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As a matter of fact it isn’t all dark: Roger Waters spotlights a peace village

Saturday 10 June 2006

(Revised June 18)

As work continues on the massive stage for Roger Waters’ upcoming concert in Israel, we discuss the meaning of the Neve Shalom - Wahat al-Salam venue.

What’s in a venue?

Every couple of years a celebrity sails through Neve Shalom - Wahat al-Salam (NSWAS), followed by a bevy of press photographers. This time it’s a little different, because the celebrity is bringing along 50,000 or more of his friends. Not all of them are happy about it - they would rather the concert take place on the familiar turf of Tel Aviv’s Hayarkon Park. But evidently they have decided Roger Waters performing Dark Side of the Moon is too large an event to miss.

So the question is how the occasion came to be, and what - other than the promise of a good time - the choice of venue means to the world. We already have on record the responses of the organizer, Shuki Weiss. Weiss is a concert promoter, whose success is based on providing rock stars with a venue that makes them happy. Roger Waters is not an average rock star, and doesn’t deserve an average venue. It should be special, and suit his ideological commitments like a glove. Since Roger Waters made his decision after careful study, we know he feels it does.

Although Shuki Weiss says that he – at the urging of David Broza – had spoken with Waters about the NSWAS venue for years, the fact is that the current concert was originally planned for Tel Aviv. The interview only briefly touched on the events surrounding Waters’ decision to move the concert from its planned location in Tel Aviv to NSWAS. This decision, at Waters’ personal initiative, came in response to an appeal by Palestinian organizations and information he received from NSWAS.

The appeal to boycott Israel

On March 7, 2006, after Waters had announced the inclusion of Tel Aviv in his summer 2006 tour, an open letter went out from “the Palestinian Arts Community” that appealed to Waters to cancel his performance: “We strongly urge you to cancel your plans to perform in Israel until the time comes when it ends its illegal occupation of Palestinian territory and respects the relevant precepts of international law concerning Palestinian rights to freedom, self-determination and equality.”

The letter argues, “Upon learning of your planned tour, Palestinian as well as several international artists asked in shock: How can the artist whose name around the world was for many years associated with breaking walls of injustice be in any way complicit with the monstrosity of Israel’s Wall, declared illegal by the International Court of Justice at the Hague?” The letter cites Waters’ participation in the campaign against the separation barrier and public statements condemning it and appeals to “his moral compass... and record of standing up for principles of human dignity and equality” to cancel the performance. The letter is signed by almost every Palestinian artistic and cultural institution, many in the Arab world, intellectuals, artists, clergymen and additional local and international NGOs.

With this appeal to his conscience and previous public record, Waters was faced with a dilemma. Initially he said, "I have a lot of fans in Israel, many of whom are refuseniks. I would not rule out going to Israel because I disapprove of the foreign policy any more than I would refuse to play in the UK because I disapprove of Tony Blair’s foreign policy.” (Guardian Unlimited article). Later, after moving the concert, he said, "The suffering caused by 40 years of occupation is incomprehensible to the Western world and I support the struggle for freedom. I moved the concert to Neve Shalom as a gesture of solidarity with the voices of reason — Israelis and Palestinians seeking a nonviolent path to a just peace between the peoples.”

The Palestinian organizations who had made the appeal now issued a public statement: “Roger Waters Refuses to be Another Brick in Israel’s Wall”. “By calling off the Tel Aviv gig, Roger Waters has reconfirmed his commitment to freedom, equality and peace based on justice. Indeed, Waters’s moral compass has proven to be not only live but pointing in the right direction as well.

"Reacting to the news, Palestinian civil society has warmly saluted Roger Waters for his courage and for his valuable contribution to bringing down all walls of oppression and subjugation, Israel’s Wall of shame included.”

The concert would still take place in Israel, but at a venue accepted by Israelis and Palestinians alike, and accompanied by slogans acceptable to anyone who supports a nonviolent transition from conflict and continued occupation to a just peace.

Happy ending. Still, as Waters himself had stated, moving the concert was only “a gesture” (if, an expensive one). In the hard political realities of today, artists cannot do more than exploit their celebrity and gift of expression to define and draw attention to issues that trouble them.

Communications with Neve Shalom / Wahat al-Salam

On March 12, NSWAS PR director Ahmad Hijazi received a phone call from Shuki Weiss, who informed him of the possibility of moving the concert planned for Tel Aviv to NSWAS. This was followed on the next day by a phone call from the organizers in Britain, who discussed the idea and inquired further information about NSWAS. It was promptly sent by e-mail, followed by an official letter of invitation from NSWAS Secretary Rayek Rizek.

