On Tuesday, I will be visiting Pittsburgh to perform my Pink Floyd hit “The Wall” at Consol Energy Center. By coincidence, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) has gathered this week in Pittsburgh.
One issue the Presbyterians will be debating is whether to take action in support of Palestinians living under Israeli occupation in the West Bank, under siege in Gaza and as second-class citizens in Israel under the rule of the apartheid government there.
I write in support of those Presbyterians who would like their church to divest its holdings in three U.S. companies — Motorola Solutions, Hewlett-Packard and Caterpillar. These companies profit directly from Israel’s illegal occupation of the West Bank and suppression of the Palestinian people in both the West Bank and Israel itself.
Divestment in these companies is supported by Jewish Voice for Peace, which has noted that “Caterpillar profits from the destruction of Palestinians’ homes,” that Motorola profits by providing safety equipment to “segregated communities on stolen land” and that Hewlett-Packard profits by providing “support and maintenance to a biometric ID system installed in Israeli checkpoints in the occupied West Bank which deprive Palestinians of the freedom of movement in their own land.”
When I wrote “The Wall” in 1979, I thought it was about me and the way I walled myself off from others because, for one reason or another, not the least of which was the loss of my father at Anzio in 1944, I saw myself as a victim. Thirty-three years later I have come to realize that “The Wall” has a broader message.
The theatrical wall I build each night serves as a metaphor for all the walls erected to separate us, human being from human being: walls between rich and poor, between opposing cultural, political or religious ideologies and particularly between the oppressor and the oppressed. The Israeli wall in the West Bank is a particularly graphic example. I make reference to that wall every night in my concert, but the injustices faced by Palestinians living under Israel’s brutal occupation and apartheid are not adequately addressed through theater and music alone. They warrant other forms of comment.
I applaud the Presbyterian initiative. In fact, I support the more wide-ranging BDS campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel and have called on my fellow musicians to follow suit, just as we did in opposition to apartheid South Africa.
In 2005, 26 years after I wrote “Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2,” Palestinian children protesting Israel’s apartheid wall sang, “We don’t need no occupation! We don’t need no racist wall!”
My original song was banned in apartheid South Africa because black South African children sang it to advocate for their right to equal education. In the West Bank, the children who protest the wall and sing my song face tear gas, rubber-coated bullets and even live ammunition.
I made my first trip to Israel and the West Bank in 2006. What I witnessed there shocked me to the core. The Israeli wall in the occupied West Bank is an appalling edifice, cutting farmers from farmland, family from family and children from schools and hospitals.
The standard Israeli response to criticism of the wall is that it is solely for defense. If that is the case, why was it not built on the Green Line (the internationally agreed demarcation after the Six-Day War of 1967)? Why does it snake through Palestinian land, as Israel grabs more and more land each year for illegal, segregated, Jews-only settlements?
No, this is not solely a defensive measure, this is a systematic colonization of conquered territory that contravenes the Fourth Geneva Convention and was declared illegal in an advisory but unequivocal judgment by the International Court of Justice at The Hague in 2004.
In light of the above and despite attempts to intimidate and vilify me by Israel lobby groups in the United States and elsewhere, I stand in solidarity not only with the Palestinian people but also with the many thousands of Israelis who, believing their government’s racist policies to be wrong, are increasingly making their voices heard. What courageous and beautiful voices they are.
The waters of this debate will inevitably be muddied, as they always are, by erroneous accusations of anti-Semitism leveled at those who favor selective divestment from companies complicit in Israel’s long record of human rights violations. I urge the Presbyterians assembled in Pittsburgh not to be intimidated, but to stand confident with the support of people of conscience everywhere, including tens of thousands of Jewish Americans who support divestment as an ethical obligation to end complicity in the occupation. I urge Presbyterians to adopt their selective divestment motion to make the price of collusion in human rights violations higher, and to send a message of hope to the Palestinian people under Israeli occupation and apartheid.
Good faith attempts to peacefully bring pressure on Israel to change its policies are no more anti-Semitic than similar actions against the South African apartheid regime were anti-Christian or anti-white.
In solidarity with Palestinian civil society and the nonviolent resistance movement in Israel itself, those of us involved in the struggle for Palestinian self-determination and freedom, including supporters of the BDS campaign against Israel until it fulfills its obligations under international law, will ignore the increasingly strident slanders of the Israel lobby and continue our nonviolent campaign. This is what solidarity and compassion look like. This is how we will win against injustice.
Roger Waters is a founding member of the British rock band Pink Floyd. Tomorrow, Rabbi James A. Gibson of Temple Sinai in Squirrel Hill argues that a decision by Presbyterians to divest in companies doing business in Israel would damage relations between Christians and Jews and set back conciliation efforts between Israelis and Palestinians.