The following open letter was sent to Argentinian musician Leon Gieco by the The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) on 9 July 2009:
The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) is writing to express its grave concern about your upcoming appearance in the “Festival Argentina-Israel” in Israel on 14 July. As an artist with a great following because of your commitment to justice, we are writing to urge you to cancel your participation in a festival sponsored by a state that is complicit in some of the worst human rights abuses of our modern era. As you well know, the festival is sponsored by the Israeli Embassy in Argentina, the Municipality of Rishon Lezion, and the Israeli national airline El Al, all of which are official organs of the state.
You are an artist who has defined his career by the defense of human rights and moral principles. In light of this, we urge you to consider what it would mean to celebrate your music in Israel, a colonial and apartheid state that represents all that you have fought against throughout your professional life. You recently described yourself as “someone who, rather than worry too much about selling records, tries first and foremost to do important things like work for human rights.” Palestine is the contemporary epitome of a people’s struggle against oppression: it is the struggle of a people who have suffered 61 years of ethnic cleansing, brutal colonial subjugation and apartheid.
You ask in your famous song “Solo le pido a Dios” (I Only Ask of God): “I only ask of God That I not be indifferent to war, It is a great monster that treads hard on the poor innocence of people.” This monster of war is what Palestinians have endured for generations! Most recently, in the Israeli attack on the occupied Gaza Strip, Palestinian civilians were massacred by Israel’s ferocious military arsenal. This brutal military assault on the Gaza Strip left over 1,440 Palestinians dead, predominantly civilians, of whom 431 were children, and injured another 5,380. The 1.5 million Palestinians in the besieged Gaza Strip, the overwhelming majority of whom are refugees who were violently expelled from their homes by Zionist forces in 1948, were subjected to three weeks of relentless Israeli state terror, whereby Israeli warplanes systematically targeted civilian areas, reduced whole neighborhoods and vital civilian infrastructure to rubble and partially destroyed scores of schools, including several run by the UN, where civilians were taking shelter. This criminal assault came after 18 months of an ongoing, crippling Israeli siege of Gaza with the clear goal of shattering all spheres of life and collectively punishing the entire population of Gaza, prompting the UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights to describe it as “a prelude to genocide.” International human rights organizations and UN organizations are now carrying out war crimes investigations into Israel’s military assault on Gaza.
You recently described your experience with a general who told you, in reference to “Solo le pido a Dios”, that you cannot compose a song for peace in a time of war. In bold defiance of this relentless oppression, you sang for the people whose voice was suppressed by this general and the tyranny he represented. In this song you only asked of God not to be indifferent to suffering. What are the lives of Palestinians living under brutal Israeli occupation, if not suffering? You asked that you did not want to be indifferent to injustice. What is the situation of Palestine — where the most basic human rights are denied an entire nation by its colonial oppressors — if it is not injustice?
For the last 61 years, Israel has imposed its colonial presence on historic Palestine and for the last 42 years, Israel has militarily occupied the West Bank, including east Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip. Despite the “peace process” which began 16 years ago, Israel routinely violates Palestinians’ most fundamental human rights with impunity, as documented by local and international human rights organizations. Israel extra-judicially kills Palestinian leaders and activists; keeps over 8,000 Palestinians imprisoned, including numerous members of parliament. Israel is destroying Palestinian homes; killing Palestinian children; and uprooting hundreds of thousands of Palestinian trees. As we write, Israel continues to build illegal Jewish colonies on occupied Palestinian land and an apartheid infrastructure of Jewish-only roads, blockades and the Apartheid Wall, declared illegal by the International Court of Justice at the Hague in 2004. Israel denies millions of Palestinian refugees their internationally recognized right to return to their lands. Moreover, Israel maintains a system of racial discrimination against its own Palestinian citizens reminiscent of South African apartheid.
In 1978 people began to sing “Solo le pido a Dios” in the streets, against the military dictatorship. In Palestine we cherish those precious voices that dare to scream this human truth in the face of the power of our occupiers. You are an artist whose career has been defined by your courage to speak truth to power; how can you ignore that role now?
Your fellow Argentinian and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1980, Adolfo Perez Esquivel, recently explained:
“It is painful to have to point out the aberrant behavior the state of Israel continues to commit against the Palestinian people, attacking, destroying, murdering and oppressing the population: women, children and young people are victims of these atrocities. We can not be silent. We must condemn it and shout: Enough!”
Allowing your work and your role as an artist to be co-opted by a state that has become the most durable modern symbol of colonialism and apartheid, as recognized by a growing community of conscientious artists and intellectuals the world over, is equivalent to lending your support to this state as well as offering it a means to escape its own oppressive reality.
In the face of decades of unrelenting oppression, Palestinian civil society has called upon people of conscience throughout the world to take a stand in support of our struggle for freedom and the realization of our inalienable human and national political rights by heeding our call for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel.
Virtually all Palestinian artists and cultural figures stand behind this call and have urged their colleagues worldwide to boycott Israeli cultural and arts institutions due to their complicity in perpetuating Israel’s occupation and other forms of oppression against the Palestinian people. In response, in the past few months, groups of artists, comedians, filmmakers, students and academics throughout the world have consolidated their efforts to show solidarity with Palestinians, to condemn Israel’s war crimes and its apartheid regime, and to call for effective political action such as boycotts, divestment drives, and sanctions (BDS). Many prominent international cultural figures including John Berger, Ken Loach, Arundhati Roy, Roger Waters, John Williams, among others, have declared their support for the boycott.
As was the case in South Africa, where international solidarity played a crucial role in bringing down apartheid by boycotting the economic, sports and cultural institutions of the apartheid regime, we sincerely hope you will stand with us in our call to boycott cultural events until Israel fulfills its obligations under international law and fully recognizes the Palestinian people’s right to live in full equality and freedom in their homeland.