< HOME  Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Singing for Justice as a Life-long Commitment

Recently, those of us who care about justice received with great joy and relief the news that Mr. Gil Scott-Heron canceled his scheduled concert in “Tel Aviv.” In view of the destruction and suffering the Palestinians have endured for the sake of that racist colonial enterprise known as “Israel,” the cancellation of this concert couldn’t have been more just and appropriate.

Some of the individuals who debated whether Mr. Scot-Heron should “play Tel Aviv,” were Zionist settlers in Palestine, who tired us with their customary drivel of how “complicated” things are in “Israel,” and tried to argue that music should be free of political considerations.

Free of political considerations indeed! Have they conveniently forgotten how often they themselves have used art and culture to advance “Israel’s” political goals against the Palestinian people? How many of their “Stand with Israel” events have not been replete with “Israeli” art, “Israeli” food, (stolen from Palestinians, of course) and “Israeli” music? Why require the public to “stand with Israel” and appreciate Jewish culture if, in their view, culture should escape the exigencies of politics?

Not even Jewish religion seems to escape the politicization of culture that Zionists condemn in the Boycott “Israel” campaigns. How many Jewish synagogues can they honestly say abstain from conducting political and/or economic support for “Israel?” If the Zionists truly believed that culture should be “free of politics,” they would refrain from using it as a weapon.

Some of the Come to “Tel Aviv” chorus remind us yet again of Jewish suffering under the Nazis of Europe. Still others try to argue that though they live in Palestine, they’re only “innocent civilians” who are “not responsible” for the strife there.

Apparently they fail to register the fact that the Palestinians were not living in Europe when the Nazis were in power, the Palestinians are not the descendants of the Nazis, the Palestinians did not experience any material gain from the actions of the Nazis, the Palestinians did not in any way assist in the Nazis’ ascension to power, and are therefore not responsible for damages inflicted by the Nazis.

They also conveniently miss the point that since their “innocent civilians” (read settlers) live in homes and on land forcibly taken from Palestinians, and engage in tours of duty in an army which uses violence to secure the dispossession of Palestinians for their benefit, they’re in no position to call themselves “innocent,” or to claim “non-involvement” in the conflict. It isn’t as though they’re in some other country, perhaps colluding with what their army does, but abstaining from direct involvement in the colonization of Palestine. Those “civilians” are the colonizers, the invaders, the direct beneficiaries of every inch of land, every orchard, and every historical relic that is forcibly taken from Palestinians. What’s more, many of them take part in the mobs that hurl refuse into Palestinian communities, destroy orchards, shoot and beat Palestinian children trying to get to school, and write sadistic messages on bombs destined for Gaza. They are the problem! To buy into the notion that these settlers are “neutral” or “innocent” is to engage in willful blindness.

Why should we care about who performs in “Tel Aviv,” or about buying goods from the “Israeli” settler project, or how many “Israeli” dance troupes tour the world? Because as those who urge us to “come learn about Jewish culture” and “stand with “Israel” know, culture doesn’t just affirm identity. It is a weapon in the pursuit of political and military objectives: from securing the conquest of a people, to resisting said conquest.

It’s no accident that the first thing that invaders do is to suppress the history and culture of the people they invade. The U.S. Government’s forcible placement of indigenous Native children in missionary schools, where everything about their history and culture was stamped out, was no accident. Neither was the imposition of English and white culture on Africans brought here as slaves. Neither is the Zionist attempt to clear places like Jerusalem of Palestinian culture and its inhabitants.

We need to cease our cultural and commercial exchanges with “Israel” because oppressive societies thrive on our willingness to do business with them, and culture and commerce are significant elements of that business.

For 62 years, our willingness to dialogue with the Zionist colonization project, to engage in “cultural exchanges” with it, and to purchase goods grown on the land it steals from Palestinians, have cost the Palestinian people dearly. For our actions helped create what the Bushites would call a “new reality on the ground” that legitimizes the usurpation of Palestinian rights, and criminalizes their struggle to recover what is theirs.

Those who have supported other struggles against injustice know very well that said struggles are made even more difficult when one faces a world that sees the oppressors as the injured party.

For 62 years, the Zionists have used their past with the Nazis to silence the slightest criticism of the crimes of genocide, invasion, and racism which they perpetrate against the people of Palestine, even though the Palestinians were in no way involved with the Nazis’ actions.

As the Zionists continue to steal land from Palestinians, destroy their villages and communities, force them off their land at gunpoint, and starve and massacre the Palestinians of Gaza, they behave as if what they endured with the Nazis makes them the sole arbiters of what constitutes oppression and what doesn’t. It’s about time that the rest of us confront their use of that experience as moral currency to keep committing atrocities against people who were in no way responsible for it. It’s high time we stop trading, dancing, singing and painting with this murderous, racist regime. For our willingness to consort with it is part of what allows its atrocities to go unpunished.

Gil Scot-Heron did something worth emulating in his cancellation of the “Tel Aviv” concert. By canceling, he helped weaken the Zionists’ 62-year taboo of speech against their crimes in Palestine. He reaffirmed his long-held tradition of singing for justice. He refused to become a weapon in the Zionist arsenal against the Palestinians, and remained consistent with a long personal history of support for liberation. Let us hope that others show his courage and follow suit. And most importantly, let us hope that the Boycott “Israel” campaign is able to build a movement that, rather than seeking a “happy medium” for the settlers and the oppressed, can genuinely defend the rights of Palestinians, without abdicating in their name, or dictating limits on what they should struggle for.

Long live those who resist for Palestine!

Boycott “Israel,” the racist colonial project!

Marta Rodriguez has been a Puerto Rican independence activist since the early 1970's and is currently a member of the Boston-based New England Committee to Defend Palestine. Read other articles by Marta.


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