Media reports from the US have confirmed what was briefly rumoured – legendary pop musician Stevie Wonder has cancelled his performance scheduled for December 6 at a gala in Los Angeles saluting IDF Soldiers.
The 25-time Grammy winner was to appear before an audience of more than 1,000, including dignitaries from the U.S. and Israel.
Credit is due to all the activists who mobilised via social media to persuade the great singer to realise his mistake. This eloquent Palestinian plea must have helped move him to change his mind about playing for the benefit of the Israeli war machine:
On a typical cold wintery night, on January 25th 1995, I hobbled on my crutches
with an inflamed and bandaged knee into the aisles of the famous Radio City
Music Hall in New York City. Here I was, a twenty three year old aspiring actor
from Palestine, who despite severely injuring my knee in a basketball game two
days before, was not about to miss what he will for the next eighteen years
claim as “the best concert” he ever attended. This was a concert by Stevie
Wonder, the genius whose music had inspired me and whose cassettes, CDs, and now mp3, had kept me company many a time, and who not only sang beautiful melodies with an amazing voice but whose lyrics tackled the whole spectrum of life. From oppression to freedom, from infidelity to the purest love, and from sadness to euphoria, so many of your songs are attached to the milestones of my life.
On that day in 1995, I had waited till the concert had ended and the crowd had
cleared and hopped on my crutches down to the stage door. With a mix of pity for my injury and some persuasion, I had convinced the bodyguards to let me through to meet you. There you were, standing talking to other fans or your crew. Struck by the awe of the moment, I had no idea what to say to you. “Stevie, my name is Bassem and I am from Palestine”. You had looked towards my direction. I have no idea if you had even heard what I said, but that was my cue to approach you and give you a hug. You hugged me back. That was enough for me: the affirmation that I had a “moment” with you that no one could ever take away from me. Following that moment, I took off my black and white Palestinian kaffiyah, the symbol of struggle, resistance, and freedom for Palestinians, and put it in your hands and said, “This is from the people of Palestine.” I have relived these moments, alone and with friends, with mostly joy, nostalgia, and sometimes humor. However, there was no doubt, in my mind that you were an artist who understood our world, who sided with the poor, the oppressed, the needy, and the heartbroken. Your music and words were your contribution to make the world a less little cruel.
Today I was horrified to hear about your intension to play at the annual gala of the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF) organization to be held on December 6 in Los Angeles. Today I am living in Palestine and have just lived through the same Israeli Defense Forces, the one you are supporting, killing more than one hundred and thirty of my people in Gaza, many of whom were civilians including children. This army, Stevie, is a tool of oppression and subjugation that has kept me, my family, and my people occupied for over forty five years. Every day, this army is protecting the seizure of more Palestinian land to build illegal Israeli settlement on further denying me my rights as a human being. As I read the news of your upcoming performance, I kept on wondering, how can Stevie even contemplate doing this? There must be a mistake somehow. I searched the internet whether this was a rumor or a hoax.
Unfortunately, my worst fears were confirmed. You are supporting occupation,
oppression, destruction, and apartheid.
I have no idea what has led you to this decision. I am writing this open letter
hoping it results in the restoration of the almost perfect image of you and your
art in my mind and my life.
I am urging you to cancel this performance and stand with the values of justice
and peace for all.
At the end of the concert in 1995, the band had stopped playing after over two
hours of music. You were sitting on your piano stool and people were shouting
out the names of songs they still wanted you to play. Then suddenly, for a brief
moment, there ensued an eerily beautiful silence that encompassed that glorious
concert hall. Taking advantage of that, I yelled the name of my favorite song at
that time “Lately”. Without flinching, you turned to the band and said, “You
heard the man!” and the beautiful music had started flowing.
Here’s to hoping you hear me again.