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Artists’ silence is collusion with Israel’s occupation

Rock band Radiohead perform live on 11 November 2012 [Lee Gwyn/Flickr]
Rock band Radiohead perform live on 11 November 2012 [Lee Gwyn/Flickr]

There was silence yesterday from Nick Cave. There was silence from the members of Radiohead. Musicians who in recent years defied and derided the Palestinian call for a cultural boycott of Israel – making millions in the process from their gigs in Israel – yesterday said nothing about the latest victims of Israel’s illegal ethnic cleansing.

Of the hundreds of Israeli police and soldiers who were on hand to facilitate the demolition of scores of Palestinian homes in occupied East Jerusalem, it is likely that many had attended those gigs, or at least still buy Radiohead albums. Tens of thousands of fans sang along with the songs in the audiences back in 2017; where are their voices now? Where is the outcry in Israeli civil society objecting to their government’s crimes?

There’s nothing; it’s business as usual. Israel acts with impunity and the vast majority of Israelis – not including the hundreds, a thousand or so tops, of brave Israelis who stand up to their government – meet such acts with open support or, at best, indifference. “In our name” it most certainly is, and by consent; it cannot be otherwise unless they speak up and speak out.

This is not one isolated crime; this is the latest outrage in decades of Israeli colonial violence. It is systematic ethnic cleansing in a country that most governments and people in the West believe to be a democracy. These are not my words, but those of some of the brave Israelis working for NGOs which try to speak up for Palestinian human rights and international law.

It started in 1948 with the Nakba, the mass expulsion of two-thirds of the indigenous Palestinian population from their homes and communities, most of whom were never allowed to return; their homes and villages were destroyed or Judaised by the nascent Israeli state. In 1967, after it ended Jordanian control of the West Bank, and Egyptian control of the Gaza Strip, Israel illegally annexed swathes of Palestinian land to extend the municipal boundaries of Jerusalem, in breach of international law, actions which to this day remain illegal and unrecognised by the UN and almost every country in the world.

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Then, in the early 2000s, Israeli started to build the separation wall, much of which is built on Palestinian land. The International Court of Justice declared in 2004 this to be “contrary to international law”. Jeff Halper, director of the NGO Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICADH), said that the dozens of homes being demolished and slated for demolition in the days ahead are in “an area mainly under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority, designated Areas A and B under the Oslo Agreements. So the residents applied to the PA for building permits in this area outside of the Jerusalem municipality and received permission to build.”

Given the route of Israel’s separation wall, the proximity of these buildings to the monstrous structure gives Israel an excuse to knock them down – they are a “security threat”, it is claimed – which means that the Palestinian families must stand and watch their homes and community literally reduced to rubble before their eyes. Each building is home to generations of Palestinians who have had their lives shaped since 1948 by the ongoing Nakba, while the West has given its political backing to Israel.

View of the Palestinian Shuafat refugee camp behind Israel's apartheid wall in east Jerusalem on 3 December 2014 [Muammar Awad/Apaimages]

View of a Palestinian refugee camp behind Israel’s apartheid wall in east Jerusalem on 3 December 2014 [Muammar Awad/Apaimages]

Thom, Jonny, Nick and the rest of you musicians: your voices could have helped to stop this, but you have other interests and priorities. Your voices could, and should, have sided with and amplified the cries of those working for justice. Instead, despite the innumerable calls to be on the right side of history, you lent the Israeli government and its supporters’ credibility. They applauded your “moral” stance.

Cave said that those who press for the cultural boycott, such as Brian Eno and Roger Waters, are wrong for “weaponising music”, and that he broke the picket line to issue “a principled stand against those who wish to bully, shame and silence musicians.” He pointed out that he’s raised £150,000 for Palestinian refugee children through the Helping Foundation.

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Cave is busy promoting his “Conversations with Nick Cave” and his Twitter feed is currently dedicated almost exclusively to that. Perhaps he could go to Jerusalem and try to have conversations with Israelis and Palestinians about the current destruction happening in Wadi Hummus, hang out with the latest displaced Palestinians and tell them why a cultural boycott is an unwise, not to mention “bullying”, tactic. He might even donate another £150,000 towards rebuilding one of the demolished homes if he’s feeling generous.

We could also follow the Twitter feed of Sharona Katan, the Israeli wife of Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood, to see that while she has a lot of issues that she is passionate about – Japan’s illegal whaling; the medical but unavailable use of cannabis for patients suffering from various conditions; victims of the Holocaust; and outrage over Hamas flags being waved about in London – she is silent when it comes to Palestinian human rights violations being perpetrated by her government.

Just over two years ago, Yorke cited Katan as one of the reasons why the band were so incensed at having pro-BDS artists like Ken Loach preach to them about where they should and shouldn’t perform. “The person who knows most about these things is Jonny,” Yorke told Rolling Stone magazine. “He has both Palestinian and Israeli friends and a wife who’s an Arab Jew. All these people to stand there at a distance throwing stuff at us, waving flags, saying, ‘You don’t know anything about it!’ Imagine how offensive that is for Jonny.”

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Jonny, is that what you find offensive? Is that the limit? Do the victims count? Does their non-violent tactic which they ask you to respect until your Israeli hosts and fans realise that their apartheid comes at a cost to the Palestinians offend you? Does it really offend you so much when they ask you to respect their plea, issued from under the boot of decades of Israeli oppression and Western complicity?

They’re not asking Western artists never to play Israel; just to wait until Israel reverses over 70 years of colonialism and ethnic cleansing. Listen to the voices and cries from Wadi Hummus right now, which echo decades of the same pain and injustice. Imagine how offensive artists’ silence is to them, for to be silent is to collude with Israel’s many crimes.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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