JERUSALEM: The United Arab Emirates move to pursue normalisation with Israel has prompted a backlash from Arab artists and intellectuals, who are boycotting Emirati-backed cultural awards and events to support the Palestinian cause.

“I announce that I am withdrawing from your exhibition,” Palestinian photographer Mohamed Badarne wrote to the Sharjah Art Foundation.

“As a people under occupation, we must take a stand against anything to do with reconciliation with the (Israeli) occupier,” Berlin-based Badarne said.

The UAE agreed last month to establish full diplomatic ties with Israel in a US-brokered deal, making it the first Gulf state and only the third Arab country to do so.

The agreement was denounced by Palestinians as “a stab in the back”, and sparked widespread protests.

Many Palestinians see the deal as a betrayal, breaking a consensus that normalisation with Israel is permissible only after the Palestinian question has been resolved.

Palestinian Culture Minister Atef Abu Seif urged Arab intellectuals to stand against a decision which “strengthens the (Israeli) enemy”.

Cultural figures from Algeria, Iraq, Oman and Tunisia -- as well as the UAE — condemned the accord.

“A sad and catastrophic day,” Emirati writer Dhabiya Khamis wrote, following US President Donald Trump’s surprise announcement of the deal on Aug 13.

“No to normalisation between Israel and the Emirates and the countries of the Gulf!” Khamis added. “Israel is the enemy of the entire Arab nation.”

The UAE has in recent years invested huge sums in culture, including the Louvre Abu Dhabi, a branch of the iconic Paris museum, which opened in 2017.

The country also funds several literary awards, such as Sheikh Zayed Book Prize, named after the former Emirati president, which hands out gold medals and cash prizes totalling $1.9 million every year.

Moroccan writer Zohra Ramij has announced the withdrawal of her latest novel from the competition, while Moroccan poet Mohamed Bennis resigned from its organising committee.

Published in Dawn, September 4th, 2020