MONEY, GET AWAY: The Norwegian Government Pension Fund's involvement in companies active in the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel is a terrible stain on Norway's reputation, according to musician and activist Roger Waters (center).
BRENDAN MCDERMID / Reuters / NTB
From his music studio at his New York apartment, the 77 year old musician logs on to Skype for a chat with the Norwegian union magazine Fagbladet.
Roger Waters, the creative force behind Pink Floyd, one of the most selling rock bands in the history of music, is online to talk about politics.
The music legend is in no hurry, spending more than an hour talking mainly about his support for the Palestinian people. He still does music, he says, but activism like the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement, is now his main concern.
– It’s all day every day now. Except occasionally I take time off to work on This is not a drill, which is the new show. So I am still doing that. But most of my work is what I am doing now. This is it, this is what I do now, he tells Fagbladet.
Waters recently endorsed an ongoing campaign aiming to push the Norwegian Oil Fund to sell its shares in over 60 companies. These companies are active in Palestinian land that has been illegally occupied by Israel, according to international law.
The campaign is founded by Norway’s largest union Fagforbundet, The Norwegian Union of Municipal and General Employees, along with Norwegian People's Aid. In a written statement of support, Waters says
«I was quite genuinely very surprised when I learned of the Norwegian complicity in supporting the occupation through its Government Pension Fund».
«It is a terrible stain on Norway’s reputation as a nation concerned about peace and a humanitarian issues.»
Verbally, Roger Waters is less diplomatic when asked about his support. The following Q and A is an extract of the interview, edited for brevity and clarity.
The Norwegian government oil fund is investing billions of dollars in companies active in the Palestinian occupied territories. How did you react when you learned this?
– So what else is new? Obviously corporations don’t give a shit about human rights, by and large neither does governments. There will be Norwegian politicians, just as there are English politicians, Scottish politicians, and even American politicians who care about human rights. But at large the people in governments pretend to care about human rights, but they don’t really, he says, adding:
– It's always hugely hopeful and gratifying and fills my fucking heart with love when organized labour steps forward and expresses solidarity with its brothers and sisters around the world.
The story of how Roger Waters got involved in the business of a Norwegian union, goes back to early 2019. The union was supporting Palestinan-Dutch citizen Ismail Ziada case against the former army chief in Israel, Benny Gantz, currently the defense minister, and former Israeli air force chief Amir Eshel.
Six of Ziada's relatives was amongst the over 2250 dead, most of them civilians, from the Israeli bombing of 2014. On the Israeli side, 67 soldiers and six civilians were killed. The next year UN Investigators found that both sides committed war crimes during the 50 days long war.
Despite the claim that Dutch law should give an opportunity for citizens to file a case over war crimes perpetrated in a foreign country, Hague's district court dismissed the case over the lack of jurisdiction.
Roger Waters is now covering the costs for the appeal, which is expected to find place in Hollland September this year.
– We are appealing the case in the court in Holland. I’ve talked to them and I feel a bond to this people. I’m paying their lawyers. That’s something I can do, Waters says, describing his financial support like this:
– It’s my kind of tax system, if you like. I hate giving money to the United States government, which is where I live. As much as I can, I divert it to places where I want it to go, to express my love for my brothers and sisters.
Speaking of money, the Norwegian oil fund is one of the biggest sovereign wealth funds in the world. How do you think they will react when they hear that you want them to retract from over 60 companies?
– We have to shame them. Listen, if you ever go to Norway, as I have done on many occasions, you go out fishing a few pollocks or something, and you’re in a fjord, and everybody tells you that it’s the happiest country in the world.
– Well, so they found oil, and they’re pretty well off. «Suddenly we’re rich.» It’s a bit like being in a pop group when you have a hit record, suddenly it takes off. It’s like: what do you do? That’s a big decision, he says.
Whats the message to the Norwegian bank and the Norwegian government about this issue, investing in all these companies?
– What can you say to anyone like that? It’s like being invited to talk in Davos to these people. These are the people who go to Davos, and sit around and chat to fucking Bono or whoever who goes to Davos. Their agenda has nothing to do with Paris in 1948 and the declaration of human rights.
Waters explains that his political awakening happened in 2006. After being contacted by Palestinian civil society, he cancelled his scheduled concert in the Israeli city of Tel Aviv and moved it to a more rural setting: The Israeli-Arab cooperative village of Neve Shalom.
Politically he defines himself as a member of the grass roots movement, describing the human rights declaration of 1948 as his «church». He has expressed a lot of anger against former president Donald Trump, but doesn’t have much faith in democratic president Joe Biden, either.
– He will not do anything about Palestine, he says.
You don’t have any hope in that the USA will make a move towards peace between Israel and Palestine?
– I think the people in the United States are moving really fast towards it. As usual the politicians will have to follow in the wake. That is why grass roots movements, like the labour movement, are so important. In the United States the support for the BDS movement has grown. Not largely, but to some extent, because of the support from churches and unions.
– Unions are hugely important because of the idea of the collective of working class people does move across international borders. So we notice when the biggest union in India suddenly turns around and speaks out against the Israeli bombing of Gaza. And the unions in South Africa too.
He now calls for an total boycott of Israel, both cultural and economic. Amongst many others musicians he have asked both Radiohead and Nick Cave to cancel their gigs in Israel.
How can citizens put pressure on the companies to get out of the occupied territories?
– Well, listen to the Palestinian civil society and to the BDS movement. You can boycott anything that’s made in the settlements.
He then explains his appeal towards the international soccer associations UEFA and FIFA to block all Israeli football teams from participating in European cups like the Europa league and Champions League. Also, he talks to English football players directly, trying to convince them.
– Don’t play football with them. At least seven of the teams in the Israeli league are from illegal settlements. Their pitches are built on land stolen illegally after the 67’ occupation.
In your opinion, what needs to happen for us to see a two state solution in Israel and Palestine?
– I think the only possibility for humanity, as represented by the 1948 declaration of human rights, to reassert itself, is a single state. Let’s call it the holy land. It has to be a single democratic state, with equal rights. That means it can’t be a jewish supremacist state. It can’t be both.
– So what’s going to happen? I have no idea. I am 77 year old, will I live to see anything happen? It is very difficult to say. But a 77 year old in 1987 could have been forgiven for thinking, if he was looking up East and West Germany and the Berlin wall, will I live long enough to see this change…? Fuck me, two years later the wall was gone and Germany was united, for good or bad.
It's always hugely hopeful and gratifying and fills my fucking heart with love when organized labour steps forward and expresses solidarity with its brothers and sisters around the world.
These are the people who go to Davos, and sit around and chat to fucking Bono or whoever who goes to Davos.
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