An Eyewitness’ Letter to Macy Gray

Dear Macy,

Border Police officers arresting Ouday Tamimi. Picture credit: Bilal Tamimi from Joseph Dana's blog
Border Police officers arresting Ouday Tamimi. Picture credit: Bilal Tamimi from Joseph Dana's blog

I’ll say it again, I truly appreciate that you took your contemplations public. I can tell by what you write that you’ve been thrown into a world that its intensity is unknown to you. I write to you consistently because your heart is on your sleeve, and even though you seem to have made up your mind, I feel the doubt in every public utterance you make.

I’ll introduce myself; My name is Tali Shapiro. I’m an Israeli citizen and I just came back from the village of Nabi Salleh in the West Bank and read your latest blog post. I’m an activist that joins the weekly demonstrations in the village. There are weekly demonstrations in many villages. Though it’s a part of a movement for Palestinian human rights, each village wakes to dissent for individual reasons. Nabi Sallah has had its land annexed by the near by Halamish settlement and its water spring closed off from them by military force. Ever since then, they’ve been demonstrating.

Demonstrations in the occupied Palestinian territories come with a heavy price. Whether its the wounded and dead, or the constant harassment. Nabi Saleh has been subject to military closure, houses sprayed with putrid water (another method of “crowd dispersal”), night raids, arrests of activists (regardless of age), and torture which includes threats, beatings and contorted body positioning.

I write to you as I come back from one of these night raids. I live in Tel Aviv by choice. I choose to come to a war zone at night, to witness exactly what is being done in the name of my security:

At 3:30 the army invaded the village. We all jumped from our sleeping positions, put on our shoes and rushed to the scene. Incidentally, the “scene” was taking place at the neighbors’. The neighbors are all family, because Nabi Saleh is a small village. By the time we got there, Omar Tamimi, a young man of 20, was already in hand cuffs. His mother, father and sister, running around frantically, yelling in Hebrew and Arabic, trying to understand why their son and brother is being arrested?

As we got there, the soldiers, ranking between Private to Brigadier, their faces painted with camouflage paints, yelled at us to get lost, and when we made it clear that we won’t, they threatened to arrest us. One of the officers called two of his men to have their rifles aimed at us at all times:

“Point your rifles at them all the time. One wrong move, stick a bullet in them.”

I guess now that they have their man they could just leave. But for some reason they entered another neighbor’s house. Some of us followed them inside and I’m still not clear on what they wanted to do there in the first place. Just for the sake of harassment, a military police officer was brought to speak with me, when the soldiers realized I was Israeli. I was officially detained for several minutes, because they arbitrarily decided that it’s illegal for me to be where I was. Fortunately, I’m hardly what they were coming after, so a threat sufficed as they were leaving with Omar Tamimi cuffed and blind-folded in the back seat of a jeep:

“Tali, we’ll come visit you, don’t worry.”

The 3 jeeps didn’t even leave yet and we got the message that another house, on the other side of the village is being raided. As we crossed the fields to get to the house, yells came from the dark field:

“Wakef!”

“Stop!” Then a gun was cocked and I could see that little red light, we all know from the movies, trail over my body and face. I raised my hands and yelled that we’re not armed. It took them a while, but then one yelled: “It’s women!” I wonder what would have happened if we weren’t.

We got to the house after the raid was over. The person they were looking for wasn’t in there. Again, it took them another 20 minutes to disperse. At around 4:00 it was all over.

The story of this night raid isn’t complete without the context of the village demonstrations. In the past 2 weeks the army has been raiding Nabi Saleh every night. Waking up the villagers to take their photos. This week, every night raid ended with an arrest. An 11 year old, a 14 year old, and two 15 year olds have already been yanked out of their bed in the middle of the night and interrogated. The 14 year old Islam Tamimi and one of the 15 year olds are still in Ofer military prison. There are about 8,000 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails at any given time. Over 300 are children.

Yesterday, the village committee coordinator, Bassem Tamimi, was arrested at a checkpoint (a common form of civil repression by the Israeli army) at Ramallah city. He was taken back to the watchtower, at the outskirts of his village, where he was beaten for 2 hours and told that they know he’s the one responsible for the demonstrations, and every time there’s a demonstration they’ll take him back to the tower and beat him.

To us activists this isn’t new. It’s all a replay of last year, when the village of Bil’in suffered nightly raids and an arrest of their children. The Bil’in children were also intimidated and beaten throughout interrogation, their forced confessions put together, made an “incitement” case against Abdallah Abu Rahma, one of the Bil’in committee coordinators.  Abdallah was arrested on December 10th, International Human Rights Day, in front of his wife and small children. He was about to finish his sentence  in Ofer military prison for 16 months, when the military court decided to extend his imprisonment for another 3 months. Many of us are asking, is Bassem next?

Macy, you’re probably asking yourself, what will not playing in Tel Aviv do to change this? What all this has to do with you? I’d like to answer these and other questions you’ve asked in your latest blog post.

