In 1980, a song I wrote, Another Brick in the Wall Part 2, was banned by the government of South Africa because it was being used by black South African children to advocate their right to equal education. That apartheid government imposed a cultural blockade, so to speak, on certain songs, including mine.
Twenty-five years later, in 2005, Palestinian children participating in a West Bank festival used the song to protest against Israel’s wall around the West Bank. They sang: “We don’t need no occupation! We don’t need no racist wall!” At the time, I hadn’t seen firsthand what they were singing about.
A year later I was contracted to perform in Tel Aviv. Palestinians from a movement advocating an academic and cultural boycott of Israel urged me to reconsider. I had already spoken out against the wall, but I was unsure whether a cultural boycott was the right way to go.
The Palestinian advocates of a boycott asked that I visit the occupied Palestinian territory to see the wall for myself before I made up my mind. I agreed.
Under the protection of the United Nations I visited Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Nothing could have prepared me for what I saw that day. The wall is an appalling edifice to behold. It is policed by young Israeli soldiers who treated me, a casual observer from another world, with disdainful aggression.
If it could be like that for me, a foreigner, a visitor, imagine what it must be like for the Palestinians, for the underclass, for the passbook carriers. I knew then that my conscience would not allow me to walk away from that wall, from the fate of the Palestinians I met: people whose lives are crushed daily by Israel’s occupation. In solidarity, and somewhat impotently, I wrote on their wall that day: “We don’t need no thought control.”
Artists were right to refuse to play in South Africa’s Sun City resort until apartheid fell and white people and black people enjoyed equal rights. And we are right to refuse to play in Israel until the day comes – and it surely will come – when the wall of occupation falls and Palestinians live alongside Israelis in the peace, freedom, justice and dignity that they all deserve.