“They” feel loss like “we” do

December 10, 2013

Rock legend and Pink Floyd cofounder Roger Waters has become a leading figure in the international movement in solidarity with the Palestine struggle. Recently, he talked to Frank Barat, a long-standing activist and co-coordinator of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine, in an interview for the Le Mur a Des Oreilles radio show (listen to the full audio here) about Waters' support for the Palestinian boycott, divestment and sanctions movement. Here, we reprint the transcript of their discussion.

WHEN DID you make the decision to make the Wall tour that ended in Paris in September 2013 so political? And why did you dedicate the final concert to Jean-Charles De Menezes?

THE FIRST show was October 14, 2010. We started working on the content of the show with Sean Evans in 2009 about a year earlier. I had already decided to make it much broader politically than it had been in 1979-80. It could not be just about this whiny little guy who didn't like his teachers. It had to be our universal predicament internationally.

That's why "fallen loved ones" came into it--trying to universalize the sense of grief and loss that we all feel towards family members killed in conflict [the show uses photographs of people who died in war]. The point is that "they"--on the other side of whatever wall it might be--feel just as much loss as "you" do. Or "we" do. Walls become an important symbol because of that separation between "us and them," which is fundamental to all conflict.

Regarding Jean-Charles, we used to do Brick II with three solos at the end, and I decided that three solos was too much, and it was boring me. So sitting in a hotel room one night, I was thinking about what I could do instead of that. Somebody had recently sent me a photograph of Jean-Charles De Menezes to go on the wall. So he was in my mind, and I thought that maybe I should sing his story to fill in that space. So I wrote that song, taught it to the band, and that's what we did.

Roger Waters adding his lyrics to the protest art on Israel's apartheid wall
Roger Waters adding his lyrics to the protest art on Israel's apartheid wall

AS AN artist, is it important for you that your songs have some sort of message? A lot of artists say, "I'm just an artist," and that it's a mistake to mix art and politics, or that their only goal is to entertain. What's your view?

IT'S FUNNY that you should say that because I just finished yesterday the text of a new piece, which will be a new album of mine. It's about a grandfather in Northern Ireland going on a quest with his grandchild to find the answer to the question, "Why are they killing the children?" because the child is really worried about it.

Right at the very end of it, I decided to add something more. In the song, the child tells his grandpa, "Is that it?" and the grandpa replie,s "No, we cannot leave on that note, give me another note." A new song starts, and the grandpa makes a speech. He says:

We live on a tiny dot in a middle of a lot of fucking nothing. Now, if you're not interested in any of this, if you're one of those "Roger, I love Pink Floyd, but I hate your fucking politics," if you believe artists should be mute, emasculated, nodding plastic dogs dangling aimlessly over the dashboard of life, you might be well advised to fuck off to the bar now, because, time keeps slipping away.

That's my answer to your question.

GREAT ANSWER. Do you know when the new album will be out?

I'VE GOT no idea. I'm working away furiously on lots of old projects. I'm going to give a first listen to this to Sean Evans. He's coming to my house tomorrow to listen to it. I've made a demo, which is one hour and six minutes long. It's pretty heavy, I confess, but there is also some humor in it, I hope. But it's extremely radical, and it poses very important questions.

Look, if I'm the only one doing it, I am entirely content. I mean, I'm not, I wish there were more people writing about politics and our real situation. Even from what could be considered extreme points of view. It's very important that Goya did what he did, same for Picasso and Guernica and all those antiwar novels that came out during and after the Vietnam War.

WHEN IT comes to Palestine, you are very open about your support for a cultural boycott of Israel. People opposing this tactic say that culture should not be boycotted. What would you answer to that?

I UNDERSTAND their opinion. Everybody should have one. But I can't agree with them, and I think that they are entirely wrong. The situation in Israel/Palestine--with the occupation, the ethnic cleansing and the systematic racist apartheid Israeli regime--is unacceptable. So for an artist to go and play in a country that occupies other people's land and oppresses them the way Israel does is plain wrong. They should say no.

I would not have played for the Vichy government in occupied France in the Second World War, and I would not have played in Berlin either during this time. Many people did, back in the day. There were many people who pretended that the oppression of the Jews was not going on from 1933 until 1946. So this is not a new scenario. Except that this time, it's the Palestinian people being murdered.

It's the duty of every thinking human being to ask: "What can I do?" Anybody who looks at the situation will see that if you choose not to take up arms to fight your oppressor, the nonviolent route and the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement is a legitimate form of resistance to this brutal and oppressive regime. The movement began started in Palestine with the full support of Palestinian civil society in 2004-2005, and it has now been joined by many people around the world, what you might call global civil society.

I have nearly finished Max Blumenthal's book Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel. It's a chilling read. It's extremely well written in my view. He is a very good journalist and takes great pains to make sure that what he writes is correct. He also gives a voice to the other side.

The voice, for instance, of the right-wing rabbinate, which is so bizarre and hard to hear that you can hardly believe that it's real. They believe some very weird stuff--they believe that everybody that is not a Jew is only on earth to serve them, and they believe that the indigenous people of the region that they kicked off the land in 1948 and have continued to kick off the land ever since are subhuman.

