By Roger Water, Friday 11 March 2011 21.30 GMT
In 1980, a song I wrote, Another Brick in the Wall Part 2, was banned by the government of South Africa because it was being used by black South African children to advocate their right to equal education. That apartheid government imposed a cultural blockade, so to speak, on certain songs, including mine.
Twenty-five years later, in 2005, Palestinian children participating in a West Bank festival used the song to protest against Israel’s wall around the West Bank. They sang: “We don’t need no occupation! We don’t need no racist wall!” At the time, I hadn’t seen firsthand what they were singing about.
A year later I was contracted to perform in Tel Aviv. Palestinians from a movement advocating an academic and cultural boycott of Israel urged me to reconsider. I had already spoken out against the wall, but I was unsure whether a cultural boycott was the right way to go.
The Palestinian advocates of a boycott asked that I visit the occupied Palestinian territory to see the wall for myself before I made up my mind. I agreed.
Under the protection of the United Nations I visited Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Nothing could have prepared me for what I saw that day. The wall is an appalling edifice to behold. It is policed by young Israeli soldiers who treated me, a casual observer from another world, with disdainful aggression.
If it could be like that for me, a foreigner, a visitor, imagine what it must be like for the Palestinians, for the underclass, for the passbook carriers. I knew then that my conscience would not allow me to walk away from that wall, from the fate of the Palestinians I met: people whose lives are crushed daily by Israel’s occupation. In solidarity, and somewhat impotently, I wrote on their wall that day: “We don’t need no thought control.”
Realising at that point that my presence on a Tel Aviv stage would inadvertently legitimise the oppression I had seen, I cancelled my gig at the stadium in Tel Aviv and moved it to Neve Shalom, an agricultural community devoted to growing chick peas and also, admirably, to co-operation between different faiths, where Muslim, Christian and Jew work side by side in harmony.
Against all expectations it was to become the biggest music event in the short history of Israel. Some 60,000 fans battled traffic jams to attend. It was extraordinarily moving for us, and at the end of the gig I was moved to exhort the young people gathered there to demand of their government that they attempt to make peace with their neighbours and respect the civil rights of Palestinians living in Israel.
Sadly, in the intervening years the Israeli government has made no attempt to implement legislation that would grant rights to Israeli Arabs equal to those enjoyed by Israeli Jews, and the wall has grown, inexorably, illegally annexing more and more of the West Bank.
For the people of Gaza, locked in a virtual prison behind the wall of Israel’s illegal blockade, it means another set of injustices. It means that children go to sleep hungry, many chronically malnourished. It means that fathers and mothers, unable to work in a decimated economy, have no means to support their families. It means that university students with scholarships to study abroad must watch the opportunity of a lifetime slip away because they are not allowed to travel.
In my view, the abhorrent and draconian control that Israel wields over the besieged Palestinians in Gaza and the Palestinians in the occupied West Bank (including East Jerusalem), coupled with its denial of the rights of refugees to return to their homes in Israel, demands that fair-minded people around the world support the Palestinians in their civil, nonviolent resistance.
Where governments refuse to act people must, with whatever peaceful means are at their disposal. For me this means declaring an intention to stand in solidarity, not only with the people of Palestine but also with the many thousands of Israelis who disagree with their government’s policies, by joining the campaign of Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions against Israel.
My conviction is born in the idea that all people deserve basic human rights. This is not an attack on the people of Israel. This is, however, a plea to my colleagues in the music industry, and also to artists in other disciplines, to join this cultural boycott.
Artists were right to refuse to play in South Africa’s Sun City resort until apartheid fell and white people and black people enjoyed equal rights. And we are right to refuse to play in Israel until the day comes – and it surely will come – when the wall of occupation falls and Palestinians live alongside Israelis in the peace, freedom, justice and dignity that they all deserve.