4 October 2008
Outgoing Israeli Prime Minister Olmert has said that he had not been willing to face reality during his political career and admitted that it would be necessary for Israel to withdraw from the West Bank and the Golan Heights in order to secure peace. Whilst Olmert was reflecting and stating the patently obvious to Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot, Sir Paul McCartney had just performed live in Tel Aviv for thousands of Israelis. Despite pleas from Palestinians to boycott Israel because of its poor human rights record, he was determined to go ahead with the concert. He told Rolling Stone that "music can help people calm down". It seems McCartney too needs to do a reality check.
His ignorance of the situation is clear in his delusion that if only he could sing everyone would stop being angry and make up. The conflict between Israel and Palestine is not a lovers spat or even a conflict between equal civilians in one country but a deeply and dangerously illegal occupation of a native people and a damaging land grab by foreign settlers. At a time when respected international aid agencies are saying that the Middle East quartet is failing to improve the humanitarian situation for Palestinians, it is offensive for McCartney to reduce the hardships of occupation to an inability to be calm. To add insult to injury, Palestinians from Gaza or the West Bank cannot get through the hundreds of checkpoints and the concrete wall to hear him sing anyway.
Whilst in Israel and Palestine, McCartney told the Jerusalem Post that he was apolitical and brought a message of world peace. But he doesn't seem to realise that he cannot be apolitical if, as a world famous musician, he chooses to visit a country that is condemned as an apartheid regime.
McCartney can think what he likes but the Israeli Ambassador to the UK, Ron Prosor, is very clear about how he sees the visit. As reported in the Guardian, Prosor celebrated it as a "diplomatic success of great importance" in conversation with the Israeli newspaper Ma'ariv he said:
"When one of the most admired musicians in the world not only expresses his willingness to visit Tel Aviv, but also publicly talks about the positive things he's heard about Israel, this is an Israeli diplomatic and PR success of the first order."
If McCartney wanted to remain neutral he could have deferred to international norms and law. In doing so he would have found that his Israeli friends have an abysmal record of ignoring basic international law regarding occupied peoples and an appalling record of human rights abuses that continued as McCartney was playing his pipes of peace in Tel Aviv.
His brief visit to a Bethlehem music school and the Church of the Nativity, presumably under Israeli military auspices, was a hopelessly inadequate response to Palestinians. Israel proved adept in using his visit to normalise itself in the eyes of the international community, thus undermining efforts by Palestinians and human rights groups to show Israel for what it really is: a militaristic state that has occupied the land of Palestinians since 1948.
There comes a point when a country's actions become unacceptable and where it loses any rights to be treated as a democratic state in the international system. Israel reached that point long ago. It's just that woolly liberals like McCartney have a hard time condemning a state that became home to Holocaust survivors and refugees after the war. We have to look at what is happening today. Even Olmert is willing to concede that to some extent Israel has lost its way and that the rights of the Palestinians have never been acknowledged.
Maybe, McCartney showed his true colours when speaking to Yediot Aharonot during which AFP reports he said "I was approached by different groups and political bodies who asked me not to come. I do what I think, and I have many friends who support Israel." If he supports the excesses of the military state of Israel that is his prerogative but don’t dress it up in the language of friendship and peace.
Ironically, McCartney's website highlights how he is a Patron and Goodwill Ambassador of the Adopt-A-Minefield campaign. His favoured state of Israel littered southern Lebanon with thousands of landmines and children and farmers are still paying the price.
So why did McCartney go to Israel if he is a peace loving liberal? Given the high price of the tickets for the region this must be working out as a nice little earner. But more likely, and sadly, McCartney is blinkered by the notion that music can solve a bitterly uneven conflict between the Israeli occupier and the occupied people of Palestine. John Lennon must have been turning in his grave as Paul belted out the old Beatles tunes in Tel Aviv.