Dear Leonard Cohen,
(The following letter is a longer version of a petition currently being circulated asking you to join the many other artists, musicians, writers and academics in a cultural boycott of Israel.)
You are probably aware of a growing campaign addressing your recently announced intention to play a concert in Tel Aviv in September and the concern that it is causing.
As a group of long time fans and admirers of your music, poetry and novels, we also note with considerable dismay your decision to perform in Israel. You have not toured or performed there since the eighties, so to choose to return now in the aftermath of one of the most brutal incursions into Gaza and the killing of hundreds of men, women and children there, does seem to be ill-judged.
Understandably you may not have had the time to fully see or read about all that occurred there during the two months of the invasion, and all that has come to light in the time since that invasion, relating to the continuing suffering of the people of Gaza. However the following brief quotation from an article by an Israeli peace activist vividly and horrifyingly illustrates what happened to hundreds of children in the territory:
"The 400 Palestinian children who were burnt to death, or torn into pieces by Israel's recent onslaught on Gaza would never be able to hear your songs; nor could the hundreds of children who were maimed, injured and burnt by white phosphorous shells dropped by Israeli fighter planes (provided by the States) listen to your lyrics. They have been lying in hospital crying with agony with hardly any medicine to relieve their pain" 'From an Israeli Citizen to Leonard Cohen' Ruth Tenne - a member of Jews for Justice for Palestine. (Middle East Online)
The plight of these people continues as the Israeli blockading of Gaza means that equipment and medicines cannot be effectively provided to hospitals there, furthermore building materials and machinery to enable the people to rebuild their shattered houses, schools and places of worship are also denied. Even such basics as food, fuel and clean water are in dangerously short supply.
Since 1948 and with increasing force since 1967, the people of the West Bank and Gaza have been subjected to occupation, repression, destruction of their crops and denied freedom of movement. Tens of thousands Palestinians have also been made refugees from their homeland. You know this of course, everybody does; that you have a great depth of compassion is evident from your writings, from your interviews and indeed from how you have conducted your spiritual life, not everybody possesses this degree of understanding and sympathy. It is therefore difficult for us to understand why you have yielded to requests from your many Israeli fans at this time - when up to now their pleas to you have gone unheeded?
We who love your work, work which has provided us nourishment for so many years understand of course that people everywhere who hold you in high esteem and feel deep affection for you, want nothing more than to see you stand on stage and hear you and your wonderful musicians sing, play and speak to them. We have been to your recent concerts (more than once!) and they have been memorable and wonderfully entertaining. For some this continuing tour has provided their first, longed for chance, while for others your recent concerts have been a continuation of a long time pattern of concert-going. Naturally Israelis want you to come to Tel Aviv, nowhere more than in Israel, probably, are you more popular and we take no pleasure in requesting that you deny such loyal and fervent followers their chance to see you. However we believe that in this instance the denial of their memorable night must take precedence over the support your arrival there would seemingly give to the state of Israel and its actions. For that is how it would be perceived, symbolic and tacit support for an essentially apartheid system, and a for a state that is a democracy only for one section of its citizens and that denies almost all rights for those it has made virtual prisoners in their divided and walled in territories, land which in reality they cannot even call their own. As in other countries you have visited, where politicians and even heads of state attended your concerts, it is likely that in Tel Aviv also representatives of the state and military may well take the chance to attend your concert there. It is likely also that among the audience there will be soldiers recently returned from Gaza, or the West Bank. There is no way therefore that your appearance can be construed as apolitical, however you yourself may view it.
It is the case too, unfortunately that a majority of Israeli citizens did support the onslaught of their army into Gaza, so a cancellation of your visit would send a very powerful message to them.
Of course there are many brave young men and women who refuse conscription into the IDF and risk prison sentences for their principled stand. Of course too there are very many Israelis who do not stand by their country's occupation of Palestinian land and who work tirelessly for peace and justice. There are also Israeli citizens who have been indiscriminately killed, or maimed, by suicide bombers. The town of Sderot, adjoining Gaza, has suffered rocket fire from Hamas. They are all entitled to live in peace and without fear. However, very many more Palestinians have died by the guns, shells and tanks of the Israeli army and for them there is no respite.
So for all these reasons we appeal to you to please refrain from travelling to Israel at present. If however you do decide to go ahead, we respectfully ask you to make a donation to one of the many peace groups striving to create conditions for peace, equal rights and nationhood for all in Israel/Palestine. For example 'Jews for Justice for Palestine' or the 'International Solidarity Movement' (ISM) or towards the medical organisation 'Medicins sans Frontieres' currently struggling in under equipped hospitals in Gaza. You may have already decided to do something like this anyway, given that you were moved to contribute generously to the victims of the bush fires in Australia during your tour there last year.
Undoubtedly a decision to cancel this concert will cause deep disappointment, even anguish, to the Israelis who wished for so long to see you. For you also such a decision will be difficult and we do not underestimate that difficulty. Be assured though that for the people currently suffering military onslaughts in Palestine and for all of us who want wholeheartedly to see a lasting, peaceful and just future in the region and by extension throughout the world, a gesture of regretful refusal from you would mean so much.
Many thanks for taking the time to read this.
The Leonard Cohen Boycott Israel Coalition
On behalf of a group of your fans in Britain and the U.S.