13 January 2010
The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) was deeply disturbed to learn that that you are scheduled to perform in Israel this coming summer. Two years ago, you were invited by Israeli President Shimon Peres to attend a conference in Israel marking Israel‘s contributions to medicine, science, and conservation; we urged you then, as a prominent activist on issues of global inequality and a campaigner for basic human rights, to say no to Israel, especially since the invitation coincided with celebrations marking the 60th anniversary of the founding of the state. You did not go to Israel then; we call on you now not to grant legitimacy to a state that practices the most pernicious form of colonialism and apartheid.
Performing in Israel would violate the almost unanimously endorsed Palestinian civil society Call for Boycotts, Divestments, and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel. This Call is directed particularly towards international activists, artists, and academics of conscience, such as yourself. Moreover, it would come a year and a half after Israel’s bloody military assault against the occupied Gaza Strip which left over 1,440 Palestinians dead, of whom 431 were children, and 5380 injured. The 1.5 million Palestinians in the besieged Gaza Strip, the overwhelming majority of whom are refugees who were expelled from their homes by Zionist forces in 1948, were subjected to three weeks of relentless Israeli state terror, whereby Israeli warplanes systematically targeted civilian areas, reducing whole neighborhoods and vital civilian infrastructure to rubble and partially destroying Gaza’s leading university and scores of schools, including several run by the UN, where civilians were taking shelter.
This criminal assault comes after three years of an ongoing, illegal, crippling Israeli siege of Gaza which has shattered all spheres of life, prompting the UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights, Richard Falk, to describe it as “a prelude to genocide”. The UN Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict, headed by the highly respected South African judge, Richard Goldstone, found Israel guilty of war crimes and possible crimes against humanity, as did major international human rights organizations, such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. The Goldstone report concluded that Israel’s war on Gaza was “designed to punish, humiliate and terrorize a civilian population, radically diminish its local economic capacity both to work and to provide for itself, and to force upon it an ever increasing sense of dependency and vulnerability.”
In a recent New York Times op-ed, you wrote of your hope “that the regimes in North Korea, Myanmar and elsewhere are taking note of the trouble an aroused citizenry can give to tyrants.” You went on to further elaborate on the hope that “people in places filled with rage and despair, places like the Palestinian territories, will in the days ahead find among them their Gandhi, their King, their Aung San Suu Kyi.” Rather than shifting the blame from the violence of the colonial oppressor to the resistance of the indigenous oppressed and characterizing the Palestinians as a population filled with “rage and despair,” it is more apt to consider them among the “aroused citizenry” responding to tyranny – Israel‘s regime of occupation and apartheid.
As to your hope that the Palestinians will soon find their own leading figure to champion nonviolent resistance, the Palestinian civil society Call for Boycotts, Divestments, and Sanctions against Israel is one of the largest nonviolent, morally consistent movements for ending Israel’s system of apartheid and colonial oppression. It is endorsed by a majority of Palestinian civil society. As a leading artist who is concerned about human rights, it is your moral obligation to honor this call and not to cross our “picket line.”
A whole generation was affected by your musical activism, when you sang of the civil rights movement in America, the everyday human heroes in El Salvador and the brave struggles in Ireland – you filled a space that forced political morality into pop culture. Entertaining apartheid Israel despite all the injustice it is committing against the Palestinians would significantly smear this great legacy of yours.
Through systematic repression and incarceration of human rights defenders without due process, Israel has made sure that those Palestinian “Gandhis” and “Kings” do not rise to prominence. Activists such as Mohammed Othman, Abdallah Abu Rahma, and Jamal Jum’a, to mention only a few recent examples, have been imprisoned without charge or trial, a practice that has been harshly condemned by Amnesty International. Historically, successive Israeli governments went even further in suppressing civil and popular resistance: one of Yitzhak Rabin’s strategies in the First Intifada, for instance, was to “break the bones” of young Palestinian protestors, often “preemptively;” more recently, Israeli military forces have brutally dispersed weekly nonviolent Palestinian protests against Israel’s Wall—which was declared illegal by the International Court of Justice in 2004—by firing rubber bullets, teargas canisters, and sometimes live ammunition onto protestors. Such methods have resulted in the injury of hundreds of peaceful protesters, including some internationals and Israelis, as well as the death of several Palestinian civilians and American human rights activist, Tristan Anderson.
Your appearance in Israel would lend to its well-oiled campaign to whitewash all the above grave violations of international law and basic human rights through “re-branding” itself as a liberal nation enjoying membership in the Western club of democracies. Above everything else, it would serve to deflect attention away from Israel‘s three forms of oppression against the Palestinian people: the legalized and institutionalized system of racial discrimination against the Palestinian citizens of Israel; the military occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip; and the continuous denial of the Palestinian refugees’ UN-sanctioned right to return to their homes and to receive just reparations.
As a promoter of peace and justice, you are a distinguished member and co-founder of the ONE Campaign to end extreme poverty in Africa. The international patron of this campaign, South African Nobel Laureate and celebrated anti-apartheid activist, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, remarked that “the end of apartheid stands as one of the crowning accomplishments of the past century, but we would not have succeeded without the help of international pressure– in particular the divestment movement of the 1980s…a similar movement has taken shape, this time aiming at an end to the Israeli occupation.” He concluded that “if apartheid ended, so can this occupation, but the moral force and international pressure will have to be just as determined. The current divestment effort is the first, though certainly not the only, necessary move in that direction.”
We urge you to heed the wise words of Archbishop Tutu and to honor the Palestinian Call. Your performance in Israel would be tantamount to having performed in Sun City during South Africa’s apartheid era, in violation of the international boycott unanimously endorsed by the oppressed South African majority. We call on you not to entertain Israeli Apartheid!
 Ilan Pappe, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine. Oxford: Oneworld Publications, 2007.