Imagine John Lennon is still alive and touring, and is asked to play Tel Aviv as Israel celebrates turning 60. Picture him publicly telling the Israelis where to stick their offer. Instead, he chooses to play Bethlehem to mark 60 years of dispossession of the Palestinian people. While the world’s press cover the gig, a few hundred locals turn out, bemused to see the old bespectacled former Beatle on stage in a kuffiyeh performing “Power to the People,” “Happy Xmas (War is over),” and “Give Peace a Chance.” Millions of people in the West get a rare dose of invective from a celebrity about the catalogue of crimes being perpetrated with impunity by one of our allies. “Instant Karma’s gonna get you, Israel,” he wails!
Paul McCartney, on the other hand, will be giving the first performance by a Beatle in Tel Aviv on 25 September — receiving an alleged $4.3 million — despite efforts by various groups in Palestine and internationally calling on him to boycott Israel, including the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel. Barrie Marshall, from Marshall Arts, a company representing Sir Paul, has replied to such concerns by saying: “[P]lease rest assured that Paul’s ‘Friendship First’ concert is about his music and its inherent message of friendship.”
What will McCartney open with, “Pipes of Peace” or “Ebony and Ivory”? Given the reality on the ground, which he refuses to acknowledge, why not open with “Live and Let Die” to a rapturous Israeli audience?
“Living is easy with eyes closed, misunderstanding all you see,” the Beatles once sang. This is what Israel is about — denial. Denial regarding its responsibility for creating 750,000 Palestinian refugees in 1948 through massacres and a campaign of terror. Denial of its legal obligations over six decades toward these refugees, who now exceed 7 million people, comprising the largest refugee population in the world. Denial concerning the ongoing dispossession and ethnic cleansing that is blindingly obvious to anyone who wishes to see it.
Take Jerusalem: Israelis are bent on living normal lives like other Western citizens, in cafes, restaurants, parks, bars, shopping malls, or going to school or to work or to pray. The facade can be — and should be — smashed by stepping into a car and driving into occupied East Jerusalem, surrounded by a wall, cutting it off from its Palestinian context, or just 15 minutes in virtually any direction.
From the Old City you can reach the Qalandiya or Bethlehem checkpoints in 15 minutes. Just beyond these are overcrowded and poor refugee camps inhabited by the those who were forced to flee their ancestral villages in 1948 and their descendants as Jewish militias ransacked villages and killed civilians in a campaign to grab as much land as they could to form the eventual borders of Israel. Declared “absentees,” their homes and property were seized by the nascent Israeli state. They lost everything six decades ago and continue to wait for justice and the implementation of UN Resolution 194, which guarantees their right to return to their homes and compensation.
More numerous than the refugee camps are Israeli settlements, or “colonies,” huge concrete towns and cities built on stolen land. These heavily protected settlements are illegal under international law, and there are more than 450,000 Jewish settlers living illegally in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem. Over recent decades, while Israel has publicly negotiated for peace, it has simultaneously put effort and money into establishing as many settlements as it could, and continues to do so, contrary to its public commitments to the moribund road map for peace. These settlements and their associated infrastructure grant settlers easy and rapid access to Israel, while insidiously fragmenting the West Bank into cantons, thereby isolating Palestinian cities and towns from one another and seriously compromising movement. (Add to this over 500 West Bank checkpoints, which further disrupt movement for Palestinians.) Palestinians who own homes a stone’s throw from a settlement are restricted from expanding their houses because Israel wants “to preserve the agricultural or rural nature” of the land. It is a blatant and unabashed policy of ethnic cleansing designed to restrict Palestinian growth and give Palestinians little choice but to abandon their land and move abroad.
Fifteen minutes from almost anywhere in Jerusalem, McCartney can visit Israel’s Apartheid Wall with his Israeli fans and speak to Palestinians whose land has been annexed to create an alleged “security” buffer to protect the settlers already living illegally on Palestinian land. Together they can read why the International Court of Justice deemed the wall’s route illegal in 2004 and see how the wall has more to do with annexing fertile agricultural land and aquifers of ever increasing importance, and stealing land for settlement growth, than security. They can witness how its design and execution are fragmenting communities and families, impeding farmers from accessing their crops and greenhouses, strangling businesses and rendering thousands of previously self-sufficient Palestinians destitute and reliant on food assistance. They can see how, as Israel’s settlements and the wall spread, there is a cause-and-effect strangulation of Palestinian cities and towns such as Qalqiliya, Nazlat Isa, Tulkarm and dozens of others, with once prosperous and buzzing high streets now rendered desolate ghost towns, lifeless.
But they refuse to — and apparently so does McCartney.
Forty years ago Israel boycotted the Beatles, saying they would morally corrupt Israeli youth. Forty years on, most of Israeli society has morally blinkered itself, yet McCartney still seems determined to rock Tel Aviv.
Hey Judas, don’t let me down. But you already have.
William Parry, a freelance writer and photographer, is a life-long Beatles fan. He is currently based in Jerusalem, working on a book about the impact of Israel’s wall in the West Bank on Palestinian lives, livelihoods and communities.
- Boycott group: McCartney embraces Israeli apartheid, PACBI (16 September 2008)
- Beatles: don’t let it be!, PACBI (4 February 2008)