Upon hearing Nick Cave’s statements in Tel Aviv ahead of his performances there (November 19 and 20), I fell silent for a few minutes. The popular Australian singer-songwriter’s anti-Palestinian statements are not just hurtful; they are inconsistent with his reputation of progressive politics.
It is a different silence, though, than the one Nick Cave has cloaked himself with after Palestinian civil society and international figures, including musicians and public intellectuals, urged him to respect the Palestinian nonviolent picket-line and to refrain from whitewashing Israel’s violation of Palestinian human rights through performing in Tel Aviv.
I will respond to Nick Cave’s claims through a short personal story.
When I was thirteen, I made my way from home in Ramallah to Jerusalem to attend a music lesson. Waiting at Israel’s apartheid wall and Qalandia checkpoint, which separates Ramallah from Jerusalem, I had one of my most terrifying encounters with Israeli occupation soldiers.
“Get the f*** out of here! You cannot enter Jerusalem,” the young, arrogant Israeli soldier shouted after seeing a copy of my birth certificate. I was thirteen, so I could not have a proper Israeli-approved ID. I shouted back at her, “I was born in Jerusalem for God’s sake! How can you turn me back?” She insisted on seeing my original birth certificate, and did not let me pass.
I was only trying to attend a music lesson in Jerusalem, I tried to explain in vain. But I was not going to take “no” for an answer. As the soldier started becoming aggressive, I called my father on his cellphone and told him the story while shouting back at the soldier. My father begged me to stop shouting at the soldier and to walk fast towards the Qalandia refugee camp nearby before I got hurt.
“They don’t care if you’re a child, believe me,” his voice cracked with worry.
As the soldier started getting frighteningly close to me, I quietly asked a Palestinian woman how to get from the checkpoint to Qalandia, and quickly ran to a shop where I hid and waited for my father to pick me up. It felt like hours, but it was actually less than 20 minutes. I got into his car and all my defiantly held-back tears gushed out.
“Shall we go back to Ramallah?” he asked softly. “You seem too rattled to take a music lesson right now.” Without thinking, I responded: “That’s what they want! They want me to give up, go home and become a silent victim. I’ll go to Jerusalem in spite of them. I’ll sing and continue what I’ve started. This is how I’ve chosen to resist their oppression. Through my music. They will not break me!”
My story is one of many. Israel has not exempted Palestinian artists and cultural institutions from its endless human rights violations. It has closed down cultural venues like the cinema in East Jerusalem, and its army has attacked arts festivals and venues including the Palestine Festival of Literature and the Freedom Theatre. Israel also regularly jails Palestinian artists, places them under house arrest and prevents them from traveling abroad to share their work.
Why has Nick Cave remained silent on Israel’s systematic attacks against Palestinian artists? And why isn’t he concerned by Israel’s ‘silencing’ of Palestinian artists and culture? And why has he refused to engage with Palestinians’ appeals? Would he have played in apartheid South Africa against the wishes of the oppressed there?
Nick Cave’s performance in Tel Aviv and justification for it echo a familiar colonial attitude to Palestinians. Blaming our non-violent resistance for his decision to play and expressing “love” for the regime that has oppressed us for decades in effect treats us as subhumans.
Whether or not Nick Cave believes that music ought to pursue some altruistic goal, I hope he agrees that it should, at the very least, do no harm. Nick Cave has made it clear that performances in Israel, including his, are political in their nature and serve as propaganda for the Israeli government as it continues its business-as-usual of oppressing Palestinians. Performing in Israel today can only normalize and whitewash the system of injustice that oppresses us and tries to silence us.
But we shall not be silent. We shall continue to resist our oppressors with music, with passion, and with the support of real progressives the world over.