To the question of why you’re being asked to boycott now and were never asked before:

Asking the international community to boycott a state is a serious action, which entails widespread organization. It’s also a last resort tactic. So incredibly enough, it took Palestinians 60 years to unite around this one. How many were killed, wounded, tortured, or had their homes and lands stolen from them, in the process, is a question that’s answer is almost impossible to grasp. 2005 will be remembered in the history books as the year Palestinian civil society said “enough is enough”, and that’s why this request hasn’t been extended to you before. Now that it has, many people are expecting you to take it seriously.

Why it’s not OK to play in Tel Aviv and visit the occupied West Bank:

On the face of it, it’s like a win-win situation: You get to entertain your Israeli fans, while educating yourself on the subject of Palestinian life under Israeli military rule. But here’s the kicker, Macy: The majority of your audience in Reading, Tel Aviv will be ex-soldiers and reservists. Who knows, maybe one of the young men holding a gun to my head yesterday will be there to sing along to “I Try”. You see Macy, you entertaining Israelis in civilian clothing will always amount to you entertaining the troops, because 75% of the youth in Israel are constricted at the age of 18. And this is what they do with their time- “manage” population.

Many American citizens have decided to visit the occupied territories and see it for themselves. They have no business opportunity in Israel and they don’t come for a whiff of touristic Tel Aviv. They take 2 weeks-4 months out of their lives to participate in life at the end of the barrel of a gun.

About your comment of all of us living under a government we don’t agree with:

This is true for you, me and the rest of the Israeli population, but for Palestinians in the occupied territories, this is not the case. Palestinians in the occupied territories live under military rule. Their lives are regulated by 18 year olds, carrying weapons. This is why it’s called occupation. They don’t get to vote who’s the next Israeli Prime Minister, who’ll continue choking them under his military boot.

You say we have a choice; “We can act on our opinions forcibly, passively or not at all.” You forget “actively.” The occupation won’t end on its own. Some of us choose to act on our opinions actively and not forcibly, even non-violently. To our dismay, we are reacted to in violent means by the state, and passively by members of the international community. This is why you’re so important, Macy. In a twisted world like our’s a hit single attains you a world-wide stage. Unfortunately, those who attain it, often use it for the benefit of themselves and only themselves. Don’t misunderstand me, Macy, I respect that you, as a woman of color in the United States, have worked exceedingly hard to attain what you have. You can view this as an unlucky incident in which you were put on the spot for something you have absolutely nothing to do with; Or you can understand this to be an opportunity to learn about the world around you and to connect with other human beings. An opportunity to do the right thing in a certain moment in time.

Music as building bridges:

Cliches are often rooted in truth and this statement has truth in it. I’m a huge fan of World Music. I love gypsy music, South American music, Arabic music and other categories deemed exotic enough to get into this category of music. I love it because it’s beautiful and unfamiliar and it makes me want to see these places and meet these people and submerge in a culture that is richer than today’s capitalist, cosmopolitan culture- the one I grew up in. I also believe political music builds bridges, usually because it gives voice to the voiceless, so I can see their world for a slight second.

All this is well and good, but how does this apply in our case, Macy? We are not alone in this world, experiencing solely from within ourselves. Your unique music will be played for soldiers of one of the most highly armed states in the world, that when they are masquerading as individual civilians, they’re seemingly individual privilege to listen to music is simultaneously taking collective freedoms away from a population of a few millions. The night you are bridging to the Israeli population, another child will be kidnapped from their bed in Nabi Saleh, about a 45 minute drive away.

Unfortunately, music will not be an agent of change for Palestinians. Yours is but one performance in a plethora of performances that creates a feeling for Israelis and an image to the international community that everything is alright. It is all the white noise that whitewashes the crushing of lives. Believe it or not, if an artist of your caliber says “I won’t do business as usual with Israel until it checks itself”, it will have a tremendous effect on the realities here. Yours will be one small step for a woman and one giant leap for human kind… how about that?

People who visit the occupied territories often ask me how I can stay so positive, I always reply the same: Revolutions don’t happen over night, but with the consistent work of many people over a long period of time. Or in your own words:

With great faith in you,
Tali

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5 thoughts on “An Eyewitness’ Letter to Macy Gray”

  1. you are infantilizing the Palestinians I’m afraid. they are not the white sheep you portray them to be and the have a government, that should be responsible for them and their need, led by Abu Mazen.
    while not justifying the actions of the IDF in the occupied territories, even you must admit that since the Israel chose this course of action – there are no more suicide Bombings in Tel-Aviv, the place you chose to live in… so until you MOVE OUT of Tel-Aviv, then yes, it’s being done for you and in your name, and you have NO legitimacy to ask Macy not to come play for you and your alike who live in Tel Aviv.

  2. Btw, I really appreciate the effort that you took to type this, Tali. Your openness, kindness, and patience are admirable! The piece was informative…organized…and I enjoyed learning more about you in the process :)

  3. Tali, your activism for justice in Palestine is admirable. I also wrote Macy Gray but kept it short:

    If you appear in Tel Aviv as planned you are supporting the racist occupation, and continued persecution of Palestinians.

    I seriously doubt she would take the time to read your post but thanks for trying.

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