The Israeli genocide of Palestinians goes on unabated, but at least in Scandinavia it’s “all out in the streets for Palestine.”
I’ve been on tour in Scandinavia from the first of November until last Friday. During the many hours spent in the car, my singing partner Kamala and I have been mostly listening to Al-Jazeera Audio, tuned in to the extremely professional Palestinian reporters talking stoically about their slain family members, friends, and colleagues, documenting Gaza’s descent into apocalypse, famine and disease — a land of rotting bodies beneath rubble too heavy to move without machines, which have no fuel, if they haven’t also been destroyed by the bunker-busting missiles the US has just sent Israel in their thousands.
In between the long drives across Denmark, across Sweden, and through the snowy mountains of Norway, we’ve been visiting friends, singing at protests, and playing concerts — concerts with a big emphasis on current events in Palestine, along with songs I’ve written over the past 23 years or so about the history of the occupation there, and many more about the “War on Terror” context that the Israeli regime constantly tries to associate their genocidal bombing campaign with. “But you did it, too” is Israel’s main, completely bankrupt line of moral defense, along with all history having begun on October 7th, vaguely reminiscent of the way God made the world in seven days.
The contrast between the rabidly pro-Israel news coverage you can hear throughout the western world’s mainstream media platforms and the outrage expressed by so much of the population of the western countries — along with most of the rest of the world — is stark. Only matched by the contrast between the pro-Israel policies of the western countries and the antiwar sentiments of the majority of the population of all the nations.
The tour was in Scandinavia, but my first stop in Europe, just for a few hours, in transit, was Frankfurt, Germany. I had on a Palestine Action t-shirt, walking through the airport. Typically, wearing this t-shirt in a public setting will elicit a few positive comments from Arabs and others opposed to Israeli genocide of Palestinians. But not in Frankfurt, where everyone was studiously quiet, pretending not to see the t-shirt. Recent laws passed in Germany could have seen me prosecuted for antisemitism for this t-shirt, I believe, but not that day.
Our first gig was in Copenhagen, and was one of a couple that had a low attendance, because most of the folks who would have been there were in front of the parliament building, where that day’s protest was happening at the same time as the gig. The parliament was debating whether to ban pro-Palestine protests as they had done in Germany, and they were debating whether to light up the building in blue and white (the colors of the Israeli flag). They voted to do neither of these things, though among the conservative minority both initiatives were popular.
In Copenhagen the main organizing principle has been “all out in the streets for Palestine,” since the bombing of Gaza began. Every day has seen protests there, the biggest in the tens of thousands. Using a model first employed about a century ago in Copenhagen, different groups with different political orientations — unions, political parties, solidarity organizations, etc. — start out in one neighborhood with a protest rally, and then they all march towards the parliament building in the center of the city, and have a much bigger rally together there.
If we had been in various cities on the right day of the week, or for a longer stay, we could have sung at so many more rallies, but as it was, we were able to sing at antiwar rallies in Malmo and Gothenburg, Sweden, and Trondheim, Norway. Because of the multi-generational and highly organized nature of the left in Scandinavia, getting on the stages to sing at the antiwar rallies over the past few weeks was a matter of me telling the organizers of each of our gigs that we’d like to sing at an antiwar rally in town while we’re there, if the timing worked.
In Scandinavia, as in so many other countries, a new antiwar movement does not need to be reconstructed from the ground up — the infrastructure for such a movement already exists. In Malmo, my comrade Talat Bhat, filmmaker and organizer originally from Kashmir, who has made Malmo his home for a long time now, had only to contact a fellow member of the Left Party, which was the organization providing the sound system for the protest and as well as one of the principle protest organizers. In Gothenburg, the same organization that was putting on our concert — the Communist Party of Gothenburg — was also organizing the antiwar protest the next day.
We were the featured musical guests at the Nordic Labor Film Festival in Malmo, on the weekend of the antiwar protest there. It was a busy weekend, so we didn’t actually catch any films at the film festival, but we did attend a workshop, which we also sang at, which was co-presented by a filmmaker originally from Gaza, and another filmmaker who teaches at the university in Sheffield, England. It certainly caught my attention that in her presentation about the history of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Film Unit in the early 1970’s, an early music video produced by the PLO featured a Palestinian woman playing a guitar and singing in English about the struggle to liberate Palestine.