When Waters announced his decision to move the concert, Rizek, a self-declared “Pink Floyd freak” was delighted. I asked him about the reasons for his enthusiasm.

“I have followed their music since 1973. I admired this group both for the quality of their music and the content of their songs. They aren’t just songs about love, like those of most other popular musicians. I realized early on that this group is dealing with bigger issues - social and political. I saw that these were artists with self respect.”

Initially some of the Israeli media laughed at Waters for moving the concert to "a little known" coexistence project that “has known more conflicts than peace". How do you react to that statement?

It’s partly envy and partly that the concept of NSWAS presents a problem for both Israelis and Palestinians. Maybe because they perceive peace as a situation where one side has to give in to the other. So whenever local reporters talk about the village, they pepper their statements with a little cynicism. They object that a place that calls itself “an oasis of peace” shouldn’t have so many internal conflicts. I’m always very open in saying we have conflicts just like any other small community. But since NSWAS is so unique, our conflicts attract more attention. Now I don’t think we should be some kind of monastery where everybody hugs one-other. NSWAS is an encounter with no pre-conditions. We may have good intentions, but nobody promises an easy ride. All around us, and here too, there is a situation of conflict. In dealing with this reality we have our successes and our failures. But even our failures do not make the community less legitimate. Peace is not so easy to achieve - you have to work very hard for it. I am convinced that we are doing the right thing in trying. At least we are doing more than all those people who are just sitting and waiting for somebody else to do it for them.”

Besides cynicism, Roger Waters’ decision also evoked some anger. Although we know now that actually very few people cancelled their tickets, how do you feel about this expression of anger?

I followed more than 500 responses to an article in YNET. Many of these were angry, and others were supportive. Some people were simply annoyed that the concert had been moved so far away from the city but, as I said in one of my comments, this is the centre of the country - it isn’t like the concert was moving to the ends of the earth.

I remember that one of the comments was, "We don’t need no education!" - meaning just drop the politics and play us the music...

Such people don’t realize that not just his statements, but also his songs, have a political message. And there are people who can’t tolerate the idea of NSWAS or what it represents.

What is the importance of the support given by artists and celebrities to a project like NSWAS?

“It has always been our intention to gain exposure. We invest a lot of effort publicizing the community because we want people to see what is happening here and learn about the community. We were very excited when Hillary Clinton, Richard Gere, Jane Fonda and others came, as this shows recognition for our work. Even though it is tiring to receive more and more guests, groups and journalists - it’s the price we have to pay for living here. We don’t want to close the door and say ’leave us alone’.

The concert is huge recognition and a fantastic opportunity to let more people know about us. What we are communicating here is an idea that brings hope. Most people are mature enough to realize that the important thing about the village is that it continues to exist and even flourish. In this, we are fulfilling the original vision of our founder, Bruno Hussar. Many groups working for peace become very discouraged and depressed in the course of their work. But they can draw inspiration from NSWAS because it is something concrete.

How do you view the approval of Palestinian associations and intellectuals for Waters’ decision?

Their approval of the location points to a certain evolution in the opinion of Palestinian intellectuals towards the community. We have always maintained connections with them and have touched many of them personally. As with the Israeli side, many say publicly that NSWAS is naive, or unrepresentative. But the fact that these same intellectuals accepted Roger Waters’ decision to move the concert here, after appealing to him not to come to Israel at all, points to some kind of recognition for the community, despite all their doubts about its value.

Does Roger Waters have a following among Palestinians?

Sure. Pink Floyd has a big following on the Arab side, in towns like Nazareth, and people are very excited about the concert. Usually, little promotion is done in Arab towns, but this time we have helped with the publicity, and hope that many people will come. The organizers agreed to give an Arab radio station broadcast rights for the concert, in exchange for publicity, just as with Israeli public radio.”

Besides helping with publicity for the concert, NSWAS has helped in negotiations with farmers who own the land, with infrastructure needs (such as finding or creating alternative routes to the concert area through nearby fields) and various other necessities. Much of this was managed by NSWAS building manager Ilan Frish. Thanks are also due to nearby kibbutzim Harel and Nachshon, and to the Mateh Yehuda Regional Council, headed by Meir Wiesel, who have all provided full and willing cooperation.

See also the media page for links to recent articles.

Portfolio

Dyana Rizek helped with the concert's Arabic poster. Rayek Rizek

titre documents joints


  • Rizek’s letter to Roger Waters (PDF - 52.4 kb)

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