Thoughts about the situation in Palestine, beyond music

Michele, an Italian musician who has taught and coordinated music projects in Palestine since 2004, has accepted to share with us his thoughts about the situation in Palestine, beyond music

Dear friends,

My messages  are usually related to Palestinian music activities, but today, considering the current atrocities in Palestine, I hope you will allow me to share some thoughts of a different nature, because I am convinced that we must not remain silent, that we must speak out, now more than ever, and demand that a different reality emerge from the horrors that we are witnessing, a  reality where discrimination and privileges are abolished once and for all, where the principles of freedom and equality apply to all.

I have been living in Palestine for almost twenty years now, as a musician, carrying out actions on the ground that lead me to be in constant contact with the country’s people and realities, always attentive, always curious and responsive to what happens around me, whether in the territories occupied by Israel in 1967 or in the part of Palestine where the State of Israel was created in 1948.

From here, the perspective on the situation of the last few months, as well as on the general Palestinian context, is probably very different from that which one can have from Western countries. When one sees – when  one lives – on a daily basis the injustice, oppression, humiliation, racism and violence by those who control every aspect of Palestinian life since decades, one quickly understands that we are not in the context of a “conflict” between equal parties, but rather in one of total domination, by a very powerful colonial state,  of a defenseless native population.

When one is here, that becomes immediately obvious and surprisingly simple.

From here, it is difficult to understand how atrocities such as those perpetrated by the State of Israel at this time can last so long, under the eyes of the whole world, with the endorsement and help of countries that call themselves “civilized.” It is also difficult to accept any argument that attempts to justify the atrocities by instrumentally evoking Europe’s grave historical responsibilities towards its Jewish communities.

It is particularly shocking that 80 years after the Nazi Holocaust, Germany, of all countries, can be allowed to support explicitly genocidal statements and actions, and to suppress any expression of non-violent opposition to them.

The impression from here is that Europe is probably blinded by guilt over centuries of anti-Semitism and that it has ended up replacing one form of racism with another, moving from the demonization of Jewish people to their idealization, perhaps because of an inability to consider that in reality they are normal people, just like others. 

But I also wonder whether a few decades can really be enough for Europe to overcome centuries of racism and colonial spirit. Perhaps this is why many European countries continue to support Zionist Settler Colonialism in Palestine, and why, alongside anti-Semitism, other alarming forms of racism are increasingly present in many European countries.

Living here, one can see that in Palestinian society there is nothing reminiscent of the anti-Semitism of the Western world. Palestinians, and their advocates, do not denounce what Israel does because it is a self-proclaimed “Jewish” State, but because it is a State that was built in Palestine in 1948, through a meticulous and brutal process of ethnic cleansing that saw the expulsion of 80% of the Palestinian population, and because that State occupied the rest of Palestine in 1967 and has been pursuing a relentless policy of oppression, colonization and ethnic cleansing ever since. The forcible transfers and massacres in Gaza since 7 October, as well as the actions of the Israeli army and settlers in the West Bank, are only a logical continuation of the process of ethnic cleansing on which the Zionist project in Palestine is based.

I am often asked what the solution to the situation in Palestine might be. Personally, I abandoned long ago the idea of thinking in terms of “solutions” (although my hope is that one day we can reach a point where separation and inequalities disappear, rather than a consolidation of the current separation between people). I have come to the conviction that it is vital to act, and to react, according to the present, to the very clear situation on the ground at any given time. My approach is to look at, and analyze, a “screenshot” of the situation, to think in terms of human rights and international law to denounce and confront any abuse.

We are familiar with the events from October 7 onwards, so I will take as an example a screenshot of any day before that date, at “normal” times:

  • Israel has full control over Palestinian land, resources and borders. The Palestinians do not control any of Israel’s land, resources or borders.
  • It follows that the Palestinian economy is entirely in the hands of Israel (full Israeli control over Palestinian imports and exports). No reciprocity.
  • It also follows that it is Israel that decides whether someone can go and live in the occupied territories (East Jerusalem, West Bank, Golan Heights, Gaza) or work for Palestinian institutions. Permits and visas are almost impossible to obtain, so it is virtually impossible for these institutions to employ foreigners, for example. I have seen first-hand the devastating effect this has on Palestinian music education institutions.
  • Israel has a state armed with tanks, fighter jets, helicopters, warships, a nuclear arsenal and one of the best-equipped armies in the world. With the Oslo Accords, a Palestinian Authority was created. It is a government under military occupation, comparable to that of Vichy, which has security forces that are only responsible for maintaining order in the main Palestinian towns of the West Bank.
  • Palestinian towns in the West Bank are completely encircled by the Israeli army, effectively making them “reservations” of Palestinians (since October 8, the army has also closed most of the entrances to these cities and controls the few crossings as it pleases).
  • Any existing restrictions on the movement of people are imposed by Israel, not by the Palestinians: no travel to Jerusalem or to Israeli territory for Palestinians from the occupied territories without special permits from the Israeli military administration; prohibition for (Jewish) Israeli citizens to enter Palestinian towns in the West Bank, on the grounds that it is “against Israeli military laws and dangerous to your life”, as mentioned on Jurassic-Park-style red signs.
  • The Israeli army carries out daily raids in Palestinian towns and refugee camps, leading to the arrest or murder of Palestinians (more than 250 Palestinians killed in the West Bank in 2023 before October 7, another 380 since). Palestinian security forces are required (by the Oslo Accords) to withdraw during any incursion by the Israeli army.
  • Israel pursues a systematic policy of collective punishment against Palestinians, such as the demolition of family homes of those whom Israel accuses of crimes, or the arrest of family members of wanted persons, or restrictions arbitrarily and regularly imposed by the occupying army on the movements of Palestinians. No reciprocity whatsoever in the actions of the Palestinian Authority.
  • Israel holds about 9,000 Palestinian political prisoners in its military prisons (more than 5,000 as of October 6, and 4,000 more since), including hundreds of children, many of whom are under administrative detention, often submitted to torture. No Israelis are held in Palestinian Authority prisons.
  • Israel took the population of the Gaza Strip hostage more than 16 years ago, actually enclosing more than two million Palestinians, imposing a total blockade of the territory and regularly bombing it without allowing residents to escape (this was the case in 2008, 2012, 2014, 2021 and, on an unprecedented scale, since October 7 2023). Until October 7, there were no Israeli hostages in Palestinian captivity.
  • Israel has been in constant violation of international humanitarian and human rights law as well as numerous UN resolutions (since 1948). This is not the case of the Palestinian Authority.
  • Israel has put in place, and continues to develop, a system of discriminatory laws and policies in favor of its Jewish population, both in Israel and in the occupied territories (civil law for Jewish settlers, military law for Palestinians). There is no equivalent on the Palestinian side.
  • In the territory that the State of Israel has controlled for more than 56 years (Israel, East Jerusalem, the West Bank, the Golan Heights and Gaza), only half of the population (Israeli citizens) has the right to vote in Israeli elections (that determine the fate of all of the State’s subjects).

