university because Israel expelled them from their home; and who was banned from returning to his home because he “willingly left” to go study in Egypt and could therefore not return to search for his family. Or you could ask my mother, who has not been allowed to even visit her birth city in over 40 years.

How about talking to all 6 million Palestinian refugees who are dispersed all over the world, waiting with their keys from when they left their homes in 1948 to go back to their still-intact houses; waiting for the promise of their return (granted by the British) to be acted upon at last; waiting for Israel to comply to UN resolution 194 (III) which states “that the refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property which, under principles of international law or in equity, should be made good by the Governments or authorities responsible” [11];
waiting for the international community to stop preaching about “two sides” and “dialogue” and to recognise that the state of Israel has been guilty of consistently breaking international law from its creation.

Sure, they would love to talk to every Zionist out there who is actively contributing to their displacement. I for one just love to read about American Jews who have no genetic ties to Israel but want to move there because they just love it there, meanwhile if I try to visit I am strip searched, interrogated and shot at even though my parents were born there. Yeah, let’s have some dialogue – it’ll solve everything!

The letter you signed is a prime example of the “good, unbiased Westerner approach” which actively ignores international law violations, dehumanises the indigenous Palestinians, and lazily sweeps Western responsibility under the carpet. The elephant in the room that we all need to talk about is: none of this would be happening if it weren’t for Britain who gave the land to Israel in the first place, with no consultation from the indigenous population. [12] No, let’s ignore history and statistics and daily reports of atrocities and say, “you both need to calm down, let’s all sit at a table like we’ve been doing for the past 60 years and talk about your feelings and find some shared experiences from perspectives.” How dare anyone, who has not picked up a book or watched a documentary on the subject, who has never even spoken to a Palestinian about their life tell them what to do when they have no idea how it feels to be oppressed; to be cut off from your homeland whilst international settlers take up camp there; how it feels to see pixelated images of your friends’ dead, mutilated bodies appear on your computer screen through a news report whilst people tell you to “stay calm”; how it feels to stay up all night worrying for 8 months straight whilst the love of your life has been subjected to torture methods in solitary confinement and administrative detention without trial or charge?

Can you imagine someone sitting Hermione and Bellatrix down, after Bellatrix has tortured Hermione, to talk things out? Perhaps Neville could join them, and report back to his deranged parents the success of their dialogue. Intergenerational trauma is one of the most prevalent mental illnesses in the Palestinian community, with PTSD being the most common disorder in Palestinian children. [13] Every family living in Palestine has had at least one member of their family arrested under administrative detention and tortured by soldiers for information.[14] Why should a Palestinian who has been subjected to extreme means of psychological and physical torture [21] sit across from an Israeli to hear their perspective? That’s like a cancer patient listening to someone who is completely healthy complaining about a bruise on their leg.

“Ah,” I can hear you say, “But what about the Israelis suffering?”, and in response to that I would say please study the published statistics on those killed in the “conflict” and recognise that you cannot even begin to compare the number of deaths of Israelis to Palestinians.[15] Millions have been massacred and murdered, thousands incarcerated in jails without trial or charge. For you, you hear the words “Israel” and “Palestine” maybe once or twice a year, but I hear them every day when my friends tell me of the news coming from there. Additionally, Israel does not limit its atrocities to Palestinians; in this month alone there have already been reports of a British man [22], Rabbi [23] and Israeli [24] being attacked by Israeli soldiers.

Like the propaganda created to argue that muggle borns stole magic, propaganda is dispersed everywhere to paint Palestinians as terrorists, and Israelis as victims. Harry was depicted as dangerous and mad, like a terrorist, to the wizarding community – much like the Palestinians you will see flickering on your tv screen. But, as Hermione might suggest, sources mean everything, and I only hope that you have not taken your information from the Zionists’ version of the Daily Prophet, but rather the Palestinians’ version of Potterwatch. Because just like your novels show, the best way to get information is to go straight to the source instead of a mass media production site. Rita Skeeter herself demonstrated the dangers of reporting and spreading biased and exaggerated news articles, and although I’m extremely certain nobody would trap you in a jar as a beetle, I’m sure that one day you will have to backtrack your arguments.

I honestly think you are one of the most creatively intelligent writers we have, and up until now you have inspired me beyond belief. I would hate to think that you knew all of this previously before signing that letter, because by signing it you have automatically signed up to Netanyahu’s inner circle of supporters – the same man who regularly denied that Palestine ever existed and referred to Palestinians as “Arabs” to strip them of their racial identity [16] who has just said that the genocide of the Jews in World War II wasn’t actually from the Nazis but from the Palestinians themselves [17] (yes, he used the ‘P’ word showing that his consistent denial of Palestine was a political tactic).

To the Palestinians, many of whom rely on Harry Potter as a means of inspiration and escapism, you have outed yourself as a sympathiser of today’s present-day Nazis who are conducting ethnic cleansing as we speak. I only hope that now I’ve highlighted my concerns that you might withdraw your signature and realise that a peaceful, practical approach to fighting apartheid is to endorse BDS until Israel complies with international law. It worked with South African apartheid, which I’m sure you never supported, and it will work with Israeli apartheid too. [18]

So many intellectual academics, scholars, musicians, artists, novelists, scientists and performers have spoken out for their support of BDS. It is the only logical way that this madness will stop. We have spoken until our tongues have dried out – dialogue is a method that has gone stale. We need action and that action is BDS until Israel recognises international law, like every country on this planet should.

