Santana: Don’t entertain Israeli apartheid!

The following open letter to the musician Santana was issued by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel on 19 January 2010:

Dear Santana,

The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) was deeply disturbed to learn that that you are scheduled to perform in Israel this coming summer. We call upon you, as a prominent and 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 gig in Israel will be a clear contribution to Israel’s well-oiled campaign to whitewash its persistent violations of international law and basic Palestinian rights through “re-branding” itself as an enlightened and cultured country.

We draw your attention to the fact that performing in Israel would violate the almost unanimously endorsed Palestinian civil society Call for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel. This Call is directed particularly towards international activists, academics, and artists of conscience, such as yourself. We also urge you to heed the call of Latino human rights activists in the United States who have issued an appeal urging you to cancel your “concert of shame.”

As a public figure, you have used your influence to work towards promoting civil rights and social causes. In this light, your planned performance in Israel flies in the face of all the admirable work you have done. Your fans worldwide not only appreciate you as a distinguished virtuoso in the music world; they also deeply admire your commitment to social agendas, such as your role in 1998 in establishing the Milagro Foundation, an organization that “benefits underserved and vulnerable children around the world.” It is this particular angle in your luminous biography that makes us wonder how you can ignore the plight of millions of Palestinian children living in exile and prevented from returning to their homes from which their grandparents were ethnically cleansed in 1948. How is it possible for you to reconcile your moral principles with Israel’s 43-year-old occupation, including its illegal wall and colonies, which have deprived Palestinians in general and children in particular of their basic rights to unimpeded access to education, proper health care, freedom of movement and, often, the right to life itself?

In a recent report, Defence for Children International documents “the widespread ill-treatment and torture of Palestinian children at the hands of the Israeli army and police force.” The report documents how child prisoners are “painfully shackled for hours on end, kicked, beaten and threatened, some with death, until they provide confessions, some written in Hebrew, a language they do not speak or understand … [T]hese illegally obtained confessions are routinely used as evidence in the military courts to convict around 700 Palestinian children every year.” We are confident that you will not willingly lend your support, through performing in Israel, to a state that violates the most basic rights of Palestinians, whether they are children or adults.

Your planned summer 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 which has shattered all spheres of life, prompting the UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights, Richard Falk, to describe it as “a prelude to genocide.”

The UN Fact-Finding Mission into allegations of war crimes, headed by the highly respected South African judge, Richard Goldstone, found Israel guilty of war crimes and possible crimes against humanity, as did respected international human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. Goldstone concluded that Israel’s war on Gaza was “designed to punish, humiliate and terrorize a civilian population, radically diminish its local economic capacity both to work and to provide for itself, and to force upon it an ever increasing sense of dependency and vulnerability.”

The harm done to children has been documented in many reports; the Goldstone report found that “the three weeks of intense bombardment and military ground action added new, serious psychological traumas, especially noticeable in children.” The Guardian reported that “Some children no longer look on their homes as a place of safety, security and comfort. Others don’t even have a home to go to. The Israeli bombardment damaged or destroyed more than 20,000 houses, forcing some families into tents and others into crowding in with relatives.” In an exhaustive study by Amnesty International on Israel’s control of Palestinian water, it was found that the pollution and contamination of water in the Gaza Strip will very likely result in a blood disease in children known as methemoglobinemia, or “blue babies,” that results in “signs of blueness around the mouth, hands and feet,” as a result of “higher than normal levels of methemoglobin, a form of haemoglobin that does not bind oxygen,” and which may lead to “convulsions and death” when methemoglobin levels are high.

South African Nobel Laureate and celebrated anti-apartheid activist, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, remarked that “the end of apartheid stands as one of the crowning accomplishments of the past century, but we would not have succeeded without the help of international pressure — in particular the divestment movement of the 1980s … a similar movement has taken shape, this time aiming at an end to the Israeli occupation.” He concluded that “if apartheid ended, so can this occupation, but the moral force and international pressure will have to be just as determined.”

We urge you to heed the words of Archbishop Tutu, and to honor the Palestinian Call, which has been endorsed by a majority of Palestinian civil society. Your performance in Israel would be tantamount 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 call upon you, as an advocate of basic human rights and the rights of children, not to entertain Israeli apartheid!