Last Updated: Sun Jul 03, 2011 13:35 pm (KSA) 10:35 am (GMT)

Freedom song for Palestine generates controversy as it vies for British chart success

The song “Freedom for Palestine” has been recorded under a musical collective called OneWorld and has created much controversy prior to its release
The song “Freedom for Palestine” has been recorded under a musical collective called OneWorld and has created much controversy prior to its release

What do Desmond Tutu, Alice Walker, Coldplay, Roger Waters, Ken Loach, Julie Christie, Massive Attack, Benjamin Zephaniah and the cosmetics company Lush have in common? They are just some of the names supporting the song “Freedom for Palestine” that is due for release on July 3 in the UK.

The song has been recorded under a musical collective called OneWorld and has created much controversy prior to its release — with supporters and naysayers likely to see that the song gets onto the UK charts.

The song is written by Dave Randall, a guitarist with the band Faithless, who has been visiting the West Bank and Gaza since the late 1990s. He told Abu Dhabi-based The National that he wrote the lyrics based on what he saw during those visits. “When you see it with your own eyes, you want to do something, however small, to show your solidarity with the Palestinians. For me, as a musician, the thing I thought I could do was write a song.”

He found support from Jerry Dammers, who wrote “Free Nelson Mandela” at the height of the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa in 1984, a song that went on to peak on the British charts at number nine. Nearly 30 years on, the song is still popular.

“I was chatting to Jerry about the relationship between music and the anti-apartheid struggle and said it would be great if musicians did a song against Israeli apartheid. And he just said, 'well, you know, why don't you do it',” Mr. Randall is quoted in The National as saying.

The song features his band mates, Jamie Catto from 1 Giant Leap and members of the Durban Gospel Choir and the London Community Gospel Choir.

Proceeds from the sale will go to the NGO War on Want for projects in Palestine.

The video features images from the West Bank and Gaza, and its chorus of “We are the people and this is our time, stand up, sing out for Palestine” has drawn both support and ire.

The song begins with the lines “So many years of catastrophe/ More than 6 million refugees/ It could be you and your family/ Forced from your home and your history

The video has received more than 250,000 views since it was posted online, and has also received the support of organizations such as the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Jews for Justice and Friends of Al Aqsa.

The British band Coldplay included a link to the pre-order site for the single on its Facebook page in June, and received more 7,000 comments. However, the link was removed after people contacted Facebook and complained that the song was abusive.

The controversy doesn’t end there.

Last month, Glenn Beck, a US talk show host, discussed the song during a Fox News broadcast, describing it as “evil.” In a rather emotional telecast he said, “Before you know it, ‘Israeli occupation’ will be standard fare. Everyone will just see it as they’re just occupying that land. That is a lie.”

When asked by The National about Mr. Beck’s allegations, Mr. Randall laughed off the claims. “Obviously, his allegations that the song is evil are laughable, ridiculous and offensive,” he told the newspaper. “As is the idea that it is propaganda. I wrote this song because of what I saw in the West Bank and Gaza … The song is completely heartfelt; it’s fantastic that Glenn gave us airtime, so I’d like to thank him for that.”

On June 29, Massive Attack linked to the song on their Facebook page, generating a similar controversy. Members of the band wrote, “This project engages with a lot of the important issues, while our elected leaders in the UK, EU and US have chosen to do nothing or very little to end the disastrous political, economic and social isolation of the Palestinians – which, in a year of revolutionary change in the Arab world, is truly disappointing and dangerous.”

The link between music and political struggle or issues of social justice is not new. Sir Bob Geldof led the initiative to highlight famine in Africa in the mid-1980s when he brought musicians together to record the single “Feed the World” followed by the concert Live Aid. A similar initiative was created by Michael Jackson when he released the single “We are the World,” which featured a host of American musical heavyweights.

The aforementioned “Free Nelson Mandela” did not generate as much controversy as “Freedom for Palestine,” but that could be because Mr. Mandela was largely revered as an international prisoner of conscience. The song did catapult his case onto the international arena among a generation that perhaps was unaware of apartheid in South Africa.

This might explains why Desmond Tutu is supporting “Freedom for Palestine.” In a video made for OneWorld, he said, “In South Africa, we could not have achieved our freedom without the help of people around the world, and musicians are central to our struggle. Through music and art, we speak to a common humanity − one which transcends political and economic interests. For this, I am proud to support [the song].”

The song’s release could not have come at a more difficult time for the BBC, which has been in the spotlight for its alleged bias towards Israel when last month it drowned out the words “Palestine” and “Gaza Strip” from two performances on a TV show, citing issues of impartiality.

Unsurprisingly, their decision drew criticism, even outrage, and was labeled by many as an act of censorship.

If the song does well in the British charts, which is what OneWorld hopes, the BBC might find itself in a prickly position when it comes to airing it.

“They'll certainly try to ignore it, but if we get a position in the top 30, I think they're obliged to at least play the song in the chart countdown on Radio 1,” said Mr. Randall.

For the song to reach the British top 30 charts, it has to sell a few thousand copies. Mr. Randall is confident that the endorsements, coupled with the pre-sales of the single, will help it achieve that goal.

“It will put the BBC in a difficult position, and shame on them for it being a difficult position,” Mr. Randall told The National. “Since when was Palestine an expletive?”

(Muna Khan, Senior Correspondent of Al Arabiya English, can be reached at muna.khan@mbc.net)

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