“Where governments refuse to act people must, with whatever peaceful means are at their disposal. For me this means declaring an intention to stand in solidarity, not only with the people of Palestine but also with the many thousands of Israelis who disagree with their government's policies, by joining the campaign of Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions against Israel.” – Roger Waters 
With this simple yet compelling logic and exceptional sense of moral responsibility to end complicity in the commission of injustice, Roger Waters announced on the pages of The Guardian his endorsement of the Palestinian-led, global BDS movement. His move has effectively ushered in a new phase in the spread of BDS to millions across the world who had not previously heard of the budding rights-based movement.
In the same statement, Waters issued a plea to his “colleagues in the music industry, and also to artists in other disciplines” to join the cultural boycott of Israel, in particular, comparing Israel’s system of oppression of the Palestinian people to South Africa’s apartheid regime and recalling how artists boycotted the latter and its infamous Sun City resort as a matter of moral duty.
Roger Waters is certainly not the first nor the only prominent cultural figure to call for a cultural boycott of Israel. World renowned and bestselling authors, including John Berger, Alice Walker, Naomi Klein, Henning Mankell, and Iain Banks; prize-winning filmmakers, including Ken Loach, Mike Leigh, the Yes Men, and John Greyson; violinist Nigel Kennedy and classical guitarist John Williams; the Irish artists union, Aosdana; and Belgian dance sensations Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker and Alain Platel were all among many famous cultural figures around the world that have all endorsed one form or another of the Israel boycott in the cultural sphere. Hundreds of artists in Montreal, Canada, Ireland, South Africa and India have also formed artists-against-Israeli-apartheid type groups that have played a critical role in spreading the cultural boycott into the mainstream.
Yet, Waters’s endorsement of BDS carries special significance, given the combination of his eminence in the rock music world where he enjoys a mass base of millions of fans, his inspiring courage in going all the way in advocating BDS, and his unwavering commitment to speak truth to power in defending equal human rights for all humans.
Towards the end of March of this year, for instance, Roger Waters surprised leading international media outlets and millions around the world when he announced at a press conference in Brazil a ground-breaking social forum for Palestine to be held in Porto Alegre later this year. With his typical modesty and charm, he stated:
“I am honored to have been asked by the Palestinian BDS National Committee, to announce an initiative, to hold the World Social Forum Free Palestine in Porto Alegre, Brazil in November of this year, in cooperation with the Brazilian social movement and international civil society networks.”
But he did not stop at that. He explained exactly why he considers himself part of the global BDS movement saying:
“We will continue our call for an end to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land, for the tearing down of The Walls of colonization and apartheid, for the creation of a Palestinian state with its capital in Jerusalem, for the granting of full and equal rights to the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel and for promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes as required by the Geneva convention, as stipulated in UN resolution 194, in 1949 and as restated by the International Court of Justice on the 9th of July 2004.”
This level of political awareness and unwavering commitment to Palestinian rights – both extremely rare among stars of the stature of Waters – were born out of Waters’s history of advocating human rights around the world and his unique experience with the question of Palestine, first through his father’s eyes and later through his own. “My conviction is born in the idea that all people deserve basic human rights,” he reminds us. When he visited occupied Jerusalem and Bethlehem in 2006 he wrote: “Nothing could have prepared me for what I saw that day,” adding :
“In my view, the abhorrent and draconian control that Israel wields over the besieged Palestinians in Gaza and the Palestinians in the occupied West Bank (including East Jerusalem), coupled with its denial of the rights of refugees to return to their homes in Israel, demands that fair-minded people around the world support the Palestinians in their civil, nonviolent resistance.”
And when human rights activists, advocating for divestment of the Presbyterian Church USA from corporations that profit from Israel’s occupation, asked for Roger Waters’s support during his most recent US concert tour, he did not hesitate, despite the potential damage that a pro-BDS position may cause given the bullying and intimidation tactics adopted by Israel lobby groups. He wrote a moving opinion column in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette where he stated in crystal clear language his support for the Presbyterian divestment drive :
“I applaud the Presbyterian initiative. In fact, I support the more wide-ranging BDS campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel and have called on my fellow musicians to follow suit, just as we did in opposition to apartheid South Africa.”
Roger Waters has set an example in moral responsibility and in redefining the role of artists, especially illustrious ones, in using their unique access to the world stage to stand up for rights, for justice and against all oppression. For this and everything else that Waters has stood for, he has won the hearts and deep appreciation of Palestinians and people of conscience everywhere.
Posted on 02-08-2012