Bethlehem and London – Palestinian, Israeli and international artists have come together to put on a series of concerts as an alternative to the Eurovision Song Contest held in Tel Aviv, amid protests calling for a boycott of the music competition.
The event, Globalvision, was held in Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank, Haifa, London and Dublin on Saturday and included live performances by Palestinian, Israeli and international artists.
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The performances were live streamed around the world on the night of Eurovision’s finale in Tel Aviv.
Palestinians and activists have called for the international community and artists to boycott the music competition citing longstanding human rights violations against the Palestinian community, including the more than half-century military occupation of the West Bank and continued killing of unarmed protesters in the besieged Gaza Strip.
Jo Tyabji, part of Globalvision’s organising team, told Al Jazeera Globalvision was an idea that evolved through conversations, explaining that “Eurovision in Israel couldn’t pass without comment, but needed an artistic response”.
Eurovision was inaugurated as a way of bringing European neighbours together in the post-war years, and entries have previously endorsed messages of peace.
“In order to maintain that commitment, they have to maintain a claim to being apolitical,” explains Tyabji, adding: “I think that breaks down when you come up against the really explicit call from an oppressed people to help them through a cultural boycott.”
‘Eurovision is complicit’
In Bethlehem city, an event was organised in Aida refugee camp beside Israel’s separation wall which partially surrounds the camp, with concerts held by local Palestinian singers and musicians, along with Norwegian and South African artists.
Bashar Murad, a 26-year-old singer and performer from occupied East Jerusalem, told Al Jazeera before his concert in Aida camp that he was participating in the event to highlight Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.
“It’s disheartening to see all these contestants coming to participate in Eurovision and disregarding all the pleas by Palestinians [to boycott the event] who just want to be heard,” Murad said.
“[The artists] are telling Palestinians that they don’t have a voice […] Eurovision is complicit in the crimes of Israel’s occupation,” he added.
In London, the “hub” of Globalvision, the event took place inside the Bush Theatre, a small West London venue.
Between live streams from Haifa, Bethlehem, Dublin as well as London, Palestinian artists Rasha Nahas, Stormtrap and Moody Kablawi join in the studio to speak about their music in Palestine.
“I’m proud of the underground Palestinian scene that we have in Ramallah,” Kablawi told Al Jazeera. “That underground independent scene that is not touching any governmental money or support for events. We are building our own community.”
Kablawi, Nahas and Stormtrap also performed at the London gig, organised by a Palestine Solidarity campaign as part of the Globalvision initiative, “Not the Eurovision: Party for Palestine” at Camden’s Favela, headlined by English-Iraqi rapper and prominent activist Lowkey.
Also performing at the event were rapper Mic Righteous, alternative rock band and Mercury Prize-winners Wolf Alice, and “island punk” artist Ms Mohammed.
“Whilst Israel is using music and the glitz and glamour of Eurovision to mask its crimes against the Palestinian people,” said Lowkey, “we are using music as a powerful tool of protest, solidarity and justice.”
Londoner Jay B came to watch the broadcast with three of her friends saying, “It is pretty shocking that Israel is doing Eurovision and that it can use culture to wash over the fact that it is occupying a country”.
“I absolutely love Eurovision, it’s a shame this year it is tainted. It’s nice to come somewhere you can enjoy that same cheesy fun Eurovision is known for and support great artists.”
Palestinians have urged the international community to boycott the competition in Tel Aviv, in part citing Israel’s killing of hundreds of unarmed Palestinians in Gaza who have been protesting near the separation fence with Israel for more than a year, demanding their right to return to their lands they were expelled from during Israel’s creation in 1948 – an event commemorated by Palestinians each year on May 15, referred to as Nakba (catastrophe) Day.
On Wednesday’s Nakba protests, on Eurovision’s second day, at least 47 Palestinians were wounded by Israeli forces.
In the Gaza Strip, Palestinian musicians held an anti-Eurovision concert, titled “Gaza Message,” in bombed out buildings destroyed by Israeli air raids in the besieged territory during the weeks leading up to the music competition.
A flare-up of tensions between Gaza fighters and the Israeli army earlier this month resulted in the deaths of at least 25 Palestinians – including two pregnant women and two infants – and four Israelis.
Since the start of the weekly protests in Gaza last March, at least 305 Palestinians – including 59 children, 10 women, and one elderly – have been killed by Israeli forces, according to Gaza’s health ministry. More than 17,000 Palestinians have also been injured.
Last year, on the same day Israel won Eurovision, Israeli snipers gunned down and killed 60 unarmed Palestinians within a few hours during protests
Najwan Berekdar, one of the organisers of Globalvision, told Al Jazeera that Eurovision is “contributing to the ongoing Nakba”.
“It contributes to the erasure of Palestinian identity and legitimises Israel’s human rights violations,” she said.
According to Berekdar, the Expo Centre in Tel Aviv, where Eurovision is being held, is built over ruins of the Palestinian village Shaykh Muwannis, which was destroyed during Israel’s creation more than 70 years ago.
Eurovision’s village is also built on the ruins of the destroyed Palestinian neighbourhood of al-Manshiyya in Jaffa, according to Berekdar.
On Tuesday, when the competition kicked off, Israel’s national broadcaster which was live streaming the event was hacked to display animated images of explosions near the Eurovision event in Tel Aviv. Israel blamed the hacking on Hamas.
The Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement urges the economic and cultural boycott of Israeli products and institutions in order to put pressure on Israel to cease human rights violations against Palestinians and to comply with international law.
Over the years, various artists have heeded the calls for a boycott, with Lauren Hill, Roger Waters, Lorde, Sinead O’Connor, and Elvis Costello, among others, cancelling their performances in Israel.