Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Elvis Costello cancels concerts in Israel, Who Speaks for Jarusalem?

Elvis Costello cancels concerts in Israel in protest at treatment of

Singer says he acted on 'conscience', as he joins a list of performers who
have boycotted Israel for political reasons

By Vikram Dodd, and Rory McCarthy in Jerusalem, Tuesday 18 May 2010

Elvis Costello has cancelled two concerts he was scheduled to play in Israel
in protest at its treatment of Palestinians.

Costello, one of the most gifted British songwriters of his generation, was
due to play on 30 June and 1 July but says his "conscience" dictated that he
pull out of the performances.

He joins a list of performers who have decided not to play in Israel,
including Gil Scott-Heron and Santana.

On his website, Costello wrote: "Then there are occasions when merely having
your name added to a concert schedule may be interpreted as a political act
that resonates more than anything that might be sung and it may be assumed
that one has no mind for the suffering of the innocent.

"I must believe that the audience for the coming concerts would have
contained many people who question the policies of their government on
settlement and deplore conditions that visit intimidation, humiliation or
much worse on Palestinian civilians in the name of national security.

"I am also keenly aware of the sensitivity of these themes in the wake of so
many despicable acts of violence perpetrated in the name of liberation.

"It is a matter of instinct and conscience.

"I cannot imagine receiving another invitation to perform in Israel, which
is a matter of regret, but I can imagine a better time when I would not be
writing this.

"With the hope for peace and understanding. Elvis Costello."

Sarah Colborne, from the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, welcomed the
decision: "We are increasingly seeing artists taking a stand against
allowing themselves to be used by the Israeli state to normalise their
occupation and apartheid policies against Palestinians. Principled artists
understood it was unacceptable to play under the apartheid South African
regime in Sun City."

Other artists have cancelled Israeli tours in recent months, including
Santana and Gil Scott-Heron, who was also active in the anti-apartheid
movement. In one song written to protest against the racist regime in South
Africa, Scott-Heron wrote: "The first time I heard there was trouble in the
Middle East, I thought they were talking about Pittsburgh." Leonard Cohen
played in Israel last year, despite a similar campaign from the boycott
movement asking him to stay away.

"This is not boycotting the Jewish people, or the Israeli people, it is
boycotting the occupation," said Mustafa Barghouti, an independent
Palestinian MP. "More and more people are convinced that something should be
done and the peaceful and non-violent way to do it is by boycott, divestment
and sanctions."

It comes as Palestinian officials have begun a new effort to boycott
products made in Israeli settlements. Last month Palestinian President
Mahmoud Abbas signed a law banning Palestinians from working in settlements
in the occupied territories and banning the sale of settlement goods,
including fruit and vegetables. Hundreds of volunteers in the West Bank
today distributed lists of 500 Israeli settlement products they want
shoppers to boycott.

Israel's culture and sports minister, Limor Livnat, criticised Costello. "An
artist boycotting his fans in Israel is unworthy of performing here," Livnat
was quoted as saying by the Ynet news website.Israel itself has banned
people from entering its territory because of their views about its actions.
Israeli authorities prevented the Jewish American academic Noam Chomsky from
entering the West Bank on Sunday to give a lecture at a Palestinian
university near Ramallah. Chomsky was told that the Israeli authorities did
not like his political views.


Jerusalem residents attack writer Elie Wiesel over appeal to Barack Obama

Holocaust survivor accused of ignoring anti-Arab discrimination in Jerusalem

Chris McGreal in Washington 12 May 2010

An extraordinary row has broken out between Elie Wiesel, the Holocaust
survivor, author and Nobel peace prize winner, and a group of Jewish
residents of Jerusalem over who speaks for the future of the disputed city.

Wiesel prompted the argument with an open letter to Barack Obama appealing
for him not to "politicise" differences over Jerusalem by pressing Israel to
stop Jewish settlement construction there. In a reflection of the divisions
that sometimes exist between Jews who live in the city and those who
idealise it from afar, 100 Jewish residents have responded with their own
open letter expressing "outrage" at Wiesel's call, and accusing him of
sentimentality and falsely claiming that there is no discrimination against
Jerusalem's Arab population.

Wiesel, who lives in the US, made the appeal to Obama in adverts in American
newspapers last month.

