A pretty face on an Apartheid regime: how Eurovision masks the Israeli massacre of Gazans

Europe will tune in to its annual celebration of pop schmaltz and camp muzak. Will the mawkishness of Eurovision hide host country Israel’s massacre of Gazans?

Roger Waters (right), the former Pink Floyd frontman, was one of the most vocal advocates for a cultural boycott of Israel, calling on the artists participating in 2019 Eurovision in Tel Aviv to boycott the event over Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.
Roger Waters (right), the former Pink Floyd frontman, was one of the most vocal advocates for a cultural boycott of Israel, calling on the artists participating in 2019 Eurovision in Tel Aviv to boycott the event over Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.

“Unfortunately, Israel is blatantly using this European event to present itself as if possessing another pretty face, and to distract the attention from its war crimes against Palestinians,” says Walid Nabhan, the Maltese writer of Palestinian origin.

Nabhan, winner of the European Union Prize for Literature (EUPL) in 2017 for his novel L-Eżodu taċ-Ċikonji, does not mince his words in decrying the Eurovision Song Contest as a public relations exercise for a regime which continues to deny Palestinians their right to self-determination.

Nabhan, who recently translated Dun Karm Psaila’s masterpiece ‘Il-Jien U Lilhinn Minnu’ and a selection of his other poems in Arabic, was speaking of the latest massacre in Gaza, when Palestinians were killed and 51 injured by Israeli forces during the weekly Friday protests in the Gaza strip.

In 2018, Israeli security forces killed 290 Palestinians, including 55 minors. Of the casualties, 254 were killed in the Gaza Strip, 34 in the West Bank and two within Israel. Since late March 2018, Palestinians in Gaza have been holding the March of Return protests along the fence with Israel.

During these protests, Israeli forces use extensive live fire against demonstrators. As a result of this open-fire policy, 190 demonstrators have been killed – 65% of all Palestinians killed by Israeli forces this year. These include a woman and 34 minors, three of whom were 11-years-old and one four-year-old. Most of them were unarmed and posed no danger to anyone.

In the same timeframe Palestinians killed seven Israeli civilians in the West Bank, and seven members of Israel’s security forces – five in the West Bank, one on operative duty in Gaza, and one on the Israeli side of the fence with Gaza.

Amid the apartheid and massacre of Israel’s occupation of Gaza, Israel will once again be hosting the Eurovision Song Contest, after it took last year’s honours with pop powerhouse Netta Barzilai.

Walid Nabhan
Walid Nabhan

“Definitely Palestinians feel disappointed to see countries from the civilised world and from the neighbourhood beautifying an Apartheid state which thrives on racism and exclusivity,” Nabhan told MaltaToday when asked on his reaction to the hype surrounding this event.

The Eurovision Song Contest coincides with the re-election of a far-right Israeli government and attempts to impose a new order in the Middle East by US President Donald Trump. After recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the new Kushner-Trump plan envisions a dismembered Palestinian state with the full Israeli annexation of the settlement blocs in the West Bank, which would be stretched out to reach other isolated settlements.

“This involves wiping out Palestine completely from all geography and history books.... for Palestinians, history seems to be moving in the opposite direction,” Nabhan says.

“In this way the Palestinians continue being robbed of their land, memory and identity. There is no precedent in human history to the case of a foreign minority destroying the fabric of the indigenous majority, occupying their land and expelling them out of their homes.”

Top of the pops: Malta’s Eurovision hopeful Michela Pace
Top of the pops: Malta’s Eurovision hopeful Michela Pace

Nablan does not enter the merits on whether Malta should have boycotted the Eurovision, but says he is disappointed by the general hypocrisy of the European Union at a time when Palestine commemorates the 70th anniversary of the Nakba – the “catastrophe” of 1948 – when over 700,000 Palestinian Arabs fled or were expelled from their homes after the war of that same year between Arabs and Israelis. “Unfortunately, since Malta joined Europe in 2004, it became part of this hypocritical block,” Nabhan muses.

Yet it was not always like this. Former Prime Minister Dom Mintoff and former President Guido de Marco were foremost supporters of the Palestinian cause. Thousands of Maltese attended national protests supporting Palestinian rights in 2002, during which political leaders Alfred Sant and Eddie Fenech Adami wore the Palestinian keffiyeh as a sign of solidarity.

Yet such vocal solidarity has been absent in more recent times, save for a strong declaration by George Vella before being chosen for the Presidency.

Speaking last year on the 70th anniversary of the Nakba, Vella dubbed the continued occupation of Palestine by Israel as a case of “ethnic suppression… if not ethnic cleansing.”

It is hard to expect anybody raising an eyebrow on Malta’s participation in the Eurovision in Israel, as the musical spectacular is an annual event of note for Maltese audiences.

An exception comes from Iceland, where the techno/punk and anti-capitalist band Hatari – which will be participating in the ESC – has used this opportunity to condemn Israeli policies. After visiting the Palestinian city of Hebron, frontman Mattias Haraldsson denounced the Israeli regime. “Apartheid was so clear in Hebron,” he said, challenging Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to a “friendly match of traditional Icelandic trouser grip wrestling”.

Israeli pop singer Netta, who clinched the ESC trophy last year
Israeli pop singer Netta, who clinched the ESC trophy last year

“We still believe that we can bring this critical conversation or make awareness of the situation here with our message and with our agenda-setting powers and hopefully we will make awareness to the world through Eurovision,” Haraldsson said.

“The group is very conflicted about being here, in this contest. But I feel as participants we have the power to address the absurdity really of having a contest like this, which is a beautiful thing – and it’s founded in the spirit of unity and peace – but hosting it in a country that’s scarred by conflict and disunity.”

Still, since any explicit political statements on stage are forbidden by the European Broadcasting Union, it is doubtful whether Hatari will be able to take their protest to the stage.

Icelandic techno-punk act Hatari
Icelandic techno-punk act Hatari

Roger Waters, the former Pink Floyd frontman, was one of the most vocal advocates for a cultural boycott of Israel, calling on the artists participating in 2019 Eurovision in Tel Aviv to boycott the event over Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.

In an open letter addressed to the 41 finalists of the prestigious song competition, published on his Instagram account, the 75-year-old Roger Waters wrote that Israel was an Apartheid regime, responsible for ethnic cleansing of Palestinian communities.

Palestinian artists also called on ESC contestants to boycott the international music competition. The Gaza Strip-based Palestinian Artists Association said on Wednesday that Israel is using the event to “perpetuate oppression, promote injustice or whitewash a brutal apartheid regime”, holding a sit-in outside the EU’s Gaza office.

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