In recent years, this reality has been increasingly recognized and denounced as a form of “Apartheid”, in accordance with the definition of this term in International Law.

Despite this very clear framework, many countries see Israel as a friend, as an ally, as a “democratic” state. They insist on speaking in terms of “peace” rather than acting in defense of people who are oppressed, victims of state racism and of state terror.

I would also like to give you two very simple examples of how even European states discriminate between subjects of the State of Israel, depending on whether they are Israeli citizens or not:

  1. Palestinians living in the occupied territories must apply for a visa if they want to travel to Europe (these visas are expensive and often difficult to obtain). Israeli citizens, including those living in settlements (the “neighbors” of Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem) do not need a visa for Europe. The many tours in Europe that I have organized for Palestinian musical ensembles have been much more expensive, and more difficult to organize, than if those ensembles had been Israeli.
  2. European countries allow Israel to discriminate between citizens of their own countries, depending on whether they marry an Israeli or a Palestinian. In the second case, it is extremely complicated for the European citizen to obtain a visa from the Israeli authorities to move in with his or her spouse. For the spouses of Israelis, it’s automatic.

At this time of horrors, since October 7, we also see other vivid examples of how many Western countries discriminate between the two “sides”: one has the right to commit war crimes, to terrorize the population of the other side, and is allowed to invoke a context to do so.

The typology and magnitude of the atrocities taking place are appalling, as is the attitude of much of the West. I am referring to the colossal political, diplomatic and military support that these countries provide directly to Israel, but also to their internal policies that target any dissent under the false cover of the fight against anti-Semitism, according to an obscene and dangerous equation between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism aimed at erasing any trace of the injustice and trauma suffered by generations of Palestinians during 75 years of relentless Israeli colonization, occupation and dispossession.

Israeli leaders accuse Hamas of being the “new Nazis” because most of the victims of October 7 were Jewish.

Thinking in terms of the nature of the victims, without analyzing the context, is a very dangerous approach.

Shouldn’t we focus instead on the similarities between the policies of powers that racially target millions of people? By this I mean the disturbing analogies between supremacist ideologies in power (in Germany then as in Israel today) supported by the majority of the population, state violence and state terrorism, the dehumanization of victims, the portrayal of victims as an “existential threat”, the abominable policies and explicitly genocidal rhetoric of governments and senior military officials,  expansionist tendencies, population transfers and calls for ethnic cleansing, the confinement of millions of people in concentration camps (in relation to Gaza, this term has been used extensively in recent years, including by Israeli historians, sociologists and journalists).

But the most pressing question is this: in view of what is happening right now in Gaza and the West Bank, in view of the statements by Israeli leaders explicitly and repeatedly calling for ethnic cleansing, can anyone seriously believe that the Israeli government’s real goal is the eradication of Hamas?

I think it is essential that alarm bells ring immediately for all people who have a conscience. Denouncing this situation is an absolute and urgent necessity. We must act and intervene, to stop the crimes, to ensure respect for international law and humanitarian law beyond this period of “war”. Above all, we must not dwell on interminable (and dishonest) negotiations, as has been the case for 30 years now. Even if it does not impose a solution, the “international community” can at least demand respect for international law.

International tribunals, or ad hoc tribunals, will have to do their part, of course, by judging the responsibilities of all parties involved, including those of the leaders of countries that supported – or armed – war criminals, or that were complicit in collective punishment and genocide by undermining the humanitarian actions of UN agencies.

We already see encouraging signs, from the International Court of Justice as well as from the millions of people around the world who increasingly understand the situation and are mobilizing to show their indignation and solidarity, millions of people who refuse to accept violence as a solution and racism as a way of thinking.

Once the principles of freedom and equality are established here, a process of reconciliation will be possible, as in Europe after the Second World War or in South Africa at the end of apartheid. My experience on the ground leads me to believe that this process will be much smoother than what one might think from the outside.

With very best wishes,