The Bono effect hasn’t rubbed off on the Palestinian cause. There are no Live Aid for Palestine concerts, no USA for the Occupied Territories parties. Sting, 50 Cent and even the supposedly socially conscious Fugees play proudly in Tel Aviv, ignoring pleas to cancel.
It’s an interesting one: people outside the Middle East seem almost afraid to voice their views on the Israeli occupation because they don’t want to offend Jews or Muslims, yet they’re mostly unaware of the significant Christian Palestinian population. Anti-occupation protests almost all consist of Muslims cloaked in black shouting religious mantras. Pro-Israel meetings tend to be exclusively Jewish. Many South Africans believe that Palestine is a religious issue, and therefore a land that will never see peace.
The Amandla Intifada concerts are the brainchild of the Palestine Solidarity Committee (PSC). They will be taking place over the next two weekends, aiming to dispel this myth. “It’s a cop-out to say that Palestine is a religious issue,” says Savera Kalideen, a member of the PSC. “It’s about land and human rights and colonial takeover.”
The concerts feature an eclectic line-up of musicians and poets from the suburbs and townships of Johannesburg.
The bill includes The Mavrix, a band that started in Lenasia in the Eighties, with a vocalist and guitarist, singing about racism and oppression during apartheid. They have now evolved into a larger outfit, including a violin, African percussion, santoor and tablas, with musicians trained in Indian and Western classical music, and have expanded their political activist content to include war, poverty and the environment.
Another highlight is the Gordon Jackson Project, led by veteran jazz musician Gordon Jackson, who has collaborated with Ladysmith Black Mambazo and George Lee. The band includes saxophone, flute, drums, djembe, tablas and bass guitar.
There will also be a short performance by the satirical Deep Fried Man, known offstage as Daniel Friedman, and his guitar. As a young Jewish South African, Friedman has his own ideas about the impact of the concerts. “My hope is that they will negate the perception that if you’re Jewish, you’re a Zionist,” he says.
But are younger people in the Jewish community moving away from the idea that Judaism and Zionism have to be synonymous? “More than you think,” says Friedman. “But it’s a very gated community,” he adds, “with a conservative older guard who ensure that there is no space to express ideas.”
Fellow performer Allan Kolski Horwitz agrees. Horwitz is a poet and veteran anti-Israeli occupation activist, best known for his work with the Botsotso Jesters. Formerly a pro-Zionist tank driver in the Israeli Defence Force in the mid-1970s, Horwitz changed his stance after he witnessed the effects of conflict. “The experience of dealing with the Palestinian population was an eye-opener about the occupation,” he says. “The notion that Israel has put out about a velvet occupation is nonsense. But people buy into the idea that criticising Israel is buying into anti-Semitism.”
The concerts aim to promote boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel, in solidarity with a campaign started by 200 Palestinian civil society organisations under the banner of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel. “We are calling for this boycott in the context of the countless United Nations resolutions calling for Israel to stop its oppression,” says Kalideen of the PSC, “and because governments around the world have not come through for Palestine.”
With these concerts, the PSC hopes to mobilise enough South Africans to pressure the government into taking proactive measures such as sanctions, stopping South Africans from joining the Israeli Defence Force and forbidding the interrogation at local airports of South Africans en route to Israel by Israeli officials.
The first Amandla Intifada concert is on May 9 in Lenasia. While the choice of venue might indicate that the organisers intend preaching to the converted, Kalideen says that this concert is the first in a series of about 20 gigs around the country, all of which will take place in small communities. The second concert, on May 16, will be held at House of Nsako in Brixton and will probably attract a more multicultural crowd.
Music is integral to the Palestinian struggle and has been used as a means of non-violent resistance for decades. Musicians such as DMA and Ramallah Underground have created a Palestinian hip-hop, using lyrics to spur on activism.
It is accepted that the arts can play a role in aiding the underdogs in conflict situations. Now the PSC is hoping locals might catch on. Ultimately, if the cause becomes trendy enough it may get a peace sign from Bob Geldof.
Amandla Intifada takes place at Gandhi Hall, Lenasia, at 7.30pm on May 9 (R50) and at House of Nsako in Brixton on May 16 at 6.30pm (R60). Bands include The Gordon Jackson Project, What if…?, Sikki and Robert and Men from the Past. For more info call: 084 469 3735