Leonard Cohen plays in Israel: one bereaved Palestinian parent said "I can't boycott a heart as big as Leonard Cohen's"

Leonard Cohen, who celebrated his 75th birthday earlier this week, gave his scheduled concert at Tel Aviv’s Ramat Gan stadium last night without any adverse incident — bringing enormous pleasure to the mostly but not entirely Israeli audience.

It is a pity that he will not be playing in Ramallah this weekend, as he had proposed when the Palestinian boycott committee objected to his performing in Tel Aviv. That suggestion was not acceptable to some — it seems, in fact, to a very few only — but the whole matter therefore became too much, too controversial, and too exhausting for others, who simply chose not to deal with the issues raised.

For the boycott committee, the sole issue was that Leonard Cohen should have totally avoided Israel, and played only in Ramallah.

We reported on this controversy earlier here, as well as
here, and also here.

The Jerusalem Post reported that Cohen told the audience of over 50,000 people on Thursday night that: “I don’t know if we will pass this way again” … so, he promised “to give it everything tonight.” The JPost also said that the concert transported the audience to “a vibrant spiritual high”.

A Youtube video shows Leonard Cohen performing “Hallelujah” in the Ramat Gan stadium on Thursday night:

“I did my best, it wasn’t much”, Cohen sang in this song, “I told the truth, I did not come to Tel Aviv to lie”… and the audience roared in response.

Continue reading Leonard Cohen plays in Israel: one bereaved Palestinian parent said "I can't boycott a heart as big as Leonard Cohen's"

Qaddura Fares: No decision yet on Leonard Cohen in Ramallah

Qaddura Fares, head of the Palestinian Prisoner’s Club, and “Young Guard” Fateh leader, said this morning in a brief phone conversation that there is no decision yet on the Leonard Cohen concert in Ramallah.

“We decided [that there would be] at least a freeze on this issue. We will wait until after the Fateh conference”, Fares said.

This means that the issue got too big and too hot to tackle at the moment.

The long-delayed and much-anticipated Fateh conference is now scheduled for 4 August in Bethlehem.

Continue reading Qaddura Fares: No decision yet on Leonard Cohen in Ramallah

Boycott Cellcom (not Leonard Cohen)

Boycotts are in the air — billed as a peaceful alternative to war and conflict of all sorts. The definitive worth of the tactic is debatable — and in some circles it is being debated. Naomi Klein recently visited Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory [West Bank + Gazayes, the Israeli military allowed her visit Gaza] despite her support of an/the economic and cultural boycott of Israel to promote the publication of her latest book in Hebrew.

In an interview with Haaretz, Klein explained, basically, that she would not have come if the boycott committee had asked her not to.

The Haaretz article said that Klein and her publisher “carefully planned Klein’s itinerary in Israel to avoid the impression that she supports institutions connected to the State of Israel and the Israeli economy. ‘It certainly would have been a lot easier not to have come to Israel, and I wouldn’t have come had the Palestinian Boycott National Committee asked me not to’, said Klein in an interview before her arrival, at her Toronto home. ‘But I went to them with a proposal for the way I wanted to visit Israel and they were very open to it. It is important to me not to boycott Israelis but rather to boycott the normalization of Israel and the conflict’.”

She then gave several hair-splitting justifications about her visit to Israel, but was at the same time critical of the Israeli and pro-Israeli boycott of the UN’s Durban Two follow-up conference against racism held in Geneva not too long ago.

The Haaretz article quickly gets bored of the boycott issue, and veers into other areas, and can be read in full here .

In a conversation this afternoon a propos the demand from various quarters that Leonard Cohen  cancel his performance in Tel Aviv [apparently still scheduled for 24 September], an Israeli friend and admirable activist said to me that there is actually not a boycott of Israel at the moment.

But there is.  It is understandable that somebody could be confused, especially because there seems to be several different boycotts, and several different boycott committees, and the whole thing is unclear.

