Elvis, you’re singing for the rejectionists

Your silence in Israel certainly won't help moderate Palestinians.

elvis costello 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
elvis costello 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
I’m so disappointed in you, Elvis Costello, for confusing cause and effect. I’m so disappointed in you for assuming that, if the Palestinians are suffering, which they are in Gaza, it is the fault of the Israelis, which it overwhelmingly is not. I’m so surprised that, though you say you’ve agonized, you have evidently learned so little before drawing your erroneous and damaging conclusions. In the words of a song you wrote way back in 1983, you have become “a silent partner in someone else’s mistake.”
You purport to be worried that, had you gone ahead with the concerts you had initially chosen to play here next month, others might have “assumed that one has no mind for the suffering of the innocent.” You pulled out in ostensible protest at “conditions that visit intimidation, humiliation or much worse on Palestinian civilians in the name of national security.”
We, especially those of us who have followed your endlessly explorative musical career down the decades, had thought you were a wiser, more rigorous thinker than those comments suggest. We had imagined, when you scheduled your concerts, that you were not naïve or superficial, uncurious or weak-willed.
We had assumed – especially when you told The Jerusalem Post just two weeks ago that “dialogue is essential,” and criticized those who call for boycotts – that you had done more than read and watched distorted accounts of our reality in the more deplorable organs of the British media.
Do you really think we have no mind for the suffering of the innocent? Are you truly persuaded that our national security concerns are spurious? How irresponsible of you to duck the first-hand opportunity to have the record set straight. Our loss; yours too.
WE HERE, in Israel, as you ought to know, have been battered and bloodied through more than 62 years of relentless Arab attempts at our elimination. We here, in Israel, have been subjected to a series of conventional wars, then years of ruthless terrorism and most recently to missile warfare against our civilians. We here, in Israel, are now facing the threat of destruction by a nuclear Iran. We here, in Israel, are forced uniquely among the nations to defend our very sovereign legitimacy.
Yet we here, in Israel, nonetheless care profoundly about the suffering of the innocent – on both sides of this eminently solvable conflict. We try to protect our people from the ruthlessness of our enemies. And we try, at unprecedented lengths that should shame other, less moral nations, to protect the people on the other side too. In Gaza, it is worth adding, these are people who chose to elect, as their government, an organization that openly seeks Israel’s destruction. It is an organization that sends men and women to their deaths as suicide bombers, that killed hundreds of its own people when seizing power three years ago, that deliberately places its population in harm’s way when waging war against us, and that glories in a despicable “kill and be killed” interpretation of Islam in which all non-believers must die and all believers can do nothing more godly than murder them.
We hope and we pray and we press for normal relations with a Palestinian leadership that cannot bear to publicly acknowledge our historic right to live alongside them. This leadership denies and ridicules our millennia of heritage here, and, even today, incites and indoctrinates its youngest children against us.
We wrenched every last Jew out of the Gaza Strip five years ago, dismantling three generations of a settlement enterprise that had made some of the planet’s most unpromising territory bloom. We did so in the faint, desperate hope that this might give us a respite from missile attack, that it might provide the Palestinians with the opportunity to begin building a peaceful, democratic state alongside us, and that it might help convince the world of our readiness to pay almost any price short of national suicide for the prize of peace. The hope proved empty.
In a series of diplomatic ventures in the two decades since the Palestinian leadership claimed to have shifted from armed struggle to coexistence, we have also offered to relinquish almost all of Judea and Samaria, the historic heartland of our nation. And we have only been rebuffed and terrorized.
