Open Letter From Gaza to Neil Young
We are Palestinian students and youth from the besieged Gaza Strip; we write to you now on a night engulfed by huge explosions ripping through our houses and neighborhoods again, more common than the thunder and hard rain also filling the night air.
And now we hear you plan on playing your inspiring music to a packed house in Hayarkon Park, Tel Aviv, a park built on the ruins of the Palestinian village Al Mirr, a land and people, destroyed and buried amidst unspeakable violence, but not forgotten. The residents of that Palestinian village and hundreds of other villages forcibly emptied by the nascent Israeli army, were either killed or denied return, denied the chance to even visit or commemorate the lives they once had. (1)
While the world turns its back, we hope that you don’t turn yours, that you heed the call of over 170 Palestinian civil society organizations, for boycott, divestment and sanctions against the Israeli regime until it abides by international law and stops denying us the right to live as any other human beings would expect. Just as you didn’t perform in Apartheid South Africa, just as you stood up against racism in the US South, just as you have so admirably supported indigenous rights in Canada against the drilling for Tar Sands, we ask you to support indigenous, displaced people wherever they may be, including we Palestinians. The words of the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association in their recent move to boycott the Israeli regime echo the struggle for indigenous rights in America. (2)
As this letter is penned the sound of more Israeli bombing reverberates around the tight refugee camps and narrow alleys where we live. The camps are in complete darkness as the electricity has been cut. The Israeli siege and previous bombing of our only power-plant has lead to huge fuel shortages, leaving us with just 6 hours of electricity each day. This is just one night, but it is comparable to many other nights in Gaza, many worse nights. We are used to facing the wrath of Israeli Merkhava tanks, drones, shellings, bombs and snipers that have brutally murdered and maimed our people for decades, for the crime of being born Palestinians, the wrong “ethnic group” for the Israeli regime who since it was established has done everything to wipe us off the map.
Listening to music is difficult in these circumstances, despite our passion for it. We have our own big range of music we love to play and Debka dance. But we have few instruments. Israel’s air, land and sea blockade of all our borders has meant for years musical instruments were banned from entry to Gaza. Other items denied to us were coriander, nutmeg, ginger, dried fruit, fresh meat, lentils, pasta, chocolate, fishing rods, cattle, toys, donkey, workbooks and newspapers. Dov Weisglass, an advisor to former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, explicitly outlined their intentions to collectively punish our population, “The idea is to put the Palestinians on a diet, but not to make them die of hunger”, he announced, in contravention of article 33 of the Geneva Conventions and condemned by all major human rights organizations. (4)
The violence behind Israel’s military occupation of our land is relentless and this week is no different. It began with Israeli border police shooting and killing a 38 year old Palestinian judge Raed Zeitar, the other bus passengers forced to sit and watch as he bled to death. Then 18-year-old Saji Darwish, Humanities student at Birzeit university, was shot in the head in Beitin, near Ramallah. Thousands attended his funeral the following day. Tuesday saw four more murdered in the West Bank and Gaza. On Wednesday Israeli authorities approved the construction of 387 housing units in the illegal settlement of Ramat Shlomo, denying the Palestinian towns of Beit Hanina and Shuafat the possibility to expand. And today a three-month old baby Ahmed Ammar Abu Nahal died of enlarged heart and liver as a result of the closure of Gaza crossings, a closure that has also left our hospitals bereft of medical supplies.
And right now we sit paralyzed in our homes as the bombs fall on us in Gaza. Who knows when the current attacks will end. Permanently etched on our minds are the rivers of blood that ran through the Gaza streets when for over 3 weeks in 2009 over 1400 were killed including over 330 children, with white phosphorous and other chemical weapons used in civilian areas and contaminating our land with a rise in cancers as a result. More recently 170 more were killed in the week-long attacks in late November 2012. How many more sleeping in their beds now will face the same fate in the coming days, weeks and months? The trauma, fear and uncertainty never goes away.
Over two thirds of the Palestinians here in Gaza are UN registered refugees. Over half of us are children. We or our descendants were dispossessed entirely and forcibly removed from our homes. The extent of this ethnic cleansing was such that one in three refugees worldwide is a Palestinian. Expulsions of Palestinians continue today especially in Jerusalem and the West Bank, places that we in Gaza are no longer able to visit. For what crime? The crime of being born Palestinian.
The Israeli regime denies us the freedom to come to enjoy your music, we live our lives surrounded by Navy Gunships along the sea, jeeps and wall tower snipers along the land frontier, and skies filled with the kind of aircraft unleashing yet more devastating attacks tonight. The Gaza Strip has been made an outdoor prison, a reality beyond which most youth can never imagine, because most can never leave.
Others are hearing us and the world is beginning to wake up. Many of your contemporaries are taking a stand including Carlos Santana, Roger Waters, Annie Lennox, Elvis Costello and the late, great Pete Seeger and Gil Scott Heron, who said he wouldn’t play in Israel “until everyone is welcome there”. (5)
As Israeli Apartheid week kicked off in South Africa this week, an event that has taken place in over 150 different locations worldwide, Archbishop Desmond Tutu called for the world to support the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions of Israel, just as many other Anti Apartheid heroes from South Africa have affirmed. Tutu said in his statement on Monday, “I have witnessed the systemic humiliation of Palestinian men, women and children by members of the Israeli security forces. Their humiliation is familiar to all black South Africans who were corralled and harassed and insulted and assaulted by the security forces of the apartheid government.” (6) Long before he died, Nelson Mandela demanded that we should have the self determination of any other people. “We know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians”, he said.
Will you sing “living with war” to an audience most of which will have served or are serving in the Israeli army that during the day were bombing our families, or manning the hundreds of checkpoints that make simple journeys daily acts of humiliation? While we in Gaza can never return to our homes that lay buried around the areas in which you will be travelling freely, will you sing, “A hundred voices from a hundred lands, need someone to listen. People are dying here and there.”
On the struggle to support First Nations rights in Canada and environmental protection you said: “If you have a conscience, you can`t go through your day without realizing what`s going on, and questioning it, and going, “Is this right?”(7)
This is the question to mull over as here in Gaza a short period of silence has descended after the bombs rained down on us yet again tonight Show the courage to say that this system of violent discrimination and racial segregation is unacceptable in Palestine, just as you showed it to be unacceptable in the American South, unacceptable in Apartheid South Africa and unacceptable for the Indigenous of the Americas.
Stand on the right side of history and stand with us, and don’t entertain in apartheid Israel this July.
Palestinian Students’ Campaign for the Academic Boycott of Israel
University Teachers’ Association
Palestinian Students’ Campaign for the Academic Boycott of Israel (PSCABI)