I have always considered the Eurovision Song Contest a harmless piece of kitschy nonsense although quite a few other people I know have an almost religious-like devotion to it. Maybe it is something to do with Ireland being the most successful country in the history of the contest, with a record total of seven wins. We are the only country to have won three times consecutively. Nothing succeeds like success. Still, I always looked at it as a fun event, an innocuous yearly happening that brings nations and families together across Europe and indeed further afield.
This year it is different, very different. Eurovision 2019 is being held in Israel, coincidentally during the same period the Israeli state is celebrating the 71st anniversary of its foundation. Netanyahu’s government sees the competition as the ideal opportunity to manipulate international public opinion, portraying Israel as a bastion of democracy and progressive politics whilst totally ignoring the occupation imposed on the Palestinians living under siege less than a one hour drive from the main concert arena.
The establishment of Israel is also commemorated by Palestinians around the world. They call it the “Nakba” or “catastrophe” of 1948, when military forces drove 750,000 Palestinians into a forced exile which has lasted to this day. Today there are over five million Palestinian refugees and their descendants spread all over the Middle East, rising to seven million the rest of the world is taken into account. Common to most of them is a wish for peace and to be able to return to their homes.
“The Great Return March” along the Israel-Gaza separation line is to highlight the Palestinian right to return to their lands as enshrined in UN Conventions. The protests are a desperate attempt to draw the world’s attention to the injustices that are perpetrated in occupied Palestine on a daily basis.
Since the start of the protests last year almost 300 Palestinians have been killed and over 30,000 have been wounded by Israeli snipers. The dead and injured include men, women and children – journalists and medical staff – doctors, nurses and first aid workers attending to the wounded.
The Palestinians need our support. The international community knows the effect of the Israeli occupation, well documented by the UN and numerous human rights organizations. Yet the world continues to stand idly by while Israel actively pursues policies aimed at destroying the much heralded “two state solution” and Netanyahu’s newly re-elected government is fully focused on ensuring Israel’s complete annexation of Palestine.
Senator Frances Black’s Occupied Territories bill currently working its way through the Dáil should be warmly welcomed and it will hopefully encourage the Irish government to put pressure on Israel to lift the blockade of Gaza and demand that the refugee’s right to return be respected. We need to hold Israel to account for its continual violation of international law and human rights.
I have visited Palestine on several occasions – both Gaza and the West Bank. The conditions are worse now than ever before. Palestinians continue to be forcibly removed from their homes and entire villages are being regularly demolished. Israel’s apartheid wall continues to split families and separates farmers from the very soil they need to cultivate to earn a living. The fishermen of Gaza are deprived of the same rights by the Israeli navy who regularly shoot up their small vessels thus enforcing a sea blockade that deprives people of much needed food.
The Israeli military blockade of Gaza is a well-documented horror story that has now lasted for 12 years. The United Nations relief agencies describe the rapidly deteriorating conditions as “unliveable”. Gaza is often described as the world’s largest open air prison with 2 million people jammed into an area the size of the Ards Penninsula. The UN has warned Gaza is on the verge of a “humanitarian catastrophe”. The budget of the UN’s Palestinian refugee agency (UNRWA) is expected to dry up “in a month” and is in desperate need of additional funds. “The worst-case scenario is we would not able to continue to feed half the population of Gaza,” Elizabeth Campbell, director of UNRWA’s Washington DC office told The Independent last week.
Meanwhile, on the West Bank, the Israeli colonies – or “settlements” as they are often misleadingly called – continue to grow dramatically with full Israeli government support and in direct contravention of international law. And yet whilst Trump has refused funding to UNRWA, massive economic support from the US and the EU continues to flow into Netanyahu’s coffers, shoring up both the Israeli economy and the armed forces that are used to wage war on Palestinian civilians.
The Eurovision events are in Tel Aviv – a town built on the ruins of bulldozed Palestinian villages. It is supposedly the world’s largest music show attracting around 200 million TV viewers. The Israeli propaganda agencies have been working overtime of late, targeting international media saying that Eurovision is a cultural event and should not become politicized whilst their own government is shamelessly exploiting Eurovision to whitewash the occupation and its war crimes against the Palestinians. The hypocrisy of the Israeli propaganda machine is second to none. In the words of Irish journalist Fintan O’Toole: “Everything about Israel is political, even Eurovision. Israel has used the song contest to present itself as a normal European society.” (Irish Times, 11th May 2019)
In an open letter published last week a group of over 30 Palestinian cultural centers and organizations from Gaza called for a global boycott. They are reiterating the call by so many other organizations which have been supported by artists worldwide, including here in Ireland. “We are asking the world to support our basic demands for liberty, to boycott the Eurovision song contest in Israel, and heed our plea for solidarity. When for so long the world has turned its back on us, we are still standing, and we ask you to stand with us.”
It is a request for solidarity which you can support from your own living room or wherever you have your TV. When Eurovision comes on, turn your TV to another channel.