The parallels with what went on in the 1930's in Germany are so crushingly obvious that it doesn't surprise me that the movement that both you and I are involved in is growing every day. The Russell Tribunal on Palestine was trying to shed light on this, and though I only took part in two sessions, you took part in many more. It is an extremely obvious and fundamental problem of human rights that every thinking human being should apply himself or herself to.

THE SCARY thing is that such extreme right-wing views about the Palestinians are finding a greater hearing in Israeli society, in the Israeli regime and in the power structure. Why do you think that so few artists are speaking up about this? It seems that a lot of artists who oppose war won't touch Palestine. Why?

WHERE I live, in the U.S., I think a) they are frightened, and b) the propaganda machine that starts in Israeli schools and that continues through all Netanyahu's bluster is poured all over the United States, not just on Fox News but also on CNN and in all the mainstream media. It's like a huge bucket of crap that they are pouring into the mouths of a gullible public, in my view.

When they say, "We are afraid of Iran, it is going to get nuclear weapons," it's a diversionary tactic. The lie that they have told for the last 20 years is, "Oh, we want to make peace," and they talk about Clinton and Arafat and Barak being in Camp David and that they came very close to agreeing, and the story that they sold was, "Oh, Arafat fucked it all up."

Well no, he did not. This is not the story. The fact of the matter is no Israeli government has been serious about creating a Palestinian state since 1948. They've always had Ben Gurion's agenda of kicking all the Arabs out of the country and becoming "Greater Israel." They tell a lie as part of their propaganda machinery whilst doing the other thing, but they have been doing it so obviously in the last 10 years.

For instance, after Obama went to Cairo and made that speech about Arabs and the Israelis, everybody was like, "Oh, this is a step in a new direction at least." But as soon as he visited Israel, they said, "Oh by the way, we are building another 1,200 settlements." Exactly the same when Kerry went last year saying, "I am going to try to get the sides together and talk peace." Netanhayu said, "Fuck you. We are going to build another 1,500 settlements, and we are going to build them in E1, this is our plan." This is so transparent that you'd have to have an IQ above room temperature not to understand what is going on. It is just dopey.

I read a piece the other day that essentially outlined that only the Secretary State of the United States believes that these current peace talks are real, and that no one else in the world does. It is a very complicated situation, which is why you and I and all the other people in the world who care about their brothers and sisters and not just about the people of our own faith, our own color, our own race or our own whatever, have to stand in solidarity, shoulder to shoulder.

This has been a very hard sell, particularly where I live in the United States of America. The Jewish lobby is extraordinary powerful here--and particularly in the industry that I work in, in "rock and roll," as they say. I promise you, naming no names, I've spoken to people who are terrified that if they stand shoulder to shoulder with me, they are going to get fucked.

They have said to me, "Aren't you worried for your life?" and I reply, "No, I'm not." I was touring, and 9/11 happened in the middle of the tour, and two or three people in my band who happened to be U.S. citizens wouldn't come on the next leg of the tour. I said, "Why not? Don't you like the music anymore?" And they replied, "No, we love the music but we are Americans, and it's too dangerous for us to travel abroad, they are trying to kill us," and I thought, "Wow!"

YES, THE brainwashing works!

OBVIOUSLY IT does, which is why I am happy to be doing this interview with you because it is super important that we make as much noise as possible. I'm so glad that Yedioth Ahronoth, a right-wing newspaper in Israel, printed my interview with Alon Hadar. They at least printed it! Although they changed the context and made it sound different that what it actually was, at least they printed something. I half expected to be completely suppressed and ignored.

You know that Shuki Weiss [a high-profile Israeli promoter] offered me a 100,000 people at $100 a ticket a few months ago to come and play in Tel Aviv! Hang on, that's $10 million, so how could they offer it to me?! And I thought, "Shuki, are you fucking deaf or just dumb?! I am part of the BDS movement. I'm not going to play anywhere in Israel, for any money, because all I would be doing would be legitimizing the policies of the government."

I have a confession to make to you. I did actually write to Cindy Lauper a couple of weeks ago. I did not make the letter public, but I wrote her a letter because I know her a bit. She worked with me on The Wall in Berlin, which is why I found it super difficult to understand that she is doing a gig in Tel Aviv on January 4. Quite extraordinary, reprehensible in my view. But I don't know her personal story, and people have to make up their own mind about these things. One can't get too personal about it.

THAT'S TRUE, but you can definitely help them by writing to them. You can open their eyes, I think.

YES, BUT if their eyes were going to be opened, they would need to either visit the Holy Land, visit the West Bank or Gaza, or even visit Israel or any single checkpoint anywhere and see what it's like. All they would need to do is visit or read--read a book! Check out the history. Read Max Blumenthal's book. Then say, "Oh, I know what I am going to do, I am going to play a gig in Tel Aviv." [Sarcastically] That would be a good plan!

First published with full audio at Le Mur a Des Oreilles.

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