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A music lesson from Palestine, for Nick Cave

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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.


Nai Barghouti

Nai Barghouti is a Palestinian singer, flute player and composer studying music at the Amsterdam Conservatory of Music.

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18 Responses

  1. Citizen on November 23, 2017, 12:32 pm

    From the refrain in his most notable song, for which he wrote both music and lyrics, one would think he’d be supporting HAMAS:

    And the mercy seat is waiting
    And I think my head is burning
    And in a way I’m yearning
    To be done with all this measuring of proof.
    An eye for an eye
    And a tooth for a tooth
    And anyway I told the truth
    And I’m not afraid to die.

  2. JosephA on November 23, 2017, 2:17 pm


    Thank you for sharing your story so that we could bear witness to the last remaining tyrannical apartheid regime in the world, modern Israel. It’s saddening, but your admirable resolve gives me hope.

  3. eljay on November 23, 2017, 2:59 pm

    Upon hearing Nick Cave’s statements in Tel Aviv …

    Cave … “It suddenly became very important to make a stand against those people that are trying to shut down musicians, to bully musicians, to censor musicians, and to silence musicians …

    Israel’s siege on Palestinian music
    Banned from leaving Gaza, Palestinian group rocks out at border

    C’mon, Nick, take a stand against those people that are trying to shut down, bully, censor and silence musicians.

  4. stanvanhoucke on November 24, 2017, 11:26 am

    the man looks like a zombie, and thinks like one.

  5. Kay24 on November 24, 2017, 11:55 am

    It may be quite simple. Cave prefers shekels to human rights.

    • m1945 on November 24, 2017, 4:59 pm


      Name even one country in Israel’s situation of continual existential danger that has protected human rights are well as Israel has.

      • amigo on November 24, 2017, 6:42 pm

        “Name even one country in Israel’s situation of continual existential danger that has protected human rights are well as Israel has.”Jack green (NAKBA Denier)

        Evidence please.

        Links, articles , but no quotes from that book of fiction you keep under your pillow in case you get attacked at night.

        Btw jack you used this 4 times already.You are now repeating the same hasbaracrappa over and over.Time for a move jacko.

      • oldgeezer on November 24, 2017, 8:58 pm

        Israel is does not face any existential danger. It has never faced existential danger as it’s armed forces are more powerful than others in the region. Get some medical help.

        The biggest threat to the continued existance of Israel is the extremely criminal racist zionists running it.

      • Kay24 on November 25, 2017, 6:16 am

        You mean human rights the zionist way?

        “Fifty years after Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza Strip, it controls these areas through repression, institutionalized discrimination, and systematic abuses of the Palestinian population’s rights, Human Rights Watch said today.

        At least five categories of major violations of international human rights law and humanitarian law characterize the occupation: unlawful killings; forced displacement; abusive detention; the closure of the Gaza Strip and other unjustified restrictions on movement; and the development of settlements, along with the accompanying discriminatory policies that disadvantage Palestinians. ”

        In serious denial, or just parroting hasbara talking points?

      • Emory Riddle on November 26, 2017, 2:13 pm

        What is a “situation of continual existential danger” and how can a country be in it?

      • Kevbarring on January 19, 2018, 11:59 am

        What? Are you concerned that one of the nuclear weapons may go off accidentally? Brutality and religious fundamentalism wrapped in PR with the occasional thong does not human rights make.

      • Mooser on January 19, 2018, 12:43 pm

        ” Brutality and religious fundamentalism wrapped in PR with the occasional thong does not human rights make.”

        Welcome to the Masadadammerung.

    • Mayhem on November 24, 2017, 6:37 pm

      New Palestinian Authority textbooks teach “martyrdom as a life goal”

      “Radicalization is pervasive across new curriculum, and much worse than before.

      For years we’ve been covering incitement on the part of the Palestinian Authority (PA) and its failure to prepare Palestinian society for a resolution of the conflict via non-violent means.

      The PA is viewed by the West as the ‘moderate’ Palestinian body and Israel’s supposed ‘partner for peace’, but as we’ve repeatedly highlighted, its officials routinely demonize Israel and glorify terrorists as national heroes. Young people are exposed to this radicalization, as schools and educational programs justify and condone the use of violence.

      The sad reality is that a whole generation of Palestinian children is learning in schools and playing in sports fields and arenas named after mass murders.”

      Herein lies the nub of the problem – not whether Nick Cave plays Tel Aviv or not.

      • mcohen.. on November 25, 2017, 5:23 am

        It is indeed tragic that they teach radic to kids but why would they need to teach something that is supposedly a reality in there everyday lives.i am sure that kids know exactly what the situation is….so why the textbook they really need to be reminded.
        domestic violence causes more damage to children than any enemy army so perhaps it is the teachers and care givers that need to face up to there responsibilities and normalize a childs environment
        Having said that israel needs to address the manner in which children are drawn to political violence and the way these children are dealt with.
        Make no mistake both sides are to blame when a young child is encouraged to commit acts of terror.

      • eljay on November 25, 2017, 10:21 am

        || Mayhem: … Herein lies the nub of the problem … ||

        I condemn the “nub” of “Palestinian children … learning in schools and playing in sports fields and arenas named after mass murders”.

        I also condemn the “nub” of Zionist Israelis and non-Israeli Zionists – children and adults – venerating their terrorists and mass murderers – naming public spaces after them and even electing them to hold office and lead them – because they have been brainwashed into believing that their religion-based identity entitles them:
        – to Jewish supremacism in/and a religion-supremacist “Jewish State” in as much as possible of Palestine; and
        – to do unto others acts of injustice and immorality they would not have others do unto them.

      • m1945 on November 25, 2017, 1:57 pm


        Can you name even one country that has preserved the rights of its citizens when living under existential threat.?

        During world war 1, the US sentenced Eugene Debs to 10 years in prison for speaking against the war.
        During world war 2, the US interned Japanese-Americans.

      • Mooser on November 25, 2017, 5:55 pm

        “Can you name even one country that has preserved the rights of its citizens when living under existential threat.?”

        Exactly! Living under “existential threat” and being “surrounded by enemies” made democracy, or even a republican form of government impossible in Germany in the WW1 to WW2 era.

  6. Tom Suarez on November 24, 2017, 6:31 pm

    Thank you, Nai, for this — please keep writing.

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