Note to Artists: Say No to The Israeli Visa ~ by @LinahAlSaafin

A masked Palestinian youth covers his face during clashes with Israeli security forces in the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Issawiya on 14 February 2012 (Photo: AFP - Ahmad Gharabli)

A masked Palestinian youth covers his face during clashes with Israeli security forces in the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Issawiya on 14 February 2012 (Photo: AFP – Ahmad Gharabli)

By: Linah Alsaafin | Al Akhbar English | Sunday, January 6, 2013

On 7 December 2012, a six-member Jordanian band, Autostrad, played a concert for a mostly Palestinian audience in Nazareth.

Autostrad’s Facebook page defines the band as a “Jordanian world latin-reggae-funk-rock band,” with previous gigs in the West Bank cities of Bethlehem and Ramallah. Yet their performance in Nazareth caused an uproar, as many Palestinians denounced it as an act of normalization with Israel by virtue of the band obtaining Israeli visas.

In her excellent article on Qadita, “The ends do not justify the means,” former Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC) coordinator Hind Awwad wrote that the difference between performing in Israel or the West Bank lies in the type of entry credentials given to Arab artists.

Quite simply, an Israeli permit is issued to Arabs who wish to enter the West Bank, whereas an Israeli visa is awarded to those who are going “beyond” the 1967 borders.

“The most important and essential difference between an Israeli permit and an Israeli visa,” wrote Awwad, “is that the former is issued by the Israeli authorities as an occupying state that controls the Palestinian territories, whereas the latter is granted by Israeli embassies in Arab countries on the premise of giving visas to those who wish to visit Israel’s ‘lands,’ thereby indicating that Israel is a legitimate and normal state just like other countries.”

Rania Elias, from the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic & Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI), further elaborated.

“[The Israeli visa] normalizes the presence of Israel’s embassies and consulates in Egypt, Jordan, or any Arab country and promotes ‘business as usual’ with them, whereas the former is based on treating Israel as an occupying power, not a normal state,” she said.

In the event that Palestinian organizers extend an invitation to Arab academics, artists, or cultural figures, PACBI maintains that the Palestinian organizers behind such invitations should commit to the principles and standards of the academic and cultural boycott. This means that entry for an Arab passport holder to occupied Palestine should be secured via a permit from the occupation authorities as opposed to an Israeli visa.

Autostrad clearly violated the demands of over 170 Palestinian civil society organizations in their boycott of Israel, as well as the Popular Jordanian Movement for the Boycott of the Zionist Entity, which privately appealed to the band not to obtain Israeli visas.

On their part, the Palestinian organizers of the Nazareth concert and Autostrad responded with a joint statement titled “Getting past my jailers does not make him a human.”

The statement said that the concert had been already postponed once due to Israel’s military offensive on the Gaza Strip in November 2012, and that they aimed for the happiness of the Palestinian people who have suffered.

“We are completely aware that the only way to respond to the invitation of our brothers and sisters living in the enemy state is through acquiring a visa from the Zionist occupying embassy, which reaffirms our stance of not recognizing it nor its policies toward our honorable Palestinian people,” read the statement.

Osama Atwa, an activist from Tulkarem, doesn’t buy Autostrad’s justification for violating the boycott. “Obtaining an Israeli visa is a blatant acceptance of the enemy as a legitimate entity,” she said.

Obtaining an Israeli visa is a blatant acceptance of the enemy as a legitimate entity.“Is it possible that Autostrad did not notice the occupation soldiers, the flag, and the settlers? Did they not notice the Judaized names of Palestinian towns and cities? Did they not realize on their way to Nazareth that millions of refugees are waiting to return to their homes and are banned by the same authorities that granted the band permission to enter the country?”

Palestinians who attended Autostrad’s concert in Nazareth pointed to their right to enjoy Autostrad as much as concertgoers in Ramallah do, and that an Arab band playing in Israel’s biggest Palestinian city consolidated cultural ties.

“Were we to accept this act as a way to build bridges with Palestinians in the 48 territory,” Elias remarked, “we would be accepting the Jordanian and Egyptian peace treaties with Israel and all the conditions imposed on those Arab countries. We would also be sending a message that the way to connect with Palestinians in 48 is to make diplomatic peace with Israel, and to normalize state relations so that we can visit each other with an Israeli stamp of approval.”

“Simply put, we are sick of this excuse,” added Atwa. “If the way to communicate and establish links with Palestinians by Arabs is through recognizing the Zionist entity, then I say that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

Zeina Abu Innab from the Popular Jordanian Boycott movement asserted that the movement is determined not to isolate Palestinians either from the 48 or 67 borders.

“We are very much aware that it is imperative for the boycott movement to come up with alternatives [so that it does not] seem like we’re boycotting Palestinians living in the 48 territories,” she said.

In August 2012, PACBI published a draft for boycott regulations specifically designed for Palestinians in the 48 territories. The draft was a result of years of meetings and discussions with social activists, students, academics, artists, and cultural figures.

The campaign recognized that its original statement on boycotting Israel is impossible and inapplicable to Palestinians in 48, and devised three major points that differentiate between what is defined as normalization and the rights of these Palestinians.

Zeina Abu Innab stressed that communication between the Popular Jordanian Boycott movement and the Palestinian activists in 48 is vital.

“One example is when we found out that there was an organized trip from 48 Palestine to Jordan in the summer for the Mashrou’ Leila concert in Amman,” she said. “When we found out that some of those attending the trip were non-Arab holders of the Israeli passport, we asked the organizers not to include them since they are unwelcome in Jordan. We left the issue of boycotting the Palestinian organizers, therefore the trip itself, to the Palestinian activists in 48.”

For New Year’s Eve, Autostrad performed in Ramallah. Unlike previous performances in Ramallah, a boycott was issued for the event by PACBI.

“We are not calling for people not to attend their concerts in Jordan or to stop purchasing their music,” Elias said. “Rather, we are calling for a boycott of their concert in Ramallah at this time after they decided not to heed calls to cancel their visit to Nazareth with an Israeli-issued visa.”

Tickets to their New Year Eve’s gig were placed at a whopping 180 shekels, about $50, suggesting that their performance is tailored to an elite minority, as opposed to “bringing happiness to a people who have suffered so much.” Boycotting concerts by Autostrad is a minor sacrifice in the grand scheme of events, which include self-determination and liberation from an occupying apartheid regime.

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