Euro-Washing the Nakba

Today, Palestinians are observing Nakba Day, which mourns their mass expulsion in 1948. Israel is celebrating with a music festival.

Israeli soldiers walk in front of a Merkava tanks, stationed near the Gaza Strip on May 6, 2019 in Mavkim, Israel. Lior Mizrahi / Getty

Earlier this month, Israel treated the Gaza Strip to a quick military assault that killed nearly thirty Palestinians, among them two infants and two pregnant women. Four Israelis were also killed by rocket fire from Gaza — an unusually high casualty count, proportionally speaking, for Israel, whose recent track record also includes wiping out 2,251 people in Gaza in fifty days.

As usual, Western media outlets were quick to blame the Palestinians, while valiantly upholding the Israeli monopoly over the right to retaliation and self-defense — which, it bears mentioning, is kind of like saying the car wheel was defending itself against the crushed armadillo.

According to the Daily Beast, the upshot of the bloody showdown was as follows: “Hamas Started a War Over Eurovision, the Song Contest That Gave Us ABBA.” We are left to understand that the occasional Palestinian decision to fire generally ineffective rockets has nothing to do with being under continuous Israeli attack but rather with strategic objectives like wrecking Eurovision, the annual gaudy affair that launched the Swedish pop group in 1974 and that is currently underway in this year’s host city: Tel Aviv.

Conveniently for Israel, Eurovision 2019 overlaps with Nakba Day on May 15, which commemorates the Nakba — or “catastrophe” — of 1948, when Israel set up shop on Palestinian land, destroying more than four hundred villages, murdering some ten thousand Palestinians, and expelling three-quarters of a million more. Needless to say, the ethnic cleansing, killing, and dispossession that have for the past seventy-one years characterized the Israeli enterprise show no signs of abating. On top of straightforward methods like bombing and sniping, there’s also plenty of contemporary Israeli news of a can’t-make-this-shit-up variety, such as the orders to demolish homes belonging to hundreds of Palestinians because they are located in what Israel considers its national “peace forest” — and because Jewish settlers need to build homes there. Hence, perhaps, some additional PR perks of hosting the Eurovision spectacle and thereby Euro-washing Israel’s criminal orientation.

On May 10, Israel’s official Eurovision Twitter page unleashed a promotional video that qualifies as a catastrophe in its own right: four-and-a-half excruciating minutes of cheery song and dance about how Israel is “so much more” than a “land of war and occupation” — it’s a “startup nation,” a “land of honey, honey” where Israelis are “smooth as silk,” “gays are hugging in the streets,” and there are “some” Arabs, lots of shawarma, and “lovely bitches.” (Haaretz notes: “The issue of whether the mistranslation [of ‘beaches’] was an error or a deliberate attempt to poke fun at bad pronunciation has been discussed extensively on Twitter.”)

One of the video protagonists sports an “I 🖤 IRON DOME” t-shirt, a reference to Israel’s air defense system. And, of course, no Israeli production would be complete without a deliberate fuck-you to Palestine — in this case, a musical tribute to “our beloved capital, golden Jerusalem.”

Israel earned the right to host Eurovision 2019 — albeit in Tel Aviv, not golden Jerusalem — on account of Israeli singer Netta Barzilai’s victory last year at the contest in Lisbon with her semi-plagiarized song “Toy.”

It is also to thank for the existence of video footage of Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu performing the “chicken dance” with Barzilai. This is the same Netanyahu who has presided over the slaughter of countless Palestinians and the ongoing Nakba — but, hey, like ABBA said:

With a bit of rock music
Everything is fine
You’re in the mood for a dance
And when you get the chance
You are the dancing queen …

Israel is not the only non-European entity to grace the Eurovision stage; the contest also boasts the participation of Australia. Turkey, too, is an intermittent contestant, but is currently boycotting the event for a variety of reasons. Last year, Turkey’s English-language newspaper, Hürriyet Daily News, quoted the general manager of the state-run Turkish Radio and Television Corporation (TRT): “As a public broadcaster, we … cannot broadcast live at 9 PM — when children are still awake — someone like the bearded Austrian who wore a skirt, do not believe in genders and says that he is both a man and a woman.”

This was no doubt a reference to Conchita Wurst, 2014 Eurovision victor. But bearded Austrians in skirts are certainly less vulgar a sight than, say, dead Palestinian babies — or any of the other greatest hits for which our present Eurovision hosts are known.

This month, in honor of Israel’s seventy-first year of “independence” from the people whose land it violently usurped, the Times of Israel offered “71 things to love about Israel,” compiled by an American immigrant whose bio defines her as an attorney, handgun instructor, artist, “ardent Zionist,” and fan of “reading about highly contagious diseases and WWII.”

Number twelve on the list is “EUROVISION!”, while number forty-four is: “Even during rocket season, Israelis keep their sense of humor. ‘Ehhh, they just wanted to give us fireworks for Eurovision.’”

Meanwhile, forty-five years after Eurovision brought us ABBA and seventy-one years after Israel brought us the Nakba, there are plenty of fireworks in Palestine — but nothing to joke about.