Opening of the Palestinian Cultural Week

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05 Oct 2009

Programme Director
Your Excellency Ambassador Ali Halimeh,
Premier Nomvula Mokonyane,
Fellow Ministers,
Representatives of the Diplomatic Corps,
Distinguished Guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen:

We are deeply honoured and moved by the decision of the Palestinian Authorities to present a Palestinian Cultural Week in South Africa.

We believe that culture is dialogue of the best possible kind. To bring the culture of one country to another gives us an opportunity to increase mutual understanding and to expand the possibilities of sharing the cultural wealth of the world.

Tonight we are also strengthening the culture of the south and in this way paving the way to a world culture and a more inclusive world.

Only two weeks ago, the 4th World Summit on Arts and Culture was held in Johannesburg.

This meeting of delegates and cultural workers from around the world came to talk about the rich possibilities of culture as dialogue and the event had as its theme: “Meeting of Cultures: Creating meaning through the arts”.

This event pointed the way to strengthening a global arts agenda and to empower arts communities all over the world with the necessary intellectual muscle and practical expertise to strengthen the arts on their continents and in their countries.

I am reminded that one of the greatest Palestinian intellectuals, the late Edward Said, declared that texts are worldly.

He saw the role of the artist, the cultural worker and the intellectual as representing “emancipation and enlightenment”.

Said tells us that the intellectual is at his or her best when he represents “the poor, the disadvantaged, the voiceless, the unrepresented, the powerless.”

And I quote:

“For the intellectual, the task, I believe, is explicitly to universalize the crisis, to give greater human scope to what a particular race or nation suffered, to associate that experience with the sufferings of others.”

Today we are once more declaring this important role of the artist and asserting the importance of the arts in the world.

Today through co-hosting of this Palestinian Cultural Week in South Africa, we are encouraging a global agenda of creating meaning through the arts.

As South Africans we are painfully aware through the lessons we learnt in struggle and through fifteen years of freedom that dialogue has been an important part of what brought South African people together, that made us ‘united in our diversity’ and that enabled us to evolve into a democracy.

In the liberation movements in exile, political activists in the South African liberation struggle together with their Palestinian counterparts spent many nights and decades dreaming of freedom.

South Africans and Palestinians fought side by side to bring about our own emancipation. Comrade OR Tambo would always pay homage to the contribution of Palestinians in the struggle for freedom and always remain steadfast the liberation of the people of Palestine.

Today it is still our wish as a people and our commitment as a government and people that there be a free and independent Palestinian state. We are of the view that the Roadmap should be implemented as a matter of urgency, with no more delays or backtracking, and that the time is long overdue for a Palestinian state to reside alongside an Israeli state side by side and in peace and harmony.

The time is long overdue for the withdrawal of Israel from the Occupied Territories and that peace should return to the West Bank and Gaza Strip so that the people of these areas can begin to rebuild the infrastructure and to live normal and productive lives and so that the children can play again without fear.

In a book called Borders and Beyond published by Pro Helvetia that looks at the photography of people who live and work in areas of conflict, the editor asks:

“Who owns the road, the city, the country, the oil and the fish? Some have too much, others too little. Again and again conflicts flare up…. On the other side lies the promised land, a place of salvation, safety, a better future.”

We believe that freedom is a necessary part of the human condition and that the world must play its part to ensure peace and prosperity for the people of the Middle East. We pledge to do all we can to bring us to the better future and promised land of an independent Palestinian state.

Today we are mindful of the richness and depth of Palestinian culture and heritage, and this week-long event offers us the opportunity to engage our counterparts in areas of mutual cultural interest.

The Palestine Cultural Week is furthermore meant to celebrate “Jerusalem as the Capital of Arab Culture” for 2009. This world city, a cradle of prophets, of divine spiritualism and the birthplace of ancient civilizations, is deeply significant to all of us, whatever our religions, and should take pride of place in the world as a symbol of tolerance and intercultural dialogue.

It is against this background that I am honoured today to open the Palestine Cultural Week that will showcase Palestine Culture in South Africa the areas of Music, Film and Visual arts.

South Africa and Palestine are engaged in discussing the formalizing of cultural ties between our two countries with the signing of a Cultural Agreement. I can see that there are several areas of mutual interest for us to explore.

This evening provides an opportunity for us to experience and enjoy the richness of Palestinian Culture among old friends and I wish you a very pleasant evening.

I thank you.