“It is a matter of instinct and conscience,” writes internationally celebrated singer-songwriter Elvis Costello in an open letter reflecting on a landmark decision by Costello to cancel planned performances in Israel this summer.
Around the world in recent months a wave of high-profile artists are publicly expressing support for the Palestinian struggle for liberation and in opposition to Israeli apartheid policies against the Palestinian people. Artists globally are responding to the 2005 appeal from Palestinian civil society for a comprehensive campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel rooted in a similar campaign internationally that targeted the apartheid regime in South Africa.
Artists United Against Apartheid formed in 1985 and mobilized key cultural figures around the world in opposition to the racist apartheid policies in South Africa. Sun City was a hit track around the world featuring artists such as Gil Scott-Heron, Miles Davis and Bruce Springsteen who proclaimed their resistance to apartheid in South Africa by refusing to play at a gambling resort in a bantustan, a nominally independent area supposedly ruled by black Africans, in the middle of an impoverished rural homeland, in striking contrast to the whites-only wealthy areas in Johannesburg.Recently the legendary poet Gil Scott-Heron also cancelled a planned performance in Israel after an international campaign by Palestinian solidarity activists appealing to the revolutionary artist Scott-Heron to cancel the planned Tel Aviv concert.
In Montreal 500 artists announced their support towards the global boycott campaign this past winter, including celebrated Quebec-based artists such as singer-songwriter Richard Desjardins, author Rawi Hage and the late Lhasa de Sela.
A similar movement is emerging today in solidarity with Palestine, given the segregation of the Palestinian people in Israeli militarily occupied territories ruled under Israeli military law in the West Bank or the besieged Palestinian population in the Gaza Strip cut-off from the world by a joint Egyptian and Israeli siege.
Costello’s key decision will certainly fuel the growing artistic movement in solidarity with the Palestinian people, a cultural movement that is growing in tandem to growing international solidarity movement with Palestine that has grown in major ways since the Israeli bombing campaign on the Gaza Strip in January 2009 which killed over 1400 Palestinians, the majority civilians and leaving thousands wounded.
“Then there are occasions when merely having your name added to a concert schedule may be interpreted as a political act that resonates more than anything that might be sung and it may be assumed that one has no mind for the suffering of the innocent,” writes Costello in the moving public letter announcing the cancelation of the concerts in Israel.
Decades later Costello’s anti-colonial anthem Oliver’s Army resonates more strongly than ever.