Pick of the Political Pops: Billy Bragg “The Lonesome Death of Rachel Corrie”

The Israel-Palestine issue is often presented as something complex, and undoubtedly there are complexities to it, but presenting it as almost unsolvably complex conveniently makes people think there’s nothing they can do about it and so engage in bothsides-ism, when actually the essence of what’s happened in recent weeks is really not that complex at all. Mistreatment and harassment by Israeli police and security forces, Palestinians being threatened with eviction from their homes by settlers who believe they have a divine right to live in them because God told them they could (As Tony Benn once said, “I wasn’t aware God was a real estate agent”), and the continued existence of Gaza as effectively the largest open-air prison in the world. There is no other way of describing Israel now than as an apartheid state – indeed many mainstream figures from Jimmy Carter to Desmond Tutu have done so, and last month, leading international NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued a 213-page report, titled “A Threshold Crossed”, condemning Israel for “committing the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution against Palestinians” in the occupied Palestinian territories (OPT) and in Israel itself.

According to Lori Allen, Reader in Anthropology at SOAS University of London: “The 1973 Apartheid Convention and the 1998 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court define apartheid as systematic and institutionally entrenched domination and repression by one racial group over another through “inhumane acts”. Among such acts are: “arbitrary arrest and illegal imprisonment of the members of a racial group”; measures “designed to divide the population along racial lines by the creation of separate reserves and ghettos for the members of a racial group or groups”; “forcible transfer”; “expropriation of landed property”; and denial of “the right to leave and to return to their country, [and] the right to a nationality”. All these have been part and parcel of Israel’s settler-colonial project in Palestine since the very beginning. And UN diplomats, legal scholars and activists have applied the concept of apartheid to Israel since at least the 1970s.”

Professor Gilbert Achcar, also from SOAS, explained to the Independent recently: “The crux of the conflict is the dispossession of the Palestinians of their land… Conflicts now aim to crush any possible resistance coming from the Gaza strip, and to destroy military capability that was built up over the last few years – even at the huge cost of civilian lives. Israel has shown it is completely unwilling to accept Palestinians’ terms [for peace]. There’s an absence in Israel of any serious intention for peace.”

A number of years ago Billy Bragg wrote a song based on the Dylan classic ‘The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll’ about activist Rachel Corrie who went to Gaza to draw attention to the plight of the Palestinians and was killed by an Israeli bulldozer. A New York theatre then went on to cancel a play created from her words. Our own government at the moment are planning to bring in legislation to stop publicly-funded organisations from engaging in boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel, leaving it for artists and musicians to speak out about the occupation, which of course many are doing. And things are changing: as The Guardian pointed out today, “An influx of progressive Democrats to Congress, and the energy of the Black Lives Matter movement, have brought renewed support for the Palestinian cause. Many in the American Jewish community, particularly in younger generations, are increasingly critical of Israel. This time, the conflict appears to have captured public attention.” We couldn’t bring up this issue without mentioning too the huge respect owed to those Israeli soldiers who have spoken out the reality of everyday life in the Occupied Territories. You can read more about their heroic work here.

“An Israeli bulldozer killed poor Rachel Corrie
As she stood in its path in the town of Rafah
She lost her young life in an act of compassion
Trying to protect the poor people of Gaza
Whose homes are destroyed by tank shells and bulldozers
And whose plight is exploited by suicide bombers
Who kill in the name of the people of Gaza
But Rachel Corrie believed in non-violent resistance
Put herself in harm’s way as a shield of the people
And paid with her life in a manner most brutal

But you who philosophise disgrace and criticise all fears,
Take the rag away from your face.
Now ain’t the time for your tears.

Rachel Corrie had 23 years
She was born in the town of Olympia, Washington
A skinny, messy, list-making chain-smoker
Who volunteered to protect the Palestinian people
Who had become non-persons in the eyes of the media
So that people were suffering and no one was seeing
Or hearing or talking or caring or acting
And the horrible math of the awful equation
That brought Rachel Corrie into this confrontation
Is that the spilt blood of a single American
Is worth more than the blood of a hundred Palestinians

But you who philosophise disgrace and criticise all fears,
Take the rag away from your face.
Now ain’t the time for your tears.

The artistic director of a New York theatre
Cancelled a play based on Rachel’s writings
But she wasn’t a bomber or a killer or fighter
But one who acted in the spirit of the Freedom Riders
Is there no place for a voice in America
That doesn’t conform to the Fox News agenda?
Who believes in non-violence instead of brute force
Who is willing to confront the might of an army
Whose passionate beliefs were matched by her bravery
The question she asked rings out round the world
If America is truly the beacon of freedom
Then how can it stand by while they bring down the curtain
And turn Rachel Corrie into a non-person?

Oh, but you who philosophise disgrace and criticise all fears,
Bury the rag deep in your face
For now’s the time for your tears.”


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About Mark Whitfield 1688 Articles
Mark Whitfield has been Editor of Americana UK for the last 20 years while also working in public health as his day job, which has been kind of busy recently.

3 Comments

  1. Thank you for publishing this important and well-written reminder of what’s going on in Palestine. #FreeGaza

  2. I have always enjoyed your music comments but please avoid becoming too political.
    I don’t want to start a debate on this at all, rather just listen to some good music! But………
    Do Hamas’s supporters in the West know what this organisation really stands for? The reality is that Hamas is no liberation movement in search of a Palestinian nation. Instead, it seeks the destruction of Israel and the establishment of an Islamic empire on its ruins. How do we know? Because senior Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Zahar has said so:
    “ Islamic and traditional views reject the notion of establishing an independent Palestinian state… In the past, there was no independent Palestinian state… This is a holy land. It is not the property of the Palestinians or the Arabs. This land is the property of all Muslims in all parts of the world… [Hence] our main goal is to establish a great Islamic state, be it pan-Arabic or pan-Islamic.”

    • It’s a fair comment Stephen and obviously have no great affection for Hamas but it is their democratically elected government, and the reality of the situation is that there’s such an imbalance in the military strength of each side (view the casualty figures for the latest round of conflict) that Hamas are powerless to inflict any real physical damage on Israel which would existentially threaten it. They also unveiled a new programme in 2017 softening its stance on Israel by accepting the idea of a Palestinian state in territories occupied by Israel in the six-day war of 1967. Whether you’d believe them is another thing but the same could be said for Israel and I guess opposing sides always need to take chances for peace. Glad you enjoy the rest of the site anyway, thank you.

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