Daniel Sestrajcic was another person we spent a bunch of time with in Malmo, as he was the one who volunteered to house us during the film festival there. We stayed in the guest apartment on the top floor of one of the six-story buildings that made up the housing cooperative Daniel had helped found. Designed by many of the folks who would soon be living in it, built with government funds, the members of the housing collective eat together regularly, though everyone also has their own apartments with kitchens and such. They share a soundproofed recording studio which is actively used by the many musicians that are members of the cooperative, and the other public spaces they share are equally impressive.
These kinds of housing cooperatives are all over Europe, and always make me terribly jealous, as I want to live in all of them. Folks living in these beautiful buildings pay in rent for a beautiful, spacious four-bedroom apartment what I pay for a moldy two-bedroom in Portland, plus they have the use of so many collective spaces. One of the most notable uses of their collective spaces occurred just after the buildings were finished and people had moved into them, which happened to coincide with what was called the refugee crisis of 2015. As with other organized groups of people, such as political parties and unions, the housing collectives have buildings and other physical assets that can be used how they want to use them. When hundreds of thousands of refugees were walking across the Oresund Bridge, this housing collective turned their available public spaces into temporary housing, and turned their laundry room and kitchen into facilities for looking after the needs of their new guests.
In Gothenburg, unlike in Copenhagen, there were no marches starting from different points in the city and then converging. There, the Communist Party organizes the Saturday rallies, and the Left Party organizes the Sunday rallies. In effect, this means there are two large rallies every weekend. We sang a song I had just written, called “Stop the Genocide,” among others, at this Saturday rally. If two rallies organized by different groups each weekend may at least conceivably speak to the disunity on the Swedish left, both parties are nonetheless fully capable of putting on a big rally and march.
And if that’s what a disunited left looks like, I’d happily take it, compared with the state of collapse of the US left in most of the country, where a city like Portland not only doesn’t have a serious organization capable of putting on a large rally without the help of mainstream media publicity, but even when a large rally manages to happen, no one has a sound system that works, and if anyone does, no one asks them to bring it, for one reason or another.
Very much on that note, we took a break from listening to Al-Jazeera long enough to listen to Naomi Klein’s latest book, Doppelganger, on the long drive between Gothenburg and Trondheim. For anyone who has been on the fence about whether to check it out, it’s one of the most helpful and informative books I’ve ever read, as her book Shock Doctrine also was for me, way back when. There is no book I’ve read that does a better job than Doppelganger at illustrating the workings of what she calls the “mirror world,” mostly an online phenomenon, where reality gets wildly distorted and methodically flipped upon its head. If you want to understand how the left in the US collapsed since Naomi wrote the Shock Doctrine, then read (or listen to) Doppelganger.
It would be hard to recommend a more relevant book in light of Israel’s genocidal war against the Palestinian people that is currently underway. It’s not just that Klein speaks specifically and at length to this issue in her book, which she does. It’s that the whole methodology with which truth is turned upside-down in the socially engineered mirror world is directly and massively relevant to the way this is now being done systematically with any arguments against Israel committing genocide.
Trondheim had also been having regular rallies, organized by different left parties. The one we sang at there was billed as a Concert for Palestine, which was mostly what it was, though it also featured some powerful speakers (I had someone translating for me). It was organized by a group of folks more associated with the collectivist neighborhood of Svartlamon, but it saw a good turnout either way.
The folks setting up the stage in Trondheim had naturally been playing punk rock through the sound system while they were setting up, when we arrived in the center of town. The lovely Norwegian man doing the sound asked me if there was something more appropriate they might play instead, and I suggested Fairuz, a Lebanese musician long beloved throughout the Arab world, particularly among Palestinians. As soon as her captivating voice was emanating from the banks of speakers above the stage, I could see the atmosphere become more welcoming for the significant minority of recognizably Arab people in attendance.
Another long drive over the Norwegian mountains, through the snow flurries, to the beautiful little fjord-side city of Moss. Moss used to be known as a town full of stinking paper mills, and no one wanted to live there, but now the mills have closed and this city an hour’s drive from the center of Oslo is becoming much more popular.
Someone at the gig mentioned that Stella Assange was going to be in Oslo the following day to accept an award on behalf of her imprisoned husband, Julian Assange. I texted her and mentioned that we were playing a gig at Cafe Mir after the award ceremony, as it happened, and we ended up with an extra table full of wonderful folks, including Stella, Danish filmmaker Niels Ladefoged, and one of the main folks from PEN Norway which had voted to award this year’s Ossietzky Prize to Julian.
