- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 22, 2006

NEVE SHALOM, Israel — Pink Floyd founding member Roger Waters played to more than 50,000 fans last night after protesting Israel’s plan to close off Palestinian areas in the West Bank behind a system of walls and fences.

The concert is the marquee event among several summer shows by internationally recognized pop musicians who are including Israel on their European tours for the first time since the outbreak of the Palestinian uprising in 2000.

But none has been as politically loaded as the concert of Mr. Waters, who visited Bethlehem on Wednesday and sprayed on the concrete wall there a quote from the iconic Pink Floyd album “The Wall”: “We don’t need no thought control.”

He added, “Tear down the wall” — a phrase he repeated to a mixed reception at the end of last night’s concert.

Israel says the 480-mile barrier, which is about one-third completed, has helped to sharply reduce the number of suicide bombings in its cities — which has in turn allowed a return of tourists and internationally renowned pop artists.

Palestinians say that by building the wall inside the West Bank, Israel is unilaterally fixing a border and annexing their land.

Speaking to reporters, Mr. Waters said there was no explanation that could convince him of the necessity of the barrier.

Having hosted a 1990 benefit concert in Berlin after the fall of the Berlin Wall, he said, “It may take longer to get this one down, but ultimately it has to happen.”

Palestinian activists have criticized other socially conscious musicians for visiting Israel. Recording artist Sting performed at Israel’s national soccer stadium two weeks ago despite an appeal from a Britain-based Palestinian group to cancel the Tel Aviv date just as he boycotted South Africa during its apartheid regime.

A Palestinian festival promoter from Jerusalem said such visits are ill-timed when an aid boycott of Palestinian groups has dried up funds for a music festival.

“Not coming to Israel would mean a lot to us. Not coming to Israel is a statement,” said Shireen Dabbah, the spokeswoman for Yabous, a group that organizes the annual music festival in Jerusalem.

For Israelis, the Waters visit means more than an opportunity to see venerated pop icons in person. It is a boost to national psyche.

“Israelis have always felt closed in here. For Israelis, rock concerts are the embodiment of being on the world map,” said Yossi Agrsonski, a music critic for the Ma’ariv newspaper.

When Mr. Waters announced his Israel tour in March, Palestinian advocates of a cultural boycott of Israel urged him to reconsider. The venue was immediately moved to a chickpea field near the bucolic village of Neve Shalom — Hebrew for “Oasis of Peace” — a mixed community of Arabs and Jews and a symbol of coexistence.

Mr. Waters called it a “gesture of solidarity” to those seeking a nonviolent solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict.

“[Israel] isn’t some neutral venue. It’s hard to be in this country and not relate to the wall. So [Mr. Waters] agreed to come and to register a protest against the wall,” said Jeff Halper, a spokesman for the Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions, a human rights group that helped organize Mr. Waters’ visit to the separation wall.

“The big celebration of the fall of the Berlin Wall was led by Pink Floyd. It’s the same message here, that walls don’t solve political problems, and they’re inherently oppressive, and they’re inherently unjust,” he said.

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