"For me, the Jew that I am, Jerusalem is above politics," he wrote. "It
belongs to the Jewish people and is much more than a city, it is what binds
one Jew to another in a way that remains hard to explain. When a Jew visits
Jerusalem for the first time, it is not the first time; it is a homecoming.
The first song I heard was my mother's lullaby about and for Jerusalem. Its
sadness and its joy are part of our collective memory." He went on to appeal
to Obama not to press Israel on the issue of Jerusalem.

"Pressure will not produce a solution. Is there a solution? There must be,
there will be. Why tackle the most complex and sensitive problem
prematurely?" he asked. "Jerusalem must remain the world's Jewish spiritual
capital, not a symbol of anguish and bitterness, but a symbol of trust and

The 100 Jewish Jerusalemites, who include academics and political activists,
responded in a letter in the New York Review of Books this week that
expressed "frustration, even outrage" at Wiesel's claims and at being
"sacrificed for the fantasies of those who love our city from afar".

"We cannot recognise our city in the sentimental abstraction you call by its
name," they wrote. "Your Jerusalem is an ideal, an object of prayers and a
bearer of the collective memory of a people whose members actually bear many
individual memories. Our Jerusalem is populated with people, young and old,
women and men, who wish their city to be a symbol of dignity - not of
hubris, inequality and discrimination. You speak of the celestial Jerusalem;
we live in the earthly one."

The writers accused Wiesel of being blind to history and the realities of
life in Jerusalem today, including systematic discrimination against the
Arab population and the efforts of "crafty politicians and sentimental
populists" frantically trying to Judaize the Arab areas of the city "in
order to transform its geopolitics beyond recognition".

"Your claim that Jerusalem is above politics is doubly outrageous. First,
because contemporary Jerusalem was created by a political decision and
politics alone keeps it formally unified. The tortuous municipal boundaries
of today's Jerusalem were drawn by Israeli generals and politicians shortly
after the 1967 war," they wrote.

The writers added that by grabbing Palestinian land and villages and
incorporating them into a greatly expanded Jerusalem, the Israeli government
created "an unwieldy behemoth" larger than Paris.

"Now they call this artificial fabrication 'Jerusalem' in order to obviate
any approaching chance for peace," they said. The writers tartly noted that
Wiesel chooses not to live in the city he claims such attachment to.

"We prefer the hardship of realizing citizenship in this city to the
convenience of merely yearning for it," they said.

Last month, a former Israeli cabinet minister, Yossi Sarid, responded to
Wiesel with an open letter in which he said the author had been "deceived"
into believing that all the city's residents live freely and equally. He
took Wiesel to task for claiming that Arabs were free to build anywhere in
Jerusalem. The city's Arab residents face routine obstacles to obtaining
planning permission to build in the east and almost never receive
authorisation for the west. "Not only may an Arab not build 'anywhere', but
he may thank his God if he is not evicted from his home and thrown out on to
the street with his family and property," Sarid wrote.

He pointed to Arabs forcibly removed to make way for Jews.

"Those same zealous Jews insist on inserting themselves like so many bones
in the throats of Arab neighbourhoods, purifying and Judaizing them with the
help of rich American benefactors, several of whom you may know personally,"
Sarid wrote. "Barack Obama appears well aware of his obligations to try to
resolve the world's ills, particularly ours here. Why then undercut him and
tie his hands?"

Extract from open letter to Obama from Elie Wiesel

"For me, the Jew that I am, Jerusalem is above politics. It is mentioned
more than six hundred times in Scripture - and not a single time in the
Koran. Its presence in Jewish history is overwhelming.

"Today, for the first time in history, Jews, Christians and Muslims all may
freely worship at their shrines. And, contrary to certain media reports,
Jews, Christians and Muslims ARE allowed to build their homes anywhere in
the city. The anguish over Jerusalem is not about real estate but about

Extract from open letter from 100 Jewish Jerusalemites to Wiesel

"Your letter troubles us, not simply because it is replete with factual
errors and false representations, but because it upholds an attachment to
some other-worldly city which purports to supersede the interests of those
who live in the this-worldly one.

"We invite you to our city to view with your own eyes the catastrophic
effects of the frenzy of construction. You will witness that, contrary to
some media reports, Arabs are not allowed to build their homes anywhere in
Jerusalem. You will see the gross inequality in allocation of municipal
resources and services between east and west."
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