Friday, 22 February 2013

My open letter to Alicia Keys. Rethink performing in Israel.



Dear Alicia Keys,

Let me preface this letter by saying that I have been a huge fan of you and your music while growing up. During my earlier years, I was (still am) mesmerised by your soulful voice, your knack for playing the piano beautifully, and your amazing hair. I had never wanted braids so badly the way I did after watching you sing Fallin' on MTV when I was around 8-years-old. I finally got around to getting "Alicia hair" when I was 12. I think there's a photo lying around the house somewhere of me beaming into the camera with braided hair while I tightly clutched onto my late cat, Oshkosh. But I digress. 

I'm writing this because I want you to rethink something. You are planning to perform in Tel Aviv later this year. And I'm asking you, and so are many others, to reconsider holding a concert in Israel.

Karma: action that has consequences

I know that many people all over the world enjoy your music. You have fans everywhere. But when an artist or band performs in Israel, they help to normalise Israel's treatment of Palestinians. It says to the Israeli people, the Palestinian people, the Israeli government and to the rest of the world that the current state of affairs, one where Palestinians do not enjoy full rights and have not since their land was colonised in 1948, is okay. Performing in Israel says inequality and discriminatory laws is not that big of a deal – that it can be treated lightly. But it is a big deal. Dark things happen in Palestine/Israel. Palestinians are living under Israeli military occupation today. They are subjected to apartheid laws - laws that discriminate against them based on their ethnicity. There are Jewish-only roads in the West Bank (occupied Palestinian territories) that Palestinians cannot travel on. There are Jewish-only buses that Palestinians cannot board. Racism against Palestinians infiltrates every aspect of Palestinian life, and yes, it's as simple as not being able to sit on the same bus. Palestinians do not even have the opportunity to refuse giving up their seat like the brave Rosa Parks did in 1955. Palestinian homes are demolished and Jewish-only colonies are built on their land. Those living in the blockaded Gaza and the West Bank would not be able to attend your concert because the Israeli occupation does not permit them to. Rethink performing in Israel.

Some people just want it all...
Some people live for the power...

Some people say music and politics shouldn't mix, but when people are mistreated and deprived of their human rights because of a political ideology and regime that dehumanises them and does not recognise their rights, their lives are inherently political. Everything that comes in touch with the people and the land cannot escape the politics, even if it tries to. A concert held in Israel is not performed in some kind of apolitical vacuum. Nokia Arena in Tel Aviv, where you plan to perform later this year, is not positioned inside a bubble or force-field that will magically separate your music or your concert-goers from the social, historical and political realities on the ground. No artist, no song, no lyric, no note, no beat is above or beyond what happens in Palestine.

When a group of people are systematically discriminated against for being born Palestinian, for not being a white Jew (African Jews in Israel are subjected to appalling treatment and racism because of their skin colour and background too), when Palestinians do not have the same access to education, when their water and agricultural and mineral resources are stolen and expropriated and capitalised on for Israel’s benefit, when they live under a crippling blockade in Gaza and have lived (or were unlucky not to live) through massacres these last several years, when they don't know when Israeli drones will strike next, when they don't feel safe in their own homes, schools and hospitals, when they don't have the right to travel freely, when most Palestinians living outside of Palestine do not have the right to return and will never have the chance to see their homeland, when Palestinians are indefinitely imprisoned, when a separation wall is built around them because they are deemed a "security threat", when they are constantly referred to as a "demographic threat" – it is political. 

And music, no matter how loudly played, cannot drown out these realities. But artists have the power to be conscious. Music can make conscious statements. Many great artists were born by questioning social injustices and criticising power and authority. Many movements were led by conscious songs - the background music to their resistance. 

I'm aware that you've travelled to South Africa before - a country stained by decades of apartheid. Many similarities have been drawn between the suffering of black South Africans in apartheid South Africa and Palestinians in apartheid Israel. Many South African activists, including Bishop Desmond Tutu, have said Palestinians have it worse. 

None of this is normal. To live the way Palestinians do - burdened by a relentless military occupation that watches them and controls them and restricts them - is not a normal way to live. It is no way for any person to live. And it should never be treated as though it is normal.

Alicia, stand on the right side of the history and join other artists who have refused to perform in Israel or had initially planned to but later reconsidered upon learning the extent of the injustices faced by Palestinians. Join Roger Waters of Pink Floyd, Cassandra Wilson, Stevie Wonders,  Gil Scott-Heron, Jon Bon Jovi, The Gorillaz, Elvis Costello, Cat Power, The Pixies, The Klaxons, Jason Moran, Natascha Atlas, The Yardbirds and many other musicians and bands who took action by deciding not to perform in apartheid Israel. Join Alice Walker, Arundhati Roy, Dustin Hoffman and many others who have endorsed the artistic and cultural boycott of Israeli apartheid.

You have a big heart, and you’ve openly supported humanitarian causes, so I’m hoping you will find it in your heart – in the name of human rights, human dignity, equality – to withdraw from performing in Israel. And may you one day be able to perform in a Palestine without occupation - a land where Palestinians and Israelis are equals.