Thursday, January 20, 2011
An Open Letter to Macy Gray
Dear Ms. Gray,
We are writing in response to the pressure you have received urging you to cancel your upcoming concerts in Israel. We would like, specifically, to address, point by point, a letter you received from a “group of Israeli citizens”. As to why that letter was dishonest, and why your performing in Israel will strengthen the forces of co-existence, we hope you will hear us out.
It is important to start off by stating that in Israel, contrary to every country surrounding it, Jews and Arabs live together in peace, and as equals. Arab Israelis make up about 20% of Israel’s population, and are equal citizens under the law. Arab Israelis represent a broad cross section of professions within Israel - doctors, lawyers, academics, engineers, artists, cops, entrepreneurs and members of the Israeli Parliament. There even was an Arab Miss Israel! If Israel was such an "apartheid state," either in law or in practice, this would not be.
Gaza and West Bank Palestinians
The letter states deceptively that “a Palestinian girl, a fan of your music living under Israeli occupation, is not allowed “by law” to see you perform in Israel. West Bank Palestinians and Gazans are not citizens of Israel, nor do they strive to be. They live under the Palestinian Authority (PA), which governs parts of the West Bank (Hamas governs Gaza) and is an entirely separate political entity.
Nevertheless, they often use the same roads as Israeli citizens, which are freely accessed by all Israelis – both Jewish and Arab. When there are road restrictions and checkpoints, it is because Palestinian militants used those roads to carry out attacks against Israeli vehicles and communities. The “26 foot high wall” the writers cite was erected along several miles of its border with the West Bank as a response to the murder of Israelis by Palestinian snipers shooting across the line at Israeli towns.
In 2010, the West Bank was actually the fastest growing economy in the world. As the PA’s President Mahmoud Abbas recently said, elaborating on why he’s not in a rush to sign an accord with Israel, “we have a good reality in the West Bank.”
Not mentioned in the anti-Israel letter you received is Hamas, the radical Islamist regime in Gaza that has made clear its intention of destroying Israel through violent jihad. Hamas has fired 10,000 rockets into Israel from Gaza, killed its children and sent them into bomb shelters every 15 minutes. The rocket launchers and terrorists hide among Gaza’s citizens – in schools, mosques and apartment buildings. Sometimes Hamas rockets would actually fall short and kill Gaza’s children, who are then given “martyrs” funerals. It’s no wonder Hamas isn’t mentioned.
In sharp contrast to Israeli society, Muslim supremacy, racism, sexism and homophobia characterize the PA: Jews are forbidden to live under PA rule, and the crime of selling property to a Jew is the death penalty. Christians are victims of attacks, intimidation and extortion. Most have fled to Israel, which has the only growing Christian population in the Middle East. An atheist blogger was recently arrested by the PA - and faces a sentence of perhaps life in jail - for the crime of atheism. In Gaza, the Hamas regime has arrested women for being unveiled, and in at least one case, for laughing in public. Gazans don’t dare speak out against the regime.
The PA tells the world it wants peace with Israel, yet its leaders, state-run media, schools and mosques teach children that Jews are evil and killing Israelis is the highest honor. Trained to be suicide bombers, shoot rockets at Israeli towns or stand next to those who do, kids are thrown in the line of fire in a ruthless war against Israel.
Whether they kill Israelis or are killed when Israel responds in self-defense, the Palestinian body count rises. “Israeli massacres” are reported widely and UN condemnations follow. This horrific calculus is what Palestinian leaders and self-proclaimed Palestinian advocates rely on to demonize Israel.
Please visit palwatch.org and memri.org for a sobering review of what Palestinian leaders say out of view of Western media.
Boycotting Israel Dishonors Palestinians
We draw a distinction between the cause we’re describing and the people it falsely represents. The “Palestinian cause,” controlled at its inception by Arab regimes and now by local leaders, has not taken into account the interests of the average Palestinian. For over 60 years, war has been waged against Israel in their name.
The Palestinian political establishment – the political and religious leaders, and their supporters - deny Israel’s right to exist and promotes endless war against it. Dissent from this line is considered treasonous, and forbidden. Thousands of Palestinians have been murdered by fellow Palestinians accusing them of “collaborating” with Israel, i.e. promoting peace with Israel.
Most Palestinians would just like to get on with their lives. In fact, they’ve indicated in polls that Israel’s democracy is one they most emulate. A vast majority of East Jerusalem Arabs - 70%, according to a recent poll - prefer to live under Israeli rule, rather than Palestinian rule.
Meanwhile, Palestinian musicians aren’t sold on anti-Israel propaganda. They perform in Israel all the time. Take the Palestine National Orchestra, which last week made its Israel debut in Haifa, to a packed house of Arab and Jewish Israelis.
Palestinians as Pawns
The use of Palestinians as pawns against Israel is no clearer than in their perpetual refugee status.
