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A Letter from Palestine to Stevie

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Dear Stevie,

On a typical cold wintery night, on January 25th 1995, I hobbled on my crutches with an inflamed and bandaged knee into the aisles of the famous Radio City Music Hall in New York City. Here I was, a twenty-three-year-old aspiring actor from Palestine, who, despite severely injuring my knee in a basketball game two days before, was not about to miss what he would for the next eighteen years claim as “the best concert” he ever attended. This was a concert by Stevie Wonder, the genius whose music had inspired me and whose cassettes, CDs, and now mp3s, had kept me company many a time, and who not only sang beautiful melodies with an amazing voice but whose lyrics tackled the whole spectrum of life.  From oppression to freedom, from infidelity to the purest love, and from sadness to euphoria, so many of your songs are attached to the milestones of my life.

On that day in 1995, I had waited until the concert had ended and the crowd had cleared and hopped on my crutches down to the stage door. With a mix of pity for my injury and some persuasion, I had convinced the bodyguards to let me through to meet you. There you were, standing talking to other fans or your crew. Struck by the awe of the moment, I had no idea what to say to you. “Stevie, my name is Bassem and I am from Palestine.” You looked toward my direction. I had no idea if you had even heard what I said, but that was my cue to approach you and give you a hug. You hugged me back. That was enough for me: the affirmation that I had a “moment” with you that no one could ever take away from me. Following that moment, I took off my black and white Palestinian kaffiyah, the symbol of struggle, resistance, and freedom for Palestinians, and put it in your hands and said, “This is from the people of Palestine.” I have relived these moments, alone and with friends, with mostly joy, nostalgia, and sometimes humor. However, there was no doubt, in my mind that you were an artist who understood our world, who sided with the poor, the oppressed, the needy, and the heartbroken. Your music and words were your contribution to make the world a less little cruel.

Until today.

Today I was horrified to hear about your intension to play at the annual gala of the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF) organization to be held on December 6 in Los Angeles. Today, I am living in Palestine and have just lived through the same Israeli Defense Forces -- the one you are supporting -- killing more than one hundred and thirty of my people in Gaza, many of whom were civilians including children. This army, Stevie, is a tool of oppression and subjugation that has kept me, my family, and my people occupied for over forty-five years. Every day, this army is protecting the seizure of more Palestinian land to build illegal Israeli settlement and further denying me my rights as a human being. As I read the news of your upcoming performance, I kept on wondering, how can Stevie even contemplate doing this? There must be a mistake somehow. I searched the internet whether this was a rumor or a hoax. Unfortunately, my worst fears were confirmed. You are supporting occupation, oppression, destruction, and apartheid.

I have no idea what has led you to this decision.  I am writing this open letter hoping it results in the restoration of the almost perfect image of you and your art in my mind and my life.

I am urging you to cancel this performance and stand with the values of justice and peace for all.

At the end of the concert in 1995, the band had stopped playing after over two hours of music. You were sitting on your piano stool and people were shouting out the names of songs they still wanted you to play. Then suddenly, for a brief moment, there ensued an eerily beautiful silence that encompassed that glorious concert hall. Taking advantage of that, I yelled the name of my favorite song at that time “Lately”. Without flinching, you turned to the band and said, “You heard the man!” and the beautiful music had started flowing.

Here’s to hoping you hear me again.

Bassem Nasir
Ramallah, Palestine


Action items from Bassem: