November 28, 2012

Is Stevie Wonder No Longer a Supporter of Freedom and Justice?

Robert L. Harris, Jr., Professor of African American History, Africana Studies & Research Center at Cornell University

Stevie Wonder, the staunch advocate of freedom and justice in the United States and South Africa, is scheduled to headline a benefit concert in Los Angeles, December 6th, for the Friends of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). The organization was formed some thirty-one years ago by Holocaust survivors. I question whether they are aware of the role that the IDF plays in the occupation and suppression of Palestinians and whether Stevie Wonder knows about it.

Just about a month ago, I visited Israel/Palestine with a group of African American and Jewish leaders through the Interfaith Peace Builders and the Dorothy Cotton Institute. I was taken especially by the testimony of Palestinians who described the violation of their human rights as confirmed in statements by former Israeli soldiers. With impunity, Israeli soldiers invade Palestinian homes on the West Bank, seize and blindfold residents, even children, and take them to police stations for interrogation. The children are snatched from their homes and questioned for as many as three days without the presence of their parents. Former Israeli soldiers told us about the intimidation of Palestinians and the use of what I can only describe as “psychological warfare” to terrorize them.

There are Israelis and Palestinians engaged in dialogue through the principles of non-violence to end the conflict and to establish a comprehensive and enduring peace. I would think that Stevie Wonder, an admirer and supporter of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Nelson Mandela, would seek to advance the work of those individuals and groups seeking to end the conflict rather than the forces that perpetuate it. Many Palestinians are refugees in their own land, which was forcibly taken from them and is now occupied by Israelis. The Israeli occupation intrudes into almost every area of Palestinian life.

Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank cannot reunite with their families. They face onerous restrictions and roadblocks to travel within their own territory. Israeli settlers, many from the United States, seize Palestinian land and uproot their olive trees, a symbol of their heritage, tradition, and family. We saw olive trees estimated to be hundreds of years old that Israeli settlers uproot and often burn as an insult to Palestinians on their own land. Hopefully, Stevie Wonder and his sponsors will become aware of the Israeli descent into apartheid with a separation wall, electrified barbed wire, and guard towers perpetuated by the IDF.