In any case, it was reported today by PACBI, the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel [apparently launched in Ramallah in April 2004] that “We are now pleased to announce that we have received confirmation from the Palestinian Prisoners‘ Club Society that they will not be hosting Leonard Cohen in Ramallah. A strong consensus has emerged among all parties concerned that Cohen is not welcome in Ramallah as long as he insists on performing in Tel Aviv, even though it had been claimed that Cohen would dedicate his concert in Palestine to the cause of Palestinian prisoners. Ramallah will not receive Cohen as long as he is intent on whitewashing Israel‘s colonial apartheid regime by performing in Israel. PACBI has always rejected any attempt to ‘balance’ concerts or other artistic events in Israel–conscious acts of complicity in Israel‘s violation of international law and human rights–with token events in the occupied Palestinian territory”.

We reported on the Leonard Cohen dilemma earlier here. In that earlier post, we mentioned that the decision was put into the hands of Fatah “Young Guard” leader Qaddura Fares, who is head of the Palestinian Prisoner’s Club Society, and who told us that “his suggestion was that Leonard Cohen should come if he would agree to sing for the release of Palestinian prisoners (there are over 11,000 of them, including several hundred children) — and for the release of the Israeli soldier who is believed to be still held captive somewhere in Gaza, Corporal Gilad Shalit. ‘Yes, why not?’, Qaddura Fares said, and smiled. ‘All of them are prisoners, and they have the right to be free …. Maybe if he [Leonard Cohen] comes for such a sensitive issue, it will be useful for Palestinians and for Israelis”.

A call to Qaddura Fares for confirmation this evening went unanswered.

In an informal poll I’ve been conducting in Ramallah the last two days, I didn’t find any Palestinian who knew who Leonard Cohen was.

On the other side of the coin, I have been wondering who would brief Leonard Cohen about what he would encounter on the other side — that is, in Ramallah — should he actually perform there. If he allowed himself to be booked into Tel Aviv without realizing that there might be a reaction, and without apparently thinking very much about the Palestinians penned into the West Bank (and Gaza), what would it take to brief Leonard Cohen about this alternate reality [which Haaretz’s Gideon Levy aptly calls the “Twilight Zone”]? Would Leonard Cohen know how reach out to the Ramallah audience?

It’s not clear that the last act of this boycott drama has played out yet, but today’s PACBI statement argued that “Those sincerely interested in defending Palestinian rights and taking a moral and courageous stance against the Israeli occupation and apartheid should not play Israel, period. That is the minimum form of solidarity Palestinian civil society has called for. We feel that this is an occasion to reaffirm our position first articulated two years ago in relation to visits to the occupied Palestinian territory by artists, performers, and academics who wish to show solidarity with Palestinians while primarily coming to Israel to perform or participate in academic or artistic activities. As we noted then, Palestinians have always warmly welcomed solidarity visits by international visitors; however, most Palestinians firmly believe that such solidarity visits should not be used as an occasion to organize performances, film screenings or exhibits in mainstream Israeli venues or to give lectures at Israeli universities; collaborate in any way with Israeli political, cultural or academic institutions; or participate in activities sponsored or supported — directly or indirectly — by the Israeli government or any of its agencies”. This statement is published in full here ,

The boycott success story par excellence is supposed to be South Africa — though there was as much evasion as compliance [including certain well-connected Palestinians, with connections all the way to the top, who had fun and helped finance the revolution by selling oil from countries in the Persian Gulf to South Africa, avoiding the boycott by changing the flag of the tanker ship while at sea, or substituting new bills of lading, or new ports of destination… ]

And if we’re going to talk about sanctions, did either Saddam Hussein or Hamas “change their stripes” after heavy-hitting international sanctions? (Even more importantly, did those sanctions avert war?)

However, a new Israeli Cellcom that nonchalantly uses The Wall as a prop, and just-fun-loving Israeli soldiers and Border Police-persons as the actors, is so extraordinarily insensitive that it merits a boycott call.

Adam Horowitz has an unsettling post on Mondoweiss here contrasting what we see in the Cellcom ad with how Israeli soldiers and Border Police usually behave at The Wall [even when it is a fence as it is in Bil’in and Nil’in].