It of course could not be more appropriate to see such folks in the course of what we’ve called our Ceasefire Tour. Julian has done more to expose war crimes and corruption in this world, particularly in the USA and with regards to the US military, than perhaps anyone alive today. This is, in fact, why he is in prison now, and why he is facing extradition to the United States, and a potential 175-year sentence there.
It was especially appropriate for the occasion, you could say, that it was specifically the Ossietzky Prize Julian was being given. Carl von Ossietzky was a journalist and pacifist who blew the whistle on Germany’s secret rearming program, post World War 1. As with Julian exposing US war crimes, for exposing Germany’s secret military program in the 1920’s, Ossietzky was also severely punished, ultimately dying in a concentration camp in 1938. As with Julian, Ossietzky was also tortured. As with Julian, he was also given prominent awards while in prison. As with Julian, the government whose crimes he was exposing had many friends around the world, including in Norway, where there was much opposition to giving Ossietzky the Nobel Peace Prize in 1935. And as with the time when Ossietzky lived, Germany is once again supporting genocide, and once again providing all kinds of cover for a fascist regime that has an officially secret, massive stockpile of nuclear missiles. But this time, the genocidal regime is not being opposed by any of the powerful countries that defeated Nazi Germany by the end of World War 2. Rather, it is being actively defended by all of them, who are all profiting from the genocide by selling lots of high-tech weapons to the murderers.
The show at Cafe Mir was a double-bill with us and a band with members who currently reside in various far-flung parts of what is a very large country, especially from north to south. The band, Folk Flest, first formed in the early 1970’s, and the songs they sang back then such as “Free Palestine” are sadly just as relevant today as they were then, if not more so.
We had already sung my song, “When Julian Met Stella,” when Julian happened to call Stella from prison, during our set. We did the song again, so Julian could hear over the phone, and the audience clapped again afterwards as if they hadn’t just heard the song a few minutes earlier already.
Last night in Oslo during @drovics’ gig, Julian called—so I told the musicians Julian was on the phone! Watch what happened next…
As we listened to Al-Jazeera after our flight to Amsterdam, where we have a couple days before heading to our respective homes in Australia and the US, we heard the heads of various UN agencies making their best effort at ringing the alarm that there is a genocide underway in Gaza, and the people there are facing imminent famine, with no food, no water, and nowhere to be safe from the constant rain of bombs falling without warning on homes, and banned chemical weapons burning off the skin of anyone within range. Checking in with BBC and various US and Australian news networks, it was as if the UN didn’t exist. None of them were airing this press conference. Only Al-Jazeera.
If a country commits genocide and no one is told about it, for them, the bombs are as silent as those trees falling in the forest. But just like those falling trees, they do make a sound, whether or not we’re there to hear it. And they kill thousands of children. They kill babies in their incubators. They do it on purpose. They brag about bombing hospitals and refugee camps, and then they do it again and again.
There was going to be a gig vaguely in the Amsterdam area. We were originally planning to rent a car in Amsterdam and drive to the Hambach Forest, where we were going to sing for the forest occupiers there, something we or I have done on many previous occasions. The gig was kind of left hanging, though — we were on their blog as part of this skillshare event we were supposed to sing at, but I had never received an email from the organizers confirming that it was happening. I emailed for clarification, and after some days, heard back. We had been disinvited from performing at the event, I was informed, because “someone started the debate with a mail demanding canceling your gig.”
After some debate, the folks who had invited me to play decided that although they didn’t think I was a Nazi or an antisemite, I had apparently “given a platform to Nazis” by interviewing a former white nationalist on my YouTube channel in January, 2021, and so I was no longer welcome to sing for the folks trying to prevent the expansion of Europe’s biggest coal mine. Me and all the white folks with dreadlocks who were also disinvited from participating in the movement, due to their apparent racism.
As Israel commits genocide against the Palestinian people, in Germany and in Portland they debate whether some of those opposed to this genocide are antisemites, for daring to communicate with an alleged rightwinger on their YouTube channel. As Israel commits genocide, this kind of black-and-white thinking, where context is never relevant, is the state of discourse for significant elements of society, and specifically the left, in both Germany and the United States — unlike in Scandinavia.
At a time when we desperately need all hands on deck, in Germany and the US we debate about who should be kicked off the boat before it sails anywhere. Although the deck hands on board are known to have many relevant skills and a lot of history of using them effectively, we first have to go over everything they ever posted on social media since 2006 in order to determine whether they might have once said something that could be interpreted as antisemitic, in order to make sure the skeleton crew that might remain is sufficiently pure of past possible transgressions. To describe how bleak this reality is altogether would require someone with far greater communication skills than I possess.