The following open letter to musician Gil Scott-Heron was issued by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boyott of Israel (PACBI) on 21 April 2010:
The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) is gravely disappointed by the announcement that well-known, progressive artist Gil Scott-Heron is due to perform in Israel on 25 May. We call upon Mr. Scott-Heron, a member of United Artists Against Apartheid in the 1980s and a featured singer on the breakthrough song “Don’t Play Sun City,” not to play apartheid Israel.
We urge you as an influential artist, and, more importantly, as a well-known activist on issues of social justice and equality, not to perform in Israel, a state that maintains a cruel system of occupation, colonization and apartheid against the Palestinian people and has been widely accused by UN experts and leading human rights organizations of committing war crimes and grave violations of human rights. Your performance in Israel would stand in stark contrast to your anti-apartheid, anti-racist record and simply be part of Israel’s attempt to “re-brand” and whitewash its apartheid system.
Your work has been an inspiration to activists around the world who are fighting for justice alongside the Palestinian people; do not tarnish your record and this admiration by turning a blind eye to the realities of Israeli apartheid. A performance in Israel would come a year and a half after Israel’s bloody military assault against the occupied Gaza Strip which left over 1,440 Palestinians dead, of whom 431 were children, and 5,380 injured. The 1.5 million Palestinians in the besieged Gaza Strip, the overwhelming majority of whom are refugees, were subjected to three weeks of relentless Israeli state terror, whereby Israeli warplanes systematically targeted civilian areas, reducing whole neighborhoods and vital civilian infrastructure to rubble and partially destroying Gaza’s leading university and scores of schools, including several run by the UN, where civilians, including children, were taking shelter. This criminal assault came after months of a crippling and ongoing Israeli siege of Gaza.
The situation for Palestinians outside Gaza does not fare well either. Palestinian refugees, the majority of the Palestinian population, are not allowed to return to their homes from which they were expelled in 1948. Palestinian citizens of Israel are treated as second-class citizens where rampant discrimination and differential access to services is the norm. Palestinians in the West Bank are locked in by an apartheid wall with its connected system of Israeli-only roads, settlements and checkpoints. Literally, Palestinian areas are transformed into open air prisoners and laboratories for the latest Israeli weaponry.
If you have any doubts that the situation of Palestinians is similar to that of black South Africans under apartheid, we urge you to heed the words of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who in a recent letter to Berkeley students wrote: “I have been to the Occupied Palestinian Territory, and I have witnessed the racially segregated roads and housing that reminded me so much of the conditions we experienced in South Africa under the racist system of apartheid. I have witnessed the humiliation of Palestinian men, women and children made to wait hours at Israeli military checkpoints routinely when trying to make the most basic of trips to visit relatives or attend school or college, and this humiliation is familiar to me and the many black South Africans who were corralled and regularly insulted by the security forces of the apartheid government” (“Divesting from Injustice,” The Huffington Post, 13 April 2010).
In the face of decades of unrelenting oppression, Palestinian civil society has called upon supporters of the struggle for freedom and justice throughout the world to take a stand and heed our call for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel until it recognizes Palestinian rights and fully complies with international law. Many prominent international cultural figures including John Berger, Ken Loach, Arundhati Roy, Roger Waters, John Williams, among others, have declared their support for the boycott. Other renowned international artists, including Sting, Bono, Snoop Dog, Jean Luc Goddard and Joan Manuel Serrat have also heeded our call and cancelled their gigs or participation in festivals in Israel.
Your performance in Israel would be the equivalent to having performed in Sun City during South Africa’s apartheid era, in violation of the international boycott unanimously endorsed by the oppressed South Africans. We hope that you will not play apartheid Israel.