CORRECTION: The video referred to just above was of Friday’s demonstration in Ni’lin, not Bil’in.

The video of Friday’s demonstration in Nil’in in the Mondoweiss post is particularly creepy because it shows that at least ten undercover Israeli agents were pretending to participate as demonstrators, before they revealed themselves as uniformed Israeli forces rushed through the hole that had been cut in the fence to seize two of the Palestinian demonstrators and carry them off in army vehicles. Was this the first time that this Trojan-Horse tactic has been used at these weekly demonstrations in the two villages about 20 minutes drive east of Ramallah? 

(One savvy Palestinian commentator said last evening that these weekly demonstrations had done much more to explain and advance the Palestinian position than the current Palestinian government).

The Cellcom ad is posted here on Youtube  (as are videos of the Bil’in and Nil’in demonstrations).

It seems that the ad agency that produced this Cellcom ad did not use the real Wall, but built a set with a small section of identical 9-meter-high concrete slabs. What shows it’s not the real thing? First of all, section in this set ends abruptly, instead of extending as far as the eye can see (in later shots, an extension seems to be Photoshopped into the film). Secondly, the “soldiers” in the ad are patrolling next to an area decorated with grafitti. In reality, most of the graffiti is on the Palestinian side of the Wall, while the side that the Israelis usually patrol is much more bare concrete (in the Jerusalem area there is some graffiti on both sides, but the Palestinian side is definitely much more decorated).

The Wall is a Wall in residential areas, which is not what is shown in the ad. In a rural or uninhabited area, The Wall becomes a fence.

And, all those high kicks over what the ad calls a 10-meter-high wall are not so credible, either.

The English-language Israeli-centered blogosphere is going wild on this Cellcom ad — here and here, with excellent comments from a journalist for Maariv; as well as here and here.

Anyway, why arent’t we hearing immediate calls for a boycott of Cellcom (Israeli cellcom mobile phone numbers begin with 052, or, from abroad, 972 52 …). There are plenty of Palestinians (and radically progressive Israelis) who have Cellcom sim cards or subscriptions, so there could be a real impact in boycotting Cellcom until this truly offensive ad is pulled, and The Wall is torn down — and why not until the Israeli occupation is ended, as well.

And, why not also boycott the advertising agency too (McCann Erickson) — until it Repents? At the very least, it should take its account executives, and art directors, and other creative types out on a tour of The Wall and some of the most infamous (and still there) Israeli checkpoints in the West Bank. They should also be called on to replace this lousy ad with a public service announcement discussing the real impact of The Wall on the lives of millions — yes, millions — of Palestinians, and debunking the self-serving myth that The Wall [still open in many areas, so any determined attackers could easily get through if they wanted] has stopped suicide attacks within Israel.

So, boycott Cellcom!

Or, is it that boycotts are only as good as they are convenient, and the minute they start really pinching, we’ll start hair-splitting and justifying why and how we are not obliged to comply, though we really do support their goals — we really, really do.

For someone whose birthday is today

There is an edited version of an interview with Leonard Cohen published today in The Guardian which makes me wonder about Leonard Cohen and love.

It made me think of someone whose birthday is today (not Leonard Cohen – his birthday is 21 September, as we already reported here . )

According to The Guardian, it is “an edited transcript of an interview conducted for the Canadian broadcaster CBC”.

It seems so cold. Maybe he was just nervous, there was no chemistry with the interviewer (I would not have liked being asked some of these questions), or he was tired, or … feeling (or made to feel) old?

Continue reading For someone whose birthday is today

Leonard Cohen in Ramallah?

Leonard Cohen might not be Michael Jackson, but he has a devoted, even passionate, following in various parts of the world.   Israel is one of those places.

The occupied Palestinian territory is not.

Yet, an announcement has been made that Leonard Cohen will perform in Ramallah in late September — a day after he performs on 24 September in Israel’s Ramat Gan stadium near Tel Aviv, with a seating capacity of 50,000.

