Oct 24, 2010

#BDS: Guns N’ Roses: An Opportunity to Untie your Hands

Dear Guns N’ Roses,
The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) was dismayed to read reports that you are considering performing in Israel later this year [1]. PACBI, supported by an overwhelming majority of Palestinian civil society and, in particular, by almost the entire community of Palestinian cultural workers [2], views such a performance in Israel as a form of complicity in whitewashing Israel's occupation, apartheid and war crimes. More importantly, your upcoming performance would violate the appeal of the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement [3] which urges people of conscience throughout the world to isolate Israel until it ends its colonial and apartheid oppression of the Palestinian people, as was done to the apartheid regime in South Africa.
Based on your music, most notably your song, “Civil War,” you must surely be aware that music cannot rise above politics or be detached from moral responsibility. Otherwise, why attempt to reach the hearts of millions through a protest song against war? Perhaps more powerfully, “Civil War” was about a type of war that defined the coming age, as the 1990s saw the breakup of a bipolar world and the proliferation of smaller, less tractable civil wars. People all over the world heard your words, and none more clearly than your fans in South Africa who called for an end to apartheid…and succeeded!
In 2004, PACBI, inspired by the triumphant cultural boycott of apartheid South Africa, and supported by key Palestinian unions and cultural groups, issued a call for the academic and cultural boycott of Israel. PACBI appealed to international artists to refuse to perform in Israel [4] or participate in events that serve to equate the occupier and the occupied [5] and thus promote the continuation of injustice. Following this, in 2005, Palestinian civil society called for an all-encompassing Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign based on the principles of human rights, justice, freedom and equality [6]. The BDS movement is asking artists to heed our call until “Israel withdraws from all the lands occupied in 1967, including East Jerusalem; removes all its colonies in those lands; agrees to United Nations resolutions relevant to the restitution of Palestinian refugees rights; and dismantles its system of apartheid." [7]
In this climate of persistent oppression and racist subjugation, you should ask yourself whether you wish, by performing in Israel, to be complicit in whitewashing the following violations by Israel of international law and Palestinian rights:
- A brutal and unlawful military occupation of the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and Gaza Strip. Israel restricts Palestinians’ freedom of movement and of speech; blocks access to lands, health care, and education; imprisons Palestinian leaders and human rights activists without charge or trial; and inflicts, on a daily basis, humiliation and violence at the more than 600 military checkpoints and roadblocks strangling the West Bank. All the while, Israel continues to build its illegal wall on Palestinian land and to support the ever-expanding network of illegal, Jewish-only settlements that divide the West Bank into Bantustans.

- A growing system of Apartheid towards the Palestinian citizens of Israel, with laws and policies that deny Palestinian citizens the rights that their Jewish counterparts enjoy. These laws and policies affect education, land ownership, housing, employment, marriage, and all other aspects of people's daily lives. In this way, Israeli democracy, for Jews only, is as much a myth and as “ironic” as Chinese democracy. [8]

- A denial of the internationally recognized right of return for Palestinian refugees who were ethnically cleansed in 1948 in the process of forming an exclusivist Jewish state. Israel also continues to expel people from their homes in Jerusalem and the Naqab (Negev). Today, there are more than 7 million refugees, still struggling for their right to return to their homes, like all refugees around the world.

Israel openly uses artists, musicians and other cultural workers as part of a campaign to Brand Israel [9], a campaign that has been launched by the Israeli government and promoted by institutions throughout the country and abroad in order to whitewash Israel’s violations of international law and project a false image of normalcy. But after Israel’s war of aggression against Gaza in December 2008 and January 2009, which left 1,400 Palestinians dead [10], predominantly civilians, and led the UN Goldstone Report to declare that Israel had committed war crimes [11], and after the flotilla massacre, many international artists have refused to conduct business as usual with a country that places itself above international standards. Elvis Costello [12], Gil Scott Heron, Carlos Santana, Devendra Banhart, and the Pixies are but a few of the artists who have refused to perform in Israel in the past year. In his decision not to play, Devendra Banhart said,

Unfortunately, we tried to make it clear that we were coming to share a human and not a political message but it seems that we are being used to support views that are not our own. [13]

Maxi Jazz (Faithless front-man) had this to say as he maintained his principled position not to entertain apartheid,

While human beings are being willfully denied not just their rights but their needs for their children and grandparents and themselves, I feel deeply that I should not be sending even tacit signals that [performing in Israel] is either 'normal' or 'ok'. It's neither and I cannot support it. It grieves me that it has come to this and I pray everyday for human beings to begin caring for each other, firm in the wisdom that we are all we have. [14]

The call for BDS has also been supported by prominent and devoted anti-racist activists around the world, from South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu [15] to best-selling African-American author Alice Walker. If you are still unconvinced because of a claim that a cultural boycott of Israel would infringe on freedom of expression and cultural exchange, then we recall for you the judicious words of Enuga S. Reddy, director of the United Nations Center against Apartheid, who in 1984 responded to similar criticism voiced against the cultural boycott of South Africa saying:

It is rather strange, to say the least, that the South African regime which denies all freedoms... to the African majority... should become a defender of the freedom of artists and sportsmen of the world. We have a list of people who have performed in South Africa because of ignorance of the situation or the lure of money or unconcern over racism. They need to be persuaded to stop entertaining apartheid, to stop profiting from apartheid money and to stop serving the propaganda purposes of the apartheid regime. [16]
Back to your lyrics; you once said, perhaps in a cynical moment, “My hands are tied” as the war goes on, and “you can’t trust freedom when it’s not in your hands; when everybody’s fighting for their promised land.” We are providing a way for you to untie your hands, to not sit idly by, or worse, support the war, occupation and apartheid. Equally important, you must know that we do not fight to liberate a promised land, but rather, to liberate a people. Can you really sing such words in such times in Israel?
You may be particularly interested to know that, as part of its illegal and criminal siege of Gaza, Israel has prevented not only various types of medicines, candles, books, crayons, clothing, shoes, blankets, pasta, tea, coffee and chocolate, but also musical instruments from reaching the 1.5 million Palestinians incarcerated in the world’s largest open-air prison [17]. Can you entertain such a state with a clear conscience?
Can you stand on that stage giving legitimacy to the oppressor when the title song of your new album is an emotional gesture to Tibet and a China free from oppression?
To perform in Israel is to support this oppressive and racist power and ignore a people’s non-violent struggle for freedom. We therefore ask that you do not play in Israel.



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