Robbie Williams played at Tel Aviv’s biggest park last night. Tens of thousands of cheering Israelis surely welcomed him (these lines were written before the concert). One justice-loving Englishman tried to dissuade him from appearing. I would like to thank that Englishman from the bottom of my heart.
For over a decade, Roger Waters has dedicated his time and good name to the struggle against the Israeli occupation. The occupation upsets him. The killing of children horrifies him. The oppression discomfits him. The airstrikes in the Gaza Strip make him lose sleep.
He concluded that the Israelis must pay for their crimes and that boycotts are a just and effective instrument. Waters thinks that entertaining the Israelis at Yarkon Park is equivalent to performing at South Africa’s Sun City in the 1980s during apartheid.
It was where whites gambled at the casino and watched international acts just a short distance from where blacks suffered oppression. Nowadays, Israelis throng to the park when just an hour’s drive away Gaza wallows in its ruins and the West Bank in its occupation.
The situation is intolerable to anyone with a sense of justice. Waters wrote to Williams about it, reminding the pop star of his fondness for soccer and his position as UNICEF’s U.K. ambassador, and telling Williams how Israel killed four young children playing soccer on a Gaza beach during last summer’s war. “I encourage you, Robbie, and all other artists, not to play in Israel until Israel complies with international law,” Waters wrote (in vain).
Waters did the same thing before Alan Parsons, who worked with Pink Floyd on its 1973 album “The Dark Side of the Moon,” came to Israel in February. “While I know you don’t want to disappoint your fans by canceling this gig, you would be sending a powerful message to them and the world by doing so,” Waters wrote to Parsons on Facebook, adding, “If you recall, I was the pimply bass player, you were the tall engineer.”
Pimply? Noble. Could anything be admirable or moral than that? There isn’t a single master craftsman like the Pink Floyd poet willing to devote so much to such a determined struggle against such a long-running injustice.
In Israel, which can’t count one genuine protest singer among its popular musicians, he has of course been labeled anti-Semitic and anti-Israel. Kobi Oz, an Israeli musician of Waters’ stature (almost), called on Waters a few years ago to make music and shut up.
As Oz put it, “I was deeply disappointed to learn that you have decided to build a wall between yourself and your Israeli fans .... Instead of recognizing the situation’s complexity, you have joined the campaign to boycott Israel, appointing yourself as a judge in a conflict between Middle Eastern tribes. (How British of you!)” And how Israeli of Oz to shut his eyes and trill.
About a year ago Waters explained his motivation. His father, 2nd Lt. Eric Fletcher Waters, a conscientious objector who drove an ambulance during the London Blitz, was persuaded to join the Royal Fusiliers and fight fascism. He was killed in occupied Italy, when Waters was just a baby.
Waters believes that he is following in his father’s footsteps. He says that after coming to Israel and seeing the occupation, he is incapable of remaining silent. We should bow our heads in thanks to him.
The debt to Waters is the debt of a generation to which Pink Floyd was much more than a soundtrack. It’s a debt for nights of confessions and soul-baring talk inspired by “Us and Them”; for loves that lasted an instant, or a lifetime, that owe their existence to “The Dark Side of the Moon.” But now us and them are old already, and this generation, at least, should listen to what Waters has to say.
Waters closes his opinion piece explaining his activities in light of his father’s actions, which like his open letter to Williams he published on Salon.com. He ends with a quotation from the song “Two Suns in the Sunset,” which he wrote for Pink Floyd: “Ashes and diamonds / Foe and friend / We were all equal / In the end.”
In a country without a single courageous Waters, I write to him in his own words. Wish you were here.
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