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Palestinians protest Radiohead’s support for ‘apartheid’ Israel

Image of the rock band Radiohead performing live on 26 September 2012 [Daniele Dalledonne/Flickr]
Image of the rock band Radiohead [Daniele Dalledonne/Flickr]

A group of Palestinians from the UK, besieged Gaza, occupied West Bank and Israel have co-authored a letter to the British rock band, Radiohead, over their controversial decision to hold a concert in Israel later this week.

The band’s decision to go ahead with the concert is a “slap in the face to Palestinians across the world” and a “betrayal of all social justice movements”, the group said. They urged Radiohead to reconsider their decision, which activists say grants legitimacy to an apartheid regime and gives support to political oppression.

Earlier this month Radiohead, who became a worldwide hit in the 1990s, announced their decision to play at a concert in Israel. Their decision angered fans and supporters of the global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel’s half a decade occupation of Palestine. Protests against the decision by the rock band, however, fell on deaf ears as the group insisted on playing in Israel while maintaining that “music, art and academia is about crossing borders, not building ones”.

In the two page letter, the group, which consists mainly of Palestinian academics and students, accused Radiohead of hypocrisy and supporting apartheid. They describe Radiohead’s “excuses” as no different to the excuse used by artists who played in South Africa during the height of the anti-apartheid movement against white rule.

Based on your responses to BDS, we wonder if you too would have performed in Sun City while Nelson Mandela and others rotted in Robben Island prison?

they asked.

They pointed out that hundreds of South African organisations and trade unions support the BDS campaign because in Israel they see very similar – if not exactly the same – system of political subjugation. “Indeed many South Africans,” the group stressed. “who have visited Palestine concluded that the situation is ‘worse’ than apartheid.”

Read: UK government loses bid to ban BDS

The group urged Radiohead to open its eyes and see the routine violence and indignity faced by Palestinians, the daily human rights violations and abuses carried out by Israel before re-considering their decision.

Describing details of the their ongoing persecution, the group said:

We are segregated, held and humiliated at hundreds of checkpoints, we watch our houses be demolished, we are denied freedom of movement, equal access to water, healthcare, education and face a separate discriminatory legal system. We live under Israeli F16s and Elbit Drones, we face Merkhava tanks, and electricity cut to three hours a day. This, Radiohead, is known as apartheid and ethnic cleansing.

In their letter, they urged Radiohead to take a moment and think what it is like to live in Gaza: “[A] child as young as eight has had to endure three brutal Israeli bombing campaigns,” they wrote, adding: “Think what it must be like to live in perpetual exile in refugee camps sometimes only a few kilometres from home and yet forbidden from returning.”

Radiohead was also encouraged to consider the discriminatory political system that governs the lives of Palestinians: “Think what it must be like to live under an intricate system of apartheid that forbids you from travelling on certain roads, living in certain places and even accessing fundamental resources such as water.”

“Millions of us are imprisoned behind walls and barriers and if we want to cross we have to beg our occupiers for permission which is often denied to us. Everyday Palestinians in Gaza are dying because they cannot leave the outdoor prison Israel has created and access lifesaving medical care.”

Everyday Palestinians are stopped at checkpoints, harassed, turned away and sometimes even shot.

The Palestinian group described their frustrations over Radiohead’s attitude towards activists attempting to raise these concerns. The letter mentions that when activists tried to bring this matter to the attention of the band they were called “fucking people” and that one of the members stuck their middle finger at them.

“These people were not just allies of Palestinians who have fought tirelessly for our freedom, they were also Radiohead fans,” the group said. “Fans who have seen you engage with politics and various causes for social justice around the world over the decades.”

The letter cites activist and author Naomi Klein who is a strong supporter of the Palestinian cause including BDS. Radiohead is apparently an avid fan of the Canadian author but in the letter the Palestinian group accuse the band of hypocrisy, because of their claim to support social justice on the one hand while also attacking the global BDS movement.

One of the activists who signed the letter spoke to MEMO about her campaign to stop Radiohead performing in Israel. British-Palestinian, Huda Ammori, a student at Manchester University, mentioned that Radiohead performed at her university on 5 July. Activists from Manchester Palestine Action held a demonstration outside the venue and spoke to thousands of Radiohead fans about the need for a cultural boycott of Israel. She said that she managed to push her way to the front to protest Radiohead’s decision by showing solidarity to the Palestinian case for all the spectators to see.

#BDS

“Radiohead performing in Israel is a mockery of the suffering of the Palestinian people. Radiohead have continued to disregard the Palestinian people and have mocked the supporters of the Palestine cause,” Ammori said. She pointed to the hypocrisy of Radiohead. “They claim to care about ‘social justice’ by showing some support for the people of Tibet and through their lyrics,” she said, “however, now their lyrics scream hypocrisy.” Performing music, she added, should not have to be a political choice, “however when it comes to apartheid, performing in Israel is a political choice. A choice between standing with the oppressor or standing with the oppressed.”

In Israel, the letter explained, Radiohead would be playing in front of an audience which “will be mostly Israelis who have served in the Israeli armed forces that are slaughtering our people; 1,400 Palestinians in 22 days in the winter of 2008-9 then more than 2,200 in 50 days in 2014, including over 500 children.”

They concluded their letter saying: “We are the abused, the imprisoned, and the occupied and we expect people of integrity to show solidarity and to not patronise us. We will not stop fighting for justice and we will remember those who stood with us when it was not fashionable to do so, who refused to entertain apartheid. And as with South Africa, history will judge you when we have our freedom.”

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