Pete Seeger's Role in Ending Israeli House Demolitions

American folk legend donates part of royalties from 'Turn, Turn, Turn' to 'place where the words originated.'

Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson
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Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson

Anyone who owns a radio probably knows the song "Turn, Turn, Turn" (To everything there is a season) very well. A number of versions of this song have become permanent fixtures on the play lists of most popular music radio stations. Here's what the listeners don't know: every time this song is played, the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions receives a few dollars, which accumulate to a "several thousand dollars every year," according to the committee's co-founder and coordinator.

The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD) is a non-profit organization that uses non-violent means to oppose Israeli demolition of homes in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Seeger has been donating some of the song's royalties to ICAHD for ten years.

The banjo-playing Seeger, 90, is considered one of the pioneers of American folk music. He is known for his political activism no less than for his musical achievements. In the 1930s he was involved in the establishment of worker unions, in the 1940s he opposed the war against Germany and in the 1950s he was interrogated by Senator Joe McCarthy over suspicions of belonging to the Communist Party. In recent years Seeger has been involved in efforts to clean up the Hudson River in New York and performed at U.S. President Barack Obama's inauguration celebration.

The lyrics of the song "Turn, Turn, Turn" are the words of King Solomon from the book of Ecclesiastes. "All around the world, songs are being written that use old public domain material, and I think it's only fair that some of the money from the songs go to the country or place of origin, even though the composer may be long dead or unknown," Seeger said in an interview with Acoustic Guitar magazine in 2002.

"With 'Turn, Turn, Turn' I wanted to send 45 percent, because [in addition to the music] I did write six words and one more word repeated three times, so I figured I'd keep five percent of the royalties for the words. I was going to send it to London, where I am sure the committee that oversees the use of the King James version exists, and they probably could use a little cash. But then I realized, why not send it to where the words were originally written?"

ICAHD's Halper met with Seeger in New York last week and remarked that "he said he thought it was appropriate that the biblical part of the song make its way to Israel ? he doesn't want to take credit for it."

Halper brought another message from Seeger to the Israelis: "He said that artists and cooks ? it was important for him to include cooks ? must stand up and demand a just peace. That is the duty of artists and cooks."

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