Palestinians Dare To Dream: Rejecting the "Prettier Face" of Apartheid

Gaza's March of Return protests go on: "Listen to us, screaming from beneath Israel’s bombs." SOPA/Getty Images

Arguing "no one wants to party with apartheid" and mirroring the 1980s Sun City boycott of apartheid South Africa, rights advocates around the world are urging a boycott of the massive, glitzy Eurovision Song Contest 2019 to be held this week in Tel Aviv, part of a brazen Brand Israel campaign aimed at "art-washing" its bloody crimes against Palestinians. Born in the 1950s, the global event is an odd hybrid of flashy pop culture and avowedly principled politics, with countries sharing close ties or aggrieved battles often voting for or against each other; in 2015, Armenia sang a song protesting Turkey's denial of their genocide, and Ukraine just pulled out in defiance of Russian meddling. This year's cognitive dissonance - a frothy peace-love-and-unity-themed pop concert held in an ethnically-cleansing military dictatorship in hopes of presenting “Israel’s prettier face” to a critical world - is stunning. Its specifics make it more so: The show will be at the Tel Aviv Expo, built on the ruins of the Palestinian village al-Shaykh Muwannis; celebrations will include a beach party on the ruins of another village; the dates, May 14-18, encompass Nakba Day, commemorating Israel's 1948 destruction of over 500 Palestinian villages and its expulsion/killing of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians; and this year's contestant, Kobi Marimi, will without a trace of irony sing the plaintive "Home" - "Now I'm done/I'm coming home."

Israel's hosting honors follow their win at the 2018 contest in Portugal with a song by Netta Barzilai, who Netanyahu praised as “the best ambassador of Israel"; two days later, Israel massacred 62 Gazans, including six children, and that evening Barzilai performed a celebratory concert, declaring, “We have reason to be happy.” Today, the carnage against both Palestinians and their culture goes on. According to the Palestinian Ministry of Health, in the last year over 270 unarmed Palestinian protesters have been killed and 17,021 injured, with over 6,000 shot in the legs; they include journalists filming peaceful March of Return protests, medics in lab coats, people in wheelchairs and many children. Israel has just as brutally targeted Palestinian culture, which represents Palestinian survival: Last spring, it destroyed Said al-Mishal Center, Gaza’s main arts and performance venue; it has long killed, imprisoned or denied travel papers to Palestinian artists; it routinely constrains and accuses of subversion dissident Israeli artists; for years it has banned musical instruments under the Gaza blockade; and the only grand piano left in Gaza narrowly survived a missile attack during Israel’s 2014 assault, which left over 2,200 people dead. "What happens," asks renowned UK musician Brian Eno, "when a powerful state uses art as propaganda, to distract from its immoral and illegal behavior?"

Boycott it, the BDS movement and others say. With 200 million people around the world expected to watch Eurovision 2019, rights groups have urged performers and audiences not to ignore "the bloody political context" of an effort to beautify an oppressive  occupation. Boycott calls have come from the Palestinian Campaign for Artistic and Cultural Boycott, Palestine Solidarity Campaign - "Not My Kinda Party" - and hundreds of cultural, political and LGBTQ groups in the U.K., Sweden, Iceland, Spain, Ireland, South Africa, and France, where artists wrote, “We call on France Television (not) to bail out a regime that sends snipers every Friday against unarmed children (in) Gaza. Self-respecting entertainment would not play in the land of apartheid (in) South Africa, and we don’t accept it for Israel.” Artists from Gaza cited the same precedent: "Musicians stood on the right side of history then and were proved right. If you don’t listen to us, screaming from beneath Israel’s bombs and in front of their bullets, will you listen to them?" They also announced an alternative Gazavision event featuring Palestinian music "while surrounded by (a) brutal and well-equipped army...Even when Israel bombs us, imprisons (us), kills and maims thousands (and) does everything to silence our voices, we will continue to sing." They have endured 12 years of siege and decades of occupation, they note; in the last few days, they've seen Israel kill 27 people, including two toddlers, with 156 wounded and 130 homes destroyed. "We should not have to go through any more to hope for your solidarity," they write. "When for so long the world has turned its back on us, we are still standing, and we ask you to stand with us."


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Despite widespread reports of lower air fares, hotel bookings, ticket sales, it's difficult to say how effective the boycott will prove. Also, some performers plan to come but confront what Iceland's bondage-themed "Hatari," or "hater," calls "the elephant in the room." Their leather-bound, blood-spattered members have already slammed Eurovision in Israel as propaganda "built on a lie"; their company Relentless Scam Inc sells bottled water dubbed SodaDream, a la the insidious SodaStream; their first stop in Israel was Hebron, the largest occupied city in the West Bank where over 200,000 Palestinians live in terror of right-wing settlers, which they deemed "apartheid in action"; they warn if they win they'll take land to create a settlement-like BSDM enclave; they plan to sing "Hate Will Prevail" in the show; and they say their ambition for the future is “playing shows in countries where there currently is not an illegal occupation.” While their resistance is flamboyant, the progressive photo collective Activestills offers a poignant take. In a "Postcard from Palestine" video, they film a montage of harsh realities under apartheid - police detaining a Palestinian child, the demolition of a home, Palestinians waiting in lines at checkpoints, a bulldozer uprooting an olive tree - as residents explain their lives to visitors. "This competition will take place on confiscated land, whose indigenous owners were expelled...Everything they will show you is very far away from the reality we live." In a second video, riffing on this year's contest theme of "Dare to Dream," they present a series of short interviews with Palestinians, mostly children, who proclaim their own modest, painful, deeply human dreams. Most want simply to live normal lives, free of fear and grief, far from the glitz being pedalled nearby in another world by their oppressors. "I dream of a free Palestine," says one sweet small boy, "and for me to become a swimmer."

Last week, Fatmah Hjazi, 16 years old, was shot in the head by an Israeli sniper for holding a Palestinian flag and protesting the Gazan siege.

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