YOU CRITICIZE us for visiting intimidation, humiliation and worse on Palestinian civilians in the name of national security? Ask yourself, Elvis, if those many Palestinians who unfortunately are not civil, the Palestinian gunmen and the Palestinian bombers, put down their weapons, would tranquility prevail in our conflict? The answer, in case you have not quickly found it, is yes. Yes, tranquility would prevail. And ask yourself as well, Elvis, whether, if Israel put down its guns, if Israel took apart its West Bank security barrier, if Israel opened its border to Gaza and dismantled its national security apparatus, would peace flourish? Again, if the answer is not clear to you, let me tell you: It is no. No, peace would not flourish. We would be slaughtered.We strive for peace for our own sakes’ and for that of our neighbors. We have already relinquished most of the territory we captured in the 1967 war, a war that was designed to wipe us out, even though it is self-evident that the territory we captured then is not the root of our neighbors’ hostility to us. They have sought our elimination since 1967. But they sought it, too, from 1948-1967, when there was no “occupation” and there were no settlements. During those 19 years, rather than Israel holding east Jerusalem, the West Bank, Sinai, Gaza and the Golan Heights, it was from those territories that our sliver of sovereign land was attacked.
Narrow Israel, vulnerable pre-1967 Israel, nine-mile-wide Israel, an Israel bordered by the Jordanian-controlled West Bank, the Egyptian-controlled Gaza Strip and the Syrian-controlled Golan Heights – that Israel also knew no peace. But most of us would go back close to those indefensible borders, indeed most of us would do almost anything to partner the Palestinians to independent statehood, with just a single caveat: that the establishment of Palestine not come at the cost of the secure, viable existence of Israel.Our conflict is not black and white, Elvis. It is a mass of complexity. We have extremists in our midst, too. One of them murdered a prime minister of ours not too long ago. Others would violently resist the rule of law if we came to evacuate them in a territorial concession in the cause of a peace accord. But our mainstream excoriates our radicals; the Palestinian mainstream, appallingly, glorifies theirs.
There are heroes and villains on both sides. The heroes are striving, every day, to marginalize the villains. You haven’t helped.
WE EXPECTED more of you. We thought you were a man of integrity and good conscience. At the very least, we believed that you would want to find out for yourself. You say that it would have been “quite impossible to simply look the other way.”That’s the last thing we would have wanted you to do. You needed to come, and to look – rigorously and thoroughly – not to let others sell you their skewed vision.
You pulled out, you have written, because “there are occasions when merely having your name added to a concert schedule may be interpreted as a political act...” Indeed so. In the case of playing in Israel, it may be interpreted as having the elementary courage to dig a little deeper, to look a little closer, to allow a little more intellectual honesty.
Having your name deleted from a concert schedule is emphatically a political act as well. In your case, an act of ignorance and cowardice. You have capitulated to those who would deny Israel the capacity to convey its reality. You have joined forces with those who seek, most deliberately, to impose journalistic and academic and artistic boycotts on Israel because they know that routine interaction plays into Israel’s hands. They know that open communication punctures the lies and the distortions. They know that an honest narrative trumps their dishonest misrepresentations. They know that once you had visited, you would not be so easily fooled.
I don’t know who you think you’re helping, but it’s certainly not the innocent Palestinians with whom you claim to identify, the relative moderates who want our current fragile negotiations to bear fruit. The way to do your bit for them would have been to play in Ramallah as well as Caesarea. True, when Leonard Cohen offered to do just that last year, Palestinian rejectionists made sure he was thwarted. Unlike you, however, he had the wisdom to go ahead with his Israel appearance, and strike a small blow against those who oppose compromise and reconciliation, a small blow against the blind-alley rejectionism that you have foolishly chosen to empower.
You say that you “hope it is possible to understand that I am not taking this decision lightly or so I may stand beneath any banner.” Well, had you not decided to visit in the first place, you could indeed have kept yourself removed from our fraught debate and dispute. But by first saying yes and now saying no, you have indeed placed yourself beneath a banner. In our struggle of moderate heroes and malevolent villains, your silence here leaves you singing for the villains.
Maybe, just maybe, you’ll read this and reconsider. As someone who has written so many such poignant songs, as someone who so plainly takes your songwriter’s and performer’s responsibilities so seriously, it’s the least you should do.
“My aim is true,” you sang, half a lifetime ago, beautifully, in quite another context. “My aim is true”? No, Elvis, not this time, it isn’t.