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An appeal to ‘Radiohead,’ the band that woke my soul to the Palestinian crisis

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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.

This is what you get when you mess with us.”

About Jack Gain

Jack Gain is a writer and library worker from the north of England, now living in London.

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9 Responses

  1. June 25, 2017, 1:04 pm

    Thanks for sharing Jack. I was unaware that Radiohead had publically taken a stand against Israel by wishing Karma on one of their soldier criminals.

    I was amazed that Roger Waters and other artist were unable to dissuade Radiohead from playing in Israel. I have read the back and forth between Yorke and Waters and found Yorke to be suspiciously defensive and less the man I thought he was. Angry and accusatory with little substance in his defence for playing in an apartheid state. His response to Waters essentially said – we’re big boys and can make up our own mind – don’t talk down to us – nothing is black and white – noam chomsky and others don’t believe in BDS – blah blah blah. Nothing about the facts – about the U.N. concluding that Israel is IN FACT an apartheid state.

    The power of Israeli Hasbara should never be underestimated – even if not completely believable it muddies the waters enough for the likes of Yorke to rationalize the band’s presence in Israel.

    Unfortunately I am unable to enjoy Radiohead’s music as I once did and wish them nothing more than Karma. History will log their presence in aparthied Israel playing to crowds full of supporters of a colonial racist ideology known as Zionism.

  2. JosephA
    June 25, 2017, 2:46 pm

    Karma is natural and inevitable.

    • June 25, 2017, 5:27 pm

      Hoping so – be a better world if so

  3. Citizen
    June 25, 2017, 3:23 pm

    The Zionists do a good job of fogging up the most basic issues because most Americans know so little actual facts about the Israel-Palestine conflict. This is because the US mainstream media does not do its constitutional job of informing the US public. Instead, it misinforms & parrots hasbara on this issue. This is treason by stealth & sets up the USA as a patsy for Zionist agenda. It’s lethal, very UnAmerican even while it is praised by main media & US government officials as supporting America’s “judea-christian values”–

  4. jd65
    June 25, 2017, 3:47 pm

    Good piece, Jack Gain. Unfortunately, as Jonny Greenwood’s wife appears to be a rather solid Zionist (take a quick look at her recent twitter feed…), my assumption is that so is Jonny. So I guess the options, as far as Radiohead supporting BDS, are either split up a marriage, or split up a band. Rather obviously Apartheid is a worse option than either of the those two in the big picture. But Radiohead doesn’t see that. Bummer…

    • June 25, 2017, 5:33 pm

      Thanks for sharing an interesting set of facts – context is everything – tough choice for Radiohead – easy choice for Palestinians (boycott Radiohead)

      • TonyRiley
        June 26, 2017, 8:38 am

        Indeed, context is everything: Radiohead aren’t the bunch of Jew-haters that you wish them to be.

      • eljay
        June 26, 2017, 10:03 am

        || Arafatbastard: … Radiohead aren’t the bunch of Jew-haters that you wish them to be. ||

        Who said anything about Jews? Oh, that’s right: You Zionists love to anti-Semitically conflate Israel with Jews and Jews with Israel.

        Why do Zionists insist on hating Jews so much?!

      • jd65
        June 26, 2017, 2:26 pm

        Hey ArafatHero: What’s your Radiohead song?

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