BDS update: Voices screaming to be heard in Gaza

Palestinian hip hop band DAM. Photo

Electronic Intifada (EI) brought together three stories in early October that paint a vivid picture of the need for a cultural boycott of Israel.

This certainly is no surprise, given that EI is without a doubt the best source out there on the Palestinian struggle. Still, it seems worth connecting the dots.

First is United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's threat to withhold aid from global aid programs crucial to Palestine's infrastructure and culture.

Michelle Gyeney's October 11 EI article brought some much-needed attention to Clinton's promise to withdraw funding from the United Nations’ Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), as one example, if the member bodies voted to recognise Palestine in the UN.

Gyeney says the US provides up to 22% of UNESCO's funding.

Embargoes and aid freezes are nothing new to Palestinians — in particular those in Gaza. The area continues to be under a near-constant state of deprivation and siege, even with Egypt's recent quasi-opening of the border.

This was compounded by Israel's bombardment during 2008-09 Operation Cast Lead attack. Many areas still stand knee-deep in rubble and the restrictions on imports has affected even basic rights to food.

Even before the attack, the average daily caloric intake in Gaza was only about 60% of what is needed to sustain decent nutrition, a November 27, 2007 Haaretz article said.

This brutal reality plays out in all walks of life within Gaza. Rami Almeghari's October 13 article on the state of traditional musicians in Gaza portrays the way in which Palestine's rich musical legacy is being almost literally silenced from the rest of the world.

Akram Hassam, one such musician — an adherent of Palestinian "debkes" line dances — told Almeghari: "Prior to the Israeli siege of Gaza four years ago, I managed to participate in a series of music festivals in the Arab world including in Morocco and Cairo.

“But since 2006 I have been stuck in Gaza due to the Israeli closure."

Just as everyday basics are restricted from reaching the people of Gaza, so are ordinary Gazans deprived of their basic right to travel and share their culture with others.

This story puts the lie to one of the biggest excuses trotted out by those seeking to discredit the movement for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) targetting Israel, in particular its cultural wing.

A common complaint is that demanding Israeli culture be boycotted abroad somehow silences debate and prevents the free-flow of ideas. That's already a reality for those living under Israel's occupation and its racist apartheid policies.

Allowing cultural events that tout the country's cultural "superiority" merely gives it more of a platform, increases its already unfair ideological advantage.

Enter DAM, without a doubt Palestine's best-known hip-hop group.

Adri Nieuwhof, writing in an October 12 EI post, reports about DAM's brand new song released in October. "A Letter From a Prison Cell" is dedicated to the countless Palestinians unjustly kept in Israel's jails and prisons.

DAM says: "We are adding our voices to their call for justice and demands for their legal rights. ‘A Letter From a Prison Cell’ tells the stories of three prisoners who refuse to be ignored and become another statistic. They have written letters to the outside world and the song voices those words."

This is precisely why BDS must continue — because the scales need to be tipped back in the right direction.

There can be little question that Israel, with its massive military and economic backing and behemoth public relations machine, still holds a great deal of the cards.

Still, there continue to be artists seeking to give a real voice to the struggle for basic Palestinian self-determination. DAM is only one example; amplifying them depends on us.

[Reprinted from Alexander Billet's blog, .]