Your “Honor the Treaties” concert tour across Canada struck a blow for fair treatment of the indigenous peoples of Alberta in defense of their land. It was not easy to challenge establishment politics or hear the criticism of your craft and personal commitments.
I think we understand that well: one of us is an Algonquin, once imprisoned for protecting his homeland; the other a Holocaust survivor.
Now we learn you are to give a concert in July in Tel Aviv. We ask you to reconsider these plans and, if you go to the region, to utilize your trip to express solidarity with the Palestinians, the indigenous people under Israeli rule.
Suzanne: I was born in the Nazi Holocaust. After Hitler, the indigenous Palestinians were forcefully removed from their homeland in the Nakba — the catastrophe that led to Israel’s establishment.
There is similarity between this action, the dispossession of the indigenous in Canada, and the fate of my own people under Hitler.
Robert: I am as old as Israel. In the 1950s, movie theaters ran newsreels, still vivid in my mind, of endless lines of Palestinian refugees.
In shades of gray across the screen, are the “trail of tears;” the Cree and Blackfoot driven by guns and starvation from the Cypress Hills. Throughout my life they have never stopped.
Tradition of violence
Suzanne: In Palestine, the land is occupied by military force in defiance of international law. The Israeli military bulldozes Palestinian forests, olive groves and their homes.
All of historic Palestine is under Israeli control. The majority of Palestinians have been forced abroad. A minority of the Palestinian people endures second-class status in Israel just as Aboriginal and Metis people in Canada. The rest are confined in barricaded pieces of land in the West Bank and Gaza.
The Israeli government has refined and expanded the Canadian model of herding the indigenous into reserves.
Robert: You were shocked by the mining of the tar sands. It’s the “ugliest thing,” you said, comparing the mining region to atomic-devastated Hiroshima.
Almost every ecosystem in Canada has been affected by colonial development. The diversity of indigenous cultures and economies has been devastated.
Alberta’s Long Lake “cogeneration” project that mines tar sands was developed in Israel’s Naqab (Negev) desert, whose Palestinian population has either been expelled or consigned to “unrecognized” villages that are denied public services.
But his government has not a breath of criticism for Israel’s crimes against the Palestinians. This is rogue diplomacy, contrary to United Nations decisions and concerns expressed by every other major world government.
Harper’s support of Israel does not reflect the views of Canada’s people.
Robert: You are a citizen of the world and it is right of you to offer your artistry to all people. Your music, its heartbeat and soul, has been an enduring inspiration throughout my life.
But consider the context of your visit to Israel. Many people will view your visit as a confirmation of Israel’s anti-Palestinian policies. Those who respect your work will think that you don’t care, and, Israel’s apologists will claim you as their own.
A Tel Aviv concert will provide aid to the Israeli regime in pursuing its oppressive policies against the colonized indigenous peoples.
Your place is with the indigenous people of Palestine, whose dispossession echoes that of the First Nations you defend in Canada.
Suzanne: Many prominent artists have rejected concerts in Israel to demonstrate their solidarity with Palestinians.
If you decide to support the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement and cancel the Tel Aviv gig then you will be in good company.
BDS is a global effort to pressure the Israeli government to stop its ethnic cleansing; withdraw from the territories occupied in 1967; grant Palestinians in Israel equal rights, and allow Palestinian refugees to return to their homeland.
The late Pete Seeger, to whom principles mattered more than anything else, declared his support for the BDS movement in 2011.
Robert: You have the freedom to choose your own path. If you choose to perform in Tel Aviv then go there by way of the port of Gaza.
Thousands on the quayside will welcome you because you would be the first visitor by sea since 2006. I have tried twice to visit our indigenous brothers and sisters in Gaza: the first time arrested at sea by the Greek Navy assisting Israel and the second time helping my friends but they were arrested at sea, beaten, and imprisoned by the Israeli military.
Suzanne: Stephen Harper calls opposition to Israeli policies “the face of a new anti-Semitism.” I have lifelong knowledge of the real anti-Semitism but see nothing anti-Jewish about opposing Israeli government policies.
A significant proportion of Jews in Canada and the world are supporting BDS.
The true lesson of Jewish suffering under Hitler is that we must stand on behalf of all those who are dispossessed, expelled, confined, jailed and under military attack, especially the Palestinians.
Robert: Stephen Harper makes much of the notion that Israel is a democratic nation.
As an Aboriginal Canadian, I say, democracy and colonialism cannot walk hand in hand.
Indigenous peoples have to make their struggles international because colonialism is international. Gaza is the largest Indian reserve in the world.
It’s time to recognize that the Palestinian people have the right to self-determination. As long as someone else is suffering from colonialism, it simply prolongs our own suffering.
Suzanne: As one who stands against oppression everywhere, why not visit the occupied West Bank or Gaza?
Robert: Each of us has had a role to play and a price to pay in a world that went wrong long before we had a hand in it.
We are not asking you to blame anyone. We ask you to think and do what you can.
Like Suzanne and me, you have lived most of the allotted time given to our generation. Don’t be silent now.
Continue to stand up for our people here on Turtle Island (North America) and against colonialism — and all of the human and environmental suffering that goes along with it. It will end only when we want it to.
If you perform in Tel Aviv, bring attention to the suffering of Palestinian people who after 65 years are still stateless refugees in their own homeland.
Dedicate the concert to the innocent children everywhere whose lives have been lost to war and injustice.
I’ll be on the frontline of the tar sands fight and perhaps take another run to Gaza from the sea.
Suzanne: We count on you, Neil, to be true to yourself in finding an appropriate way to express solidarity with Aboriginal rights in Palestine. This commitment is part of the great cause about which you have been singing all your life.
Thank you for listening to us.
Robert and Suzanne
Robert Lovelace, a retired chief of the Ardoch Algonquin First Nation, went on the Freedom Flotilla to Gaza to deliver food and medical supplies. In 2008, he spent three and half months as a political prisoner for defending the Ardoch Algonquin First Nation homeland from uranium exploration and mining.
Suzanne Weiss is a Jewish Holocaust survivor and a long-time campaigner for social and environmental justice.