Mondoweiss / March 7, 2022
Roger Waters shares the letters he has sent to musicians urging them not to play Israel.
A highlight of the Israel lobby conference held at the National Press Club by the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs last Friday was a speech by singer/songwriter Roger Waters in which he read from letters to musicians urging them not to play Israel in line with the call of the BDS campaign.
Waters noted the financial incentive to sing in Israel: “The Israelis do pay itinerant musicians inordinately well… To perform in Israel is a lucrative gig, but to do so serves to normalize the occupation, the apartheid, the ethnic cleansing, the incarceration of children, the routine slaughter of unarmed protesters, all that bad stuff.”
Here is a portion of a letter Waters wrote to Madonna and others in 2019 opposing their choice to appear at the Eurovision contest in Israel. He implored them:
To focus on the capacity to empathize with their Palestinian brothers and sisters. Try to put themselves in that place. Try to imagine 70 years, generation after generation, waking every morning, day by day, hour by hour, to the systematic creeping plunder of your people’s life.
Slowly, slowly — every town, every village, every home, every olive tree, every stone, every flower, every smile, every weary mile, every daughter, every son, every memory handed down, every flinch year by year, every tremble, every tear. Every hand, every furrowed brow– slowly, slowly trodden down.
And they who have held their heads high and resisted with great courage, fortitude and grace, have asked us the bleeding hearts and artists for our help. We, all of us have, in my view, an absolute moral and human obligation as fellow human beings to answer their call.
Here is a portion of a letter Waters wrote to Lorde, the New Zealand artist, and to Palestinian activist Ahed Tamimi, after Lorde canceled a concert in Israel in 2017 following appeals from the BDS campaign.
You, Lorde, will be remembered for your measured principled stand in support of Palestinian rights. Thank you for shining your light into a dark place. And for 16-year-old Ahed Tamimi –she will be remembered because she slapped a heavily armed soldier, one of the army that has brutally occupied her people’s land for the last 70 years. The soldier was lounging against the wall in her family’s yard, two days after one of his unit had shot her unarmed younger brother in the head with a rubber coated bullet. Her brother is in a medically induced coma. She is in prison. I write to you both with great admiration.
[Disfigured by that bullet, Mohammed Tamimi, 15, is Ahed’s cousin]
Nick Cave was defiant about his decision to play Israel in 2018. Waters said that Cave, “a rather louche Australian singer-songwriter, much beloved of teenage girls all over the world, accused me and Brian Eno of being ‘cowardly and shameful’ because we support the BDS movement.”
No wonder he avoided a conversation with anyone from BDS before going ahead with his shows in Tel Aviv.”
Waters wrote to Cave that his attack on BDS fostered disbelief, rage, and sorrow.
Disbelief. Nick thinks this is about censoring his music. What, Nick? With all due respect, your music is irrelevant to this discussion. So is mine, so is Brian Eno’s, so is Beethoven’s. This isn’t about music, it’s about human rights.
After disbelief, rage. This is about children, like the young boys blown to bits while playing soccer in Gaza, boys murdered by Israel, boys symbolic of the thousands and thousands of children sacrificed in Israel’s mowing of the lawn– Israel’s terminology, not mine. We, hundreds of thousands of us, supporters of BDS, and human rights throughout history all over the world, join together in the memory of Sharpeville, and Wounded Knee, and Lidice, and Budapest and Ferguson and Standing Rock and Gaza, and raise our fists in protest. We hurl our glasses in the fire of your arrogant unconcern and smash our bracelets on the rock of your implacable indifference.
Lastly, sorrow. What if it was your demolished home, Nick, your invaded country, your villages razed to the ground to build stadiums for the invaders to promote pop concerts on? Your uprooted olive trees, your dead children, seven million of your brothers and sisters living in refugee camps, victims of ethnic cleansing? Would your sorrow trump your obsession with concerns about the censorship of your music?
Waters then read a lyric by Cave that he found memorable (from “Jesus Alone”): “Let us sit together in the dark, until the moment comes.”
Nick the moment came and went, brother, you just missed it. If at some point in the future you want to climb out of the dark, all you have to do is open your eyes. We in BDS will be here to welcome you into the light.
I’ll have more great moments from the conference in days to come. And to be clear: Roger Waters has been a generous supporter of our website, including this note from our last fundraiser.
Philip Weiss is senior editor of Mondoweiss.net and founded the site in 2005-2006