Israel is a hot bed for controversy. We are told what happens between it and Palestine is so deeply cultural that the west could never understand it, let alone help to rectify it. It’s becoming clearer though, thanks in part to a sharper historical perspective and in part to ground reports on burgeoning social media platforms, what’s really going on: Israel is conducting an offensive in some respects worse than South African apartheid on the Palestinian people.
Israel is made of land 80% taken from Palestinians, and those who remain are isolated in places like the Gaza Strip and carpet bombed (or, as the Israeli government horrifically refer to it as; ‘mowing the lawn’) reaping innocent deaths and radicalising a desperate population. In one year alone 660 Palestinians were killed, 114 of them children, to 23 Israelis killed in return fire. The two-state solution is no longer an acceptable resolution, and more and more activists are pushing for a right-to-return for Palestinians, in spite of the state’s wants.
It’s bizarre in this climate then to see some of the West’s most famous musicians queuing to perform there. Kanye West has just announced a gig in October; joining Taylor Swift, Mariah Carey, Pharrell, Bon Jovi, Julian Casablancas, One Direction, Chris Brown, Mac Demarco, Art Garfunkel and Robbie Williams in Tel Aviv in the coming months. The city, Israel’s second most populous, is a gorgeous metropolis with a coast and skyline to die for, rich in culture and history… But in the midst of a humanitarian outrage like this, these musicians should wake up to the situation there, swallow their pay cheques and refuse to attend.
The unique situation of a colonisation occurring across the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries and the fairly recent emergence of the true picture of what’s going on in the state means a lot of unfortunate claims by various public figures can and should be forgiven. Obama’s claim made while a senator, for example, that Israel was America’s closest ally in the region and its ‘only real democracy,’ was just misinformed – hopefully. But now the situation is fairly self-evident, and we must look to the past to understand what can be done about it, peacefully.
As with the apartheid state that was South Africa, change in the nation was enforced upon it, rather than having grown from within. The African National Congress forced desegregation upon a country which was still deeply racist; and as such it is international attitudes to Israel’s abhorrent enclaving of its non-Jewish population and subsequent carpet bombings, apartheid policies on both sides of the Green Line and Jim-Crow like segregation policies enforced at gunpoint even in supposedly Zone A sections of the region that will force change there, or at least shape attitudes to the crisis in the halls of power. In the case of South Africa: academics agreed in 1969 to boycott many of their major universities, invitations were withdrawn from the Olympic and commonwealth games, and the likes of Bob Dylan, Bono and Bruce Springsteen refused to play there, even releasing a single damning those who did. And while South Africa is still a troubled country racially, international pressure over a series of decades means state sanctioned apartheid is now history there.
The same must be done in Israel. In parts it’s already happening. Academics are withdrawing their support; in 2013 Stephen Hawking refused to attend a prestigious conference in Israel on ethical grounds and the Internet reaction was huge – and that was just one occasion. Lauryn Hill, Brian Eno, Mike Leigh and Roger Waters have refused to play there, and each time it’s spread awareness and sparked a conversation. It’s surprising that an artist touted as being as socially-conscious as Taylor Swift would unthinkingly go ahead, and the same goes for Julian Casablancas whose ‘Human Sadness’ video critiques the exact sort of bombardments Israel enacts on the West Bank monthly. Kanye West gets hatred that nobody, let alone somebody as talented as he, deserves; but his history of performing for dictators and now here is a just blot against his name. Art Garfunkel might want to look for guidance from his partner Paul Simon who toured with ANC campaigner Miriam Makeba in 1987, performing his African-flavoured record Graceland shoulder to shoulder with black musicians in defiance of state Apartheid, because I don’t think he’d be impressed. The only name I’m not surprised at is Chris Brown, who can move to the Middle East permanently if he likes.
While in the long term it’s political policies, not the actions of musicians, that will help free the people of Palestine (despite what Bono may think); condemnation is still absolutely required by megastars whose voices will be heard by far wider audiences than readers of online broadsheets. In the case of South Africa it caused the UN to issue a policy of Cultural Boycott in 1980, and maybe the same attitude applied here would encourage the West to purge some of its business interests with Israel too, until the situation is rectified. Performance in the country is a tacit pass on the state’s dehumanising attitude to Palestinians; whereas a decline on the invitation ala the forever noble Lauryn Hill earlier this year would progress the normalisation of a new, more accurate view of what’s happening in that part of the world: to see it not as ‘the Israel/Palestine conflict’ but as the settler colonialism it is. And if there’s one dark aspect of our civilisation that needs Shaking Off Taylor, it’s that.
Liam Inscoe – Jones
Co-Editor of the Music Section at University of Nottingham’s IMPACT Magazine.