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Jello Biafra and the Guantanamo School of Medicine are not going through with the July 2 date in Tel Aviv. This does not mean I or anyone else in the band are endorsing or joining lockstep with the boycott of all things Israel. I am going to Israel and Palestine to check things out myself and may yet conclude that playing for people in the belly of the beast was the right thing to do in the first place.
The toll and stress on the band members and myself has been huge, both logistically and as a matter of conscience. I can't drag anyone any further into rough waters without being better prepared than some of us thought we were. A responsible leader does not go, 'Hey, check out the storm at the top of Mount Everest. Let's go up anyway just in case we don't die.' Some members are angry with me for this decision, let alone how long it took me. I don't blame them.
It would have been so easy to quietly pass on the gig out of fear someone might get upset, and no one would have been the wiser. We could have flown under the radar, left the date off our tour postings and not bothered with a statement, but how honest is that?
Our intention in going was that we thought we could do some good , speaking truth to power, fans and impressionable young minds in a way that most bands don't. What about the people on the same side of the human rights fence we are who now don't get to see us play? Should the be boycotted too? What about the even larger atrocities of the Bush regime and by extension Obama? Should we turn off our mouths of anger and boycott our own country too? We tried again and came close to landing a Ramallah show, but again, we needed to be better prepared. How fair is it to the organizers to demand a full-on rock show on a few days' notice with a type of music they may not be familiar with? More importantly, how much are we really doing for Palestinian rights if people there don't seem interested in our kind of music at all?
I've been doing this long enough to know better than buy into hardline absolutes such as playing in Israel automatically supports apartheid or Israel's government. That threat is ridiculous. I know far more about this issue than some people think I do, and I am not a poodle for Hasbara, Peace Now, BDS or anyone else. The first people contacting us went out of their way to be diplomatic and communicate how they felt. Then our Facebook page went from eye-opening and educational to a childish bickerfest between a handful of people, to the point where we had to try something else just to reclaim our own Facebook page.
As the gloves came off, unfortunately so did some of the masks. Calling anyone speaking up for Palestinian rights a 'terrorist' is dumb. So are the blanket condemnations of everyone who happens to be Israeli that seem to be coming from the 'drive all the Jews into the sea' crowd. I also even got an invitation from a self-proclaimed fan to 'come meet the Israeli right' and see the settlements through their eyes, complete with a wine-tasting party. Whew! Whoever started punksagainstapartheid.com now admits it was aimed solely at one person - me. It is obvious that not everyone signing the petition has any idea who I am, or knows anything about punk, possibly the majority. The last time I looked I could only find three names of people I actually knew. Some made it clear that I will be on their bad list no matter what I do because I dared to even think of playing in Israel.
I can't back anyone whose real goal or fantasy is a country ethnically cleansed of Jews or anyone else. Where people who think for themselves or talk to the wrong person are automatically a sell out. Speaking personally, I currently favor two democratic states in the admittedly naive hope that in our lifetime they can somehow evolve into one. Where race or religion does not matter because people have learned to work with each other.
I think back to last year when JBGSM played in Serbia. The locals we spent time with were not monsters, and filled me in on how they risked their necks for years opposing and demonstrating against Milosevic and were not down with ethnic cleansing at all. But they weren't too happy about being bombed by NATO for over 2 months straight either, and showed the ruined buildings to prove it.
I also heard comments like, 'The Croats killed my grandfather in World War II. I can't forget that...' and 'There's another war coming soon. I can feel it.' The most I could do from the stage is say that I do not know what I would do if the Croats or Serbs killed my grandfather, or a suicide bomber or occupying army killed my child. But I would hope I would be one of those people who could somehow say, 'Can't we have some peace?' The audience seemed to appreciate that.
The next day I laid out my thoughts and emotions to the person giving me a ride in Slovenia. She turned ice cold and said, 'Maybe next time you should play in Bosnia.' Good point. The nightmare continues.
Rise Above, Jello Biafra
Thanks a lot for caring enough to weigh in with all your comments and suggestions. I can't deny I'm glad this has stirred up so much debate. People unaware of the Palestinian side(s) of the story can now use all these links to learn a lot more.
Some have suggested I go to Israel alone for a personal fact-finding mission before bringing the band. Good idea, but I don't have the money and free time some people may think I do. The way I get overseas is to play my way there, so to speak.
We tried for a gig in Ramallah, but no luck. No, I wouldn't have played Sun City back in South Africa's apartheid days. But an underground punk show for an anti-apartheid audience might have been tempting, especially for them. (some RSA punks did ask).
I don't see how the Netanyahu government could manipulate this event for their own purposes. What right wing regime in their right mind would want to namedrop me? I am not exactly known for keep my mouth shut onstage, especially about human rights violations. There is no government sponsorship of this show.
Please understand that we are still torn up about this, in no small part because we are probably 95 - 99% in agreement on this issue with the people writing in. I have been part of Peace Now for years and have contributed to at least one Palestinian medical aid organization.
The main reason I wanted to do this in the first place is not just to see first hand what is going on, but for our likely audience of people already there who are as outraged over the extreme oppression as we are.
I think of all the spoken word shows I have done in the American Deep South, especially smaller towns, where it seemed like every radical and progressive person from a wide area showed up, and let me know how thankful they were I even bothered to come. That they looked around the room and felt they weren't alone. Or that not every American is down with either of our governments' non-stop human rights violations, and that it is important to have allies and friends.
This year musician/activist/raconteur Jello Biafra will appear on a number of panels on a variety of issues.
Monday April 4 - Sex: Good For You Is Good For Me • 1:00pm
All events are FREE and open to the public.
The website for the conference: www.colorado.edu/cwa/