During the 1948 War, when the surrounding Arab states invaded Israel, most Palestinians fled to nearby Arab-controlled territories, expecting the Arab armies to win the war, and to go back to their homes. When the Arab states lost the war, they refused to make peace with Israel. To ensure a continuous state of war, these regimes and the Palestinian Arab leadership perpetuated the refugees’ displacement, preventing their assimilation and normalization, keeping them literally locked up in camps and told them that they can live dignified lives only by returning triumphantly to Israel.
After the war, Israel considered the refugee issue a negotiable part of an overall peace settlement – which was unequivocally rejected. Living in Gaza, the West Bank or other parts of Jordan, most Palestinian refugees have not left historic Palestine, and most live under either the PA in the West Bank or Hamas in Gaza. Yet they were, and are still, kept in camps, reliant on UN aid. Israel controls none of these refugee camps. Aside from Jordan, Arab states have denied the refugees citizenship and have restricted their education and employment. In Lebanon, Palestinians live in squalor, behind barbed wire. These Palestinians have no hope of living a normal life, and that’s the idea of these regimes.
Today, Palestinian refugees number 4 million. Though most refugees from the ’48 War have passed away, their descendants have inherited the same undignified refugee status. All other refugee populations, including an equal number of Jews who fled Arab states and moved to Israel, have been resettled, and certainly not kept in such a state, used as pawns.
Furthermore, no international law “sanctions” their “return” to Israel. Still, many have returned: 150,000 to Israel and 90,000 to the PA-ruled West Bank. Israel continues to pay settlements of individual claims of lost property.
In contrast, most people are not aware of the 800,000 Middle Eastern Jews – from Morocco to Egypt to Iraq – who from 1948 to 1952 were victims of ethnic cleansing. These Jews, who had lived in these lands for thousands of years, were subjected to massacres, riots, rape, sham trials, public hangings. Their synagogues were burned and destroyed. Those not physically expelled chose to flee for their own safety. 600,000 were resettled in Israel. The Jews who were living in Arab-occupied areas of Palestine during the 1948 War were either expelled to the Jewish areas, or were massacred – in some cases after surrendering to Arab forces. Jews were expelled from Jerusalem – their holiest city.
These Jews’ properties – amounting to land four times the size of Israel – and assets – amounting to $6 billion in 1948 – were seized by the Arab governments. Compensation or even an acknowledgment of this crime against humanity, has never been offered.
The word "apartheid," specifically referred to the South African regime that instituted specific laws that not only segregated black from white South Africans, but systematically ensured that black South Africans were aware that they were second class, be it through curfews, segregated public venues, the denial of equal education, amongst a whole litany of other human rights abuses.
Tagging Israel with the “apartheid” label to Israel delegitimizes the suffering endured by generations of black South Africans. It is a totally politicized and false word used by those who either aim to dismantle the world’s only Jewish state, or those who don’t know any better and are convinced that this will somehow help average Palestinians.
If there is more apt comparison to South African Apartheid, it is of the Middle East generally, where women are treated as property, non-Muslims are deemed inferior and freedom of speech is denied to the masses.
Israel allows you the full freedom to say whatever you wish for or against the state. If you went to Israel and publicly stated that you think the state should cease to exist, you would have full freedom to do so. This contrasts with your ability to protest the human rights atrocities of the regimes that border Israel. As an artist, you support full freedom of expression and human rights, as only in a free environment can art thrive.
Those who wrote the letter represent a fringe of Israeli society. The vast majority of Israelis long for peace and favor sharing the land. This is the prevailing view despite deep suspicions about the Palestinian leadership.
Israelis, specifically progressive Israelis, do not support the boycott Israel calls; they are among the millions of Israelis who lament that the PA and Hamas refuse to seek peace, that they have to send their sons and daughters to the army; that there are global campaigns to vilify them. These views are daily expressed in newspapers, on the TV and radio and at coffee houses and music halls and in random conversations. That’s why it’s essential to the BDS movement that you stay out of Israel, lest you meet these Israelis and form your own opinions. Your band was in line to be this movement’s next pawn.
The Boycott, Divest & Sanction Movement
The BDS movement stands not just against specific Israeli actions or policies, but Israel’s existence. They won’t say it exactly like that, because it sounds too radical. Reading through their literature, it’s hard to avoid being taken in by dramatic images and fast facts that lack context. Time, energy and critical thinking are needed when researching this history. After learning more about the conflict, slogans like “Israeli Apartheid” will be seen as the double-speak it is.
Who We Are
Artists 4 Israel (A4I) is a community of creative individuals that express Israel's right to exist in peace and security. We support Israel because Israel supports the arts. We believe only through freedom of expression that this conflict stands a chance of resolution.
We represent hundreds of international artists who have studied the conflicting ideas on Israel and found Israel moral and just. A4I is proud to support this dazzling country, and is thrilled that you will entertain Israelis with your music, and get the chance to appreciate the country that we so love and cherish.
We thank you for your time and thoughtfulness on these issues.
Artists 4 Israel