American pop singer, Macy Gray published on Wednesday 26 January what she must imagine is the final word on her forthcoming performances in Israel: ‘My Concert in Tel Aviv, Israel’. The header to her piece is the pull out quote: “Music builds bridges, brings joy and offers peace…” It is an exercise in faux-modesty, “how arrogant it would be of me to think that my appearance or lack of would change anything”, with an underlying message of appeasement: “Based on the comments I received, I found that there were one or more statements in my post that incensed people, which was also a surprise. It was never my intention to upset anyone or insult.” While Gray qualifies this with the assurance that there are things the U.S. government does that she does not agree with, she is seeking forgiveness and tolerance from Israel’s apologists, many of whom – even after she announced she would play Tel Aviv – verbally abused her with extreme racist and sexist epithets for her 19 January Facebook post that stated ‘What the Israeli government is doing to the Palestinians is disgusting’.
Macy wants to build bridges, but would she help tear down an illegal wall?
More telling than her misrepresentation of the objectives of the boycott call and the power balance in Israel/Palestine is her insistence that she has already performed in Israel three times in the past ten years and had not “once been asked to boycott”. The success of Israel’s public relations never ceases to impress; the last ten years have seen the construction of an apartheid wall being built by Israel, the occupying Power, in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including in and around East Jerusalem. In July 2004, the International Court of Justice (ICJ), principal judicial organ of the United Nations, advised that the wall was contrary to international law. In the Court’s view, “the tragic situation in the region can be brought to an end only through implementation in good faith of all relevant Security Council resolutions.” Seven years on, Israel has ignored the ICJ advisory opinion and continues to be in violation of numerous UN resolutions, issues which are addressed by the 2005 Palestinian civil society boycott call.
The same day Gray’s piece appeared, journalist & author Max Blumenthal published a devastating account of the recent demolition of the homes of Palestinian citizens of Lod, Israel: “‘The days of ‘48 have come again’: 15 minutes from Tel Aviv, Israel creates a new refugee camp” Blumenthal reminds us that “While as many as 30 demolition orders hover over the residents of Lod, and 42,000 such orders have been issued across Israel against Arab residents, [Eli Yishai, the leader of the extreme right Shas Party] has declared his intention to settle thousands of Orthodox Jews in the city.” The Israeli state’s current policies of ethnic cleansing and apartheid are not new and have been in evidence over the last ten years during which Macy graced Israel with her peace-bringing presence and her bridge-building tools.
Does Macy have time to build bridges to Palestinian villages cut off by the wall? “I have been invited to visit the West Bank, and I will”, Gray concludes her statement. The singer had better bring her sharpest tools because there is hard graft to be done: Sheikh Sa’ad village is located near Jerusalem but it is isolated from all surrounding villages due to the location of the illegal apartheid wall. The wall has cut Sheikh Sa’ad off from Jabal Mukkaber, which falls under the municipal jurisdiction of Jerusalem. According to a May 2010 article in Haaretz, the residents of the village are unable to leave the town in their cars because of the Kidron Valley, which surrounds the village from the east, north, and south. The bridge that in the past enabled the residents of Sheikh Sa’ad to cross the Valley was blown up in 2001 by the Israel Defense Forces and, it was reported, had yet to be repaired.
The Palestinian BDS call has been gaining steady support since 2005, although conscientious artists have been boycotting Israel throughout the past decade. Now, when surely the call can no longer be ignored, a performance in Israel is even more of a political decision than a performance a few years ago. Gray’s sentiment “I believe in the power of music” might have more than a superficial meaning if she understood the power of withholding her music and suspending the opportunity for Israel’s racially privileged Jewish citizens “to feel good and dance” – in the face of intolerable Palestinian suffering – until Israel ends its ugly apartheid system and military occupation, and recognizes the Palestinian refugees’ rights of return after more than half a century in enforced exile. To borrow the words of Macy Gray, Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) on Israel is “the best we can do for change right now.”
Israeli activist Tali Shapiro has just published a thought-provoking piece, ‘Eyewitness’ Letter to Macy Gray’, here.