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Novelist Ian McEwan Criticizes Jewish Settlements During Acceptance Of Jerusalem Prize

Novelist Ian Mcewan

DANIEL ESTRIN   02/20/11 02:24 PM ET   AP

JERUSALEM — Renowned British novelist Ian McEwan accepted an Israeli literary prize in Jerusalem Sunday with harsh criticism of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, after British writers called on the author to stay home because of Israel's policies toward Palestinians.

At an acceptance ceremony for the Jerusalem Prize, McEwan praised Israel's technological and artistic advances but asked, "Where is Israel's political creativity?"

The novelist rebuked the "nihilism" of the Islamic militant Hamas, which has called for the destruction of Israel and has fired rockets from the Gaza Strip into Israeli towns. He also criticized Israel with the same term, saying "it is nihilism to make a long-term prison camp of the Gaza Strip."

Israel and Egypt have maintained a blockade of the seaside Palestinian territory since Hamas took over the enclave by force in 2007. Israel, the U.S. and EU consider Hamas a terror organization.

McEwan, author of works including the best-selling book "Atonement," has won the Man Booker Prize for Fiction and the National Book Critics' Circle Fiction Award, among other literary prizes.

The Jerusalem Prize, Israel's most prestigious award for foreign writers, is awarded biannually. Other authors who have received the Jerusalem Prize include Simone de Beauvoir, Milan Kundera, Arthur Miller and Haruki Murakami.

A jury selected McEwan "for his love of people and concern for their right to self-realization," said jury chairman Menahem Ben-Sasson, president of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

McEwan told a Jerusalem audience, including Israeli President Shimon Peres and Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, that the "distinguished judges" of the jury "seem to be demanding that I mention, and I must oblige, the continued evictions and demolitions and relentless purchases of Palestinian homes in east Jerusalem."

Except for one man who booed the novelist as he delivered his speech, the audience warmly applauded McEwan.

The author was under pressure by a group of British writers not to travel to Israel and to reject the prize because of Israel's policies toward Palestinians.

The writers urged McEwan to join an international movement advocating a boycott of Israel.

In response, McEwan wrote that he is concerned about the situation of the Palestinians but said he supported "dialogue, engagement, and looking for ways in which literature, especially fiction, with its impulse to enter other minds, can reach across political divides."

On Friday, McEwan attended a weekly protest against Jewish settlers who bought a building and evicted longtime Arab residents of an east Jerusalem neighborhood.

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Filed by Zoe Triska  |