Leonard Cohen’s appearance in Ramallah was, in fact, added as an afterthought, in response to the boycott calls for him to avoid performing in Israel.

Instead of cancelling the Israeli show, it was apparently thought that adding a Palestinian one might add some “balance”. But, it might be too late for that.  The situation is too polarized.

Now, both performances — part of Leonard Cohen’s multi-city and nearly year-long World Tour 09, with more mileage and events than Michael Jackson’s 50-concert revival in London — are in question, due to a small but growing international campaign to boycott Israel.

For Palestinians, it would be better if Leonard Cohen didn’t perform in Israel at all, and would only come to Ramallah (or Gaza).  But that’s more on the level of political symbolism, because Leonard Cohen is not at all well known among Palestinians.

Consideration was given to hosting the Leonard Cohen Palestinian concert in the 9,000-seat Feisal Husseini football stadium (upgraded to international standards with EU funding) in ar-Ram, right next to a particularly in-your-face section of The Wall which runs right down the middle of what used to be the main street between Jerusalem and Ramallah.  But, it was apparently then decided that it would be better to have the concert in Ramallah’s Cultural Palace (built with Japanese funding), a smaller and enclosed venue, right next to the hilltop where Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish is buried (and where he gave his final performance on 1 July 2008).

After initial planning, a Palestinian opposition emerged, with objections to hosting Leonard Cohen in Ramallah (that is, if he still intends to perform in Israel).  Israel’s Operation Cast Lead in Gaza earlier this year has only intensified the moral outrage on the Palestinian side.

The search for a solution has been put in the hands of Qaddura Fares, one of a group identified as “Young” Fatah leaders, and head of the Palestinian Prisoner’s Club, “If there were peace”, there would be no problem, Fares indicated in an interview in his Ramallah office last week —  but, he said, “there is no atmosphere for peace” right now.

Qaddura Fares said that his suggestion was that Leonard Cohen should come if he would agree to sing for the release of Palestinian prisoners (there are over 11,000 of them, including several hundred children) — and for the release of the Israeli soldier who is believed to be still held captive somewhere in Gaza, Corporal Gilad Shalit.  “Yes, why not?”, Qaddura Fares said, and smiled.  “All of them are prisoners, and they have the right to be free”.

He indicated that Leonard Cohen’s agents/promoters have “accepted the idea”.  There is also a proposal, he said, that Amnesty International should somehow be involved. There are still a lot of problems, Qaddura Fares noted.  “A lot of intellectuals and artists have refused to come to Israel because of the boycott call.  And so, for the Boycott Forum, we would be making an obstacle for their progress if Leonard Cohen comes to Tel Aviv and Ramallah”.

He said that “if Leonard Cohen comes “just for summer, and for love, maybe it would be a mistake.  But, Israel has been dealing with out prisoners as if they were killers and terrorists, and if Leonard Cohen comes to sing for their release, then maybe it will recognize that they are freedom fighters.  Maybe if he comes for such a sensitive issue, it will be useful for Palestinians and for Israelis”.

Qaddura Fares noted that a group of Palestinian intellectuals asked to meet him to discuss the issue, and he agreed.  “They tried to convince me it’s a mistake to bring Leonard Cohen.  They promised they would bring famous singers who would visit only Palestine and not Israel”. Why hadn’t these Palestinian intellectuals brought these singers before?  Qaddura Fares replied that he had asked them the same question.  He recounted that he told them: “Every Monday I go to the Red Cross and sit with the mothers and wives of the prisoners — between 20 and 50 women come every week.  But never did I see these intellectuals there.  And, I said to them, “What’s the problem if we invite Leonard Cohen.  We can continue our discussion”.

But, Qaddoura Fares said, he would leave the decision up to the Palestinian Prisoner’s Club — and that he wanted “a collective decision”, meaning near unanimity, or at least no opposition.  Then, he said, “I can organize Fatah and other groups to support the invitation”.

The decision is imminent, Qaddoura Fares said.

Continue reading Leonard Cohen in Ramallah?