The letter you signed uses the word “coexistence” in its title – but “coexistence” will never be reached until the lives of every single person is treated with dignity and respect. Somehow, I don’t think sitting down and talking is going to teach the IDF or Israeli settlers to start respecting Palestinian life, because they are so indoctrinated into a culture of brain washed military life. For example, they have been recorded watching the bombing of Gaza as though it were a movie at the cinema.[20] Coexistence will happen once this culture is torn down, and I am so sure that if Harry could defeat Voldemort, Neville could behead Nagini, and Snape could be good, that Palestine will be free and we will all live as one people on this Earth.

I hope that this letter is shared as widely as possible so that you may see it, and that I can hear your reply.


And here’s the second letter which was sent to me by a Palestinian man who wished to be called Dobby the free elf:

BSWLvw1

It may seem difficult to understand why our disappointment with J.K.Rowling joining this anti-BDS letter is a different kind of disappointment. But for those of us from Palestine, the haunting way in which Harry Potter’s life reflected our reality, makes it unimaginable to admit that his legacy is now being compromised.

Coming of age in the Middle East, and being too young to fully comprehend oppression, occupation, and stolen rights, yet old enough to feel them all around us, Harry Potter became the ultimate metaphor of our resistance. Death eaters were the Zionists who abused pure-bloods, violently taking over and establishing an apartheid colonial regime for the racially superior “chosen people”. Pure-bloods and halfbloods were forbidden to marry mudbloods (according to Israeli marriage law), and even half-bloods (1948 Palestinians) were inferior in rights and status according to a strict socio-political hierarchy designed to ensure the racial purity of the state. As for mudbloods (in the 1967-occupied territories), it is acceptable to kill their children and wreck their homes on a daily basis in a continuous act of ethnic cleansing; they don’t matter.

On the other hand, there was the “Order of the Phoenix”; the few loyal descendants of a fading pre-Grindelwald (Nakba) society, who knew more peaceful times, and are resisting with all possible means to bring it back, with the support of the new generation. So let’s not even imagine how the epic would’ve turned out if they actually made “cultural bridges” with Voldemort, and let’s hope that following this comparative methodology, Rowling can spot the difference between boycotting pure-bloods which is discriminatory, and boycotting Voldemort, who is the discriminatory system. Let’s also hope that she can see well why a state which is by definition reserved for a specific “race” cannot and will not accept to live side by side with a state that by historical definition, consisted of a variety of religions and cultures who coexisted ON the first state’s land; “either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives”.

The teen inside each of us feels stabbed when this dearest moral support reveals itself as the deceptive indifferent voice acting to preserve the status quo in favor of the more rich and militarily supported. When the voice we trusted to be different turns out to be the same Eurocentric discourse, shallowly handling or disregarding historical facts and morals as long as they concern our “different” side of the world. The perfect double-standardization between what the books meant, and what’s being promoted in reality.

In reality, attempts to erase an entire people, forcing it into exodus, and absorbing its culture into an artificial Zionist identity that also disfigures then abuses Jewish heritage, become tolerated. All for the sake of enforcing a fascist state based on a couple of millenniums-old semi-fictional book.

Growing up while being taught to internalize it and take it for granted, it apparently takes true effort for the western mind to challenge the very concept of Israel, and to see Zionism as a construct of late European Romanticism, instead of a natural phenomenon belonging to the Levant. It takes even more effort to challenge Israel’s destructive consequences for the last 67 years, but it’s exactly here where “We must all face the choice between what is right and what is easy”.

If Harry Potter was Palestinian, he would’ve grew up in a refugee camp in a Jordanian desert after he lost his parents in some vague 1948 massacre. The Weasly’s burrow in Gaza would’ve been burned several times under bombs, with Ron incapable of escaping to Bill in the nearby Egypt because all borders were closed. Hermione would’ve been tortured in Israeli prisons for being a mudblood, eventually deciding to flee the house that was her family’s for centuries, leaving it forsome newly arrived Russian family who might have had a Jewish great-grandaunt, and is thus more deserving of it.

If Harry Potter was Palestinian, we would’ve never heard of him in the first place, because he would have merely been a voiceless number like the rest of us, all having big dreams of freedom, yet not enough magic to achieve any, ending up fenced instead in an Orwellian nightmare from which our only hope of escaping is a mythical bird, an elder wand, or simply to collectively fade away into a humongous veil and out of this place once and for all.

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2 Comments

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  1. Having read JK Rowling’s response, which claimed that she signed the letter to keep cultural dialogue open, allowing Israeli Pro-Palestinians to have their voices amplified, etc., I find the excuses quite cheap. Has no body explained to her the concept of BDS properly? BDS does not target specific individuals. In an academic boycott, the institution as a whole is targeted, but academics within it are free to voice themselves through any independent channels. They are in no harmed, nor is their capacity to work with other academics, activists, etc. They are just discouraged from doing so through their main institution.
    Frankly, Rowling comes off as very naive and ignorant of the reality. Art and culture won’t save the Palestinians. They are a vital component to the people’s capacity to withstand more and more oppression while still retaining hope, but art will not extinguish that oppression.
    Also she says she doesn’t know of any boycott that was successful? Does she know anything about South Africa? Did she even read Mia’s letter in full? Divestments almost single handedly brought down apartheid in SA. Again, very ignorant claims – if it’s Neil Blair & co. that are feeding her this BS, she should reconsider the people she surrounds herself by. For so influential a person, I am appalled she could make such hasty decisions without full awareness of what she’s getting herself into.

  2. Beautiful well-worded and well thought out letter by Mia Oudeh – Mashalla! Arguments by the older generation have constantly gone on deaf ears. It’s now time for teens and young adults like Mia to take up the case and make their voices heard.

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