Radiohead were the second band I ever saw live — at Victoria Park in Warrington, Cheshire, a day or two after Kid A came out in October 2000.
A few songs into the set, Thom Yorke said: “this one is dedicated to the Israeli soldier who shot that Palestinian boy and his dad.”
Then they played Karma Police.
A long time later, I learned that he must have been referring to the killing of Muhammad al-Durrah on his father Jamal’s lap by Israeli soldiers in Gaza a few days earlier. That was September 30, right at the start of the Second Intifada.
But I was 14. I didn’t know anything about the second intifada. The only thing I knew about Israel-Palestine was Bill Clinton making Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat shake hands on the lawn in front of the White House. My Mum making me watch, because what we were watching was “the end of a thousand years of war.”
Or a thing my Dad said to explain it to me once, when I had asked: “The Palestinians are terrorists. The Israelis are fascists.”
So I didn’t get the reference. I didn’t know who the soldier was, who the boy or his dad was. I didn’t really get why you would “choose a side” in something like that.
The only thing I got was the affect of the song. A song I knew and understood — now attached to something that I didn’t. But like a lot of things you don’t understand, the strange dimensions of it stuck with me.
Six years later, watching the coverage of the Israeli-Lebanese war on the BBC all day during the summer vacation after second year, that thing that Thom Yorke said before they played Karma Police meant that I had enough doubt to suspect that what I was seeing on the news was not just or inevitable.
It had planted a suspicion; not enough on its own. But enough for me to question why the ratio of Lebanese to Israeli dead was about 10:1 (and of the Lebanese dead, overwhelmingly civilians); and why, for all the well-intentioned talk of peace coming from the Labour cabinet, the US just would not call for a cease fire.
And that was enough to make me decide to learn more about it; to start going to demonstrations; to visit Palestine with the International Solidarity Movement; and when I got home, to campaign for the boycott of Israel until our government stops selling them weapons and Palestine is free.
This is why, for all the dreadful political music out there, I have never been totally cynical about the ability of music to change peoples’ minds.
The political impact of music is rarely obvious or direct. Its power isn’t logical or persuasive.
But it rides the human voice and gets deep — to the weird places that arguments can’t. It can carry the germ of a thought that might not make sense to you now, but will ultimately change how you see the world.
Radiohead was the start of a lot of things for me. Because of Radiohead I got into Sonic Youth, The Smiths, The Pixies, Talking Heads, Joy Division, Bowie, The Fall…. George Monbiot, George Orwell, Naomi Klein, Noam Chomsky… I read books because of Radiohead, made friends because of Radiohead.
They should live up to the principle that they inadvertently awoke in me, cancel their gig in Tel Aviv [July 19] and join the Palestinians’ call for an international boycott against their oppressors.