Roger Waters sets the record straight: I hate apartheid …

The tires of the taxicab crunch softly along the gravel driveway leading up to the house. The gray building, hidden from the street like all the houses here, isnt so large for Southampton, this very affluent suburb on Long Island, New York. A tiny house-number sign, by the side of the entrance to the driveway, is the only way you know youve reached your destination. The taxi driver who picked me up at the local bus station tells me Paris Hilton has a house nearby. He doesnt know who lives in the gray house.

I ring the doorbell at the appointed time, and hear a dog barking. Roger Waters opens the door, barefoot, in shorts and a faded polo shirt. His cheeks are covered with white stubble, his blue-gray eyes seem a little weary and his gray hair is disheveled. He shuffles a little as he walks, but his body is youthful and his smile endearing. Hours of wavering over whether to greet this idol of my youth with a handshake or a hug are dispensed with instantly: He embraces me. Weve never met before.

I follow him back into the two-story house. An American home with paintings on the walls and broad carpets on the floors, a grand piano in the living room. Outside is a heated swimming pool, whose water is kept surprisingly warm, even early on a chilly morning. Next to the pool is a small gym. There are a number of bedrooms, some just for guests. And, of course, a recording studio.

The garden is impeccably maintained, and vases of freshly cut blue flowers can be found throughout the house. Every window looks out on a gorgeous view: a big pond with wide green marshes behind it and, beyond that, the ocean, whose waves can be heard clearly. The closest house is a good distance away, and the tennis court of the Swedish neighbor lies in between. On the two-hour bus ride from Manhattan, people were talking about the new helicopter service to the town: just $400 each way, a real bargain.

Laurie Durning, Waters fourth wife, welcomes me with a friendly handshake and we sit down on the garden patio, their 11-year-old white dog joining us too. Laurie is very knowledgeable about whats happening in the Middle East, and she accompanied Roger on his unforgettable concert in Israel in the summer of 2006. She says she could feel the audiences love, maybe even more than her husband did.

A lot of chickpeas have since grown in the fields of Neve Shalom, where the concert took place before a crowd of 54,000 Israelis. Waters says he remembers all the lavish goodies that producer Shuki Weiss arranged to have backstage. I remember that incredible, magical night, but its difficult to tell Waters that he doesnt like hearing fans gush about How you changed my life, blah, blah, blah.

To him, Pink Floyd the band responsible for the mysterious and legendary soundtrack of our youth, the greatest-band-of-all-time, in my view is primarily a job he left behind 30 years ago. His 20 years with the band, especially the latter ones, became a nightmare for him, mainly due to a rancorous relationship with guitarist David Gilmour.

The masterpiece Shine on You Crazy Diamond, about initial lead singer, Syd Barrett, is a heartbreaking tale of mental illness and the drugs that precipitated it. Waters says that if Barrett hadnt become ill and stopped writing, he may never have started writing songs himself. Barretts premature retirement spurred Roger to write what became the bulk of Pink Floyds work.

An Englishman in New York

On his right hand, Waters wears a ring he hasnt taken off since 1968. The wedding band on his other hand has been replaced several times over the years. He has three children from two of his previous marriages (his first wife died). Durning, with whom he does not have children, is a film producer from New York.

For many years now, Waters has been an Englishman in New York, as Sting once sang. I tell him this as he leads me upstairs to my room, and he smiles. The couple is currently building a new summer house, not far from this one. It will be much larger, in the hope that the kids and grandkids will come to visit more often.

The man who once sang Money, its a crime lives well. He also has a townhouse in midtown Manhattan and a vacation home in England, which he doesnt use much. Two shiny black Mercedes sedans are parked out front; one is a convertible. Still, he comes across as a modest guy, devoid of rock-star pretensions. Here at home, at least.

He has a British personal manager, Mark Fenwick, whos been working with him since he left Pink Floyd, and a Hungarian butler, Csaba Kralik, whos been with him for 15 years. The latter doesnt live with the couple, but attends to all their needs and accompanies them on their travels.

Peace activist Nurit Peled-Elhanan, daughter of the late Israeli Maj. Gen. Matti Peled, keeps Waters regularly updated on whats happening with the occupation. He also has a friend in Bilin who sends him weekly pictures from the protests there. After the Neve Shalom concert, he visited Israel and the territories once more as a guest of UNRWA, and made a point of putting his signature on the West Bank separation barrier. He feels that The Wall is Pink Floyds best album.

In recent years, Waters has devoted a lot of his time to the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement. Every artist who wants to perform in Israel receives a letter of rebuke from him. Neil Young ended up canceling during last summers Gaza war, but Waters says no artist ever admits they canceled because of him. Cyndi Lauper, Robbie Williams and even Pink Floyds old sound engineer, Alan Parsons to name a few did not heed his entreaties and performed in Israel. But theres no question hes created a new international mood.

Waters involvement in the struggle against Israel actually began after his performance here nine years ago. At the time, he, too, received letters urging him not to perform, but he ignored them. Initially, he was supposed to perform in Tel Aviv, but then he shifted the venue to Neve Shalom, with the idea that it would be an Arab and Jewish audience. But the Arabs didnt come, and he was disappointed. Today, he would refuse to perform anywhere in Israel.

I was so unaware then, he says. Artists today are more aware.

Some of the artists he addresses think hes off his rocker; others are worried about hurting their livelihood, while some say politics and music should be kept separate. Waters doesnt accept this. Hes determined to fight the occupation and what he sees as an apartheid state.

Believe whatever you like, but Waters does not hate Israel. Hes deeply outraged at the injustices it perpetrates. When he talks about Israel, its with pain, criticism and anger, but not hatred. And anti-Semitism is not part of the picture here, despite the show in which he placed a pig on a Star of David, along with other religious symbols, during his 2013 European tour, which raised that suspicion.

Waters has Jewish grandchildren from his Jewish daughter-in-law. The number tattooed on the forearm of a friend of his mothers, a French-Jewish Holocaust survivor, left a strong impression on him as a child. He recalls her constant anxiety: I remember she was terrified for her children. Her kids were not allowed to come out in a canoe with us. You can imagine. Well, you cant, none of us can imagine. But I remember that, I remember thinking, Why is this woman scared of the river? You know, she was scared of everything; she was scared of her own shadow.

Why Israel?

Its hard not to believe him, with his candidness and openness. His house is unlocked; even late at night the doors are wide open. He feels strongly that the injustice done to the Palestinians must be remedied, and he believes he is toiling on behalf of this cause. By doing so, he believes he is also working for the sake of Israelis.

Why this particular injustice and not other, even worse ones? Waters says that during the apartheid era in South Africa, there were plenty of other atrocities happening in the world, but no one asked, why South Africa. Why Israel? Because things can be remedied and changed there, just like in South Africa.

Maybe it all began with his father, a communist and pacifist who was a volunteer ambulance driver during the London Blitz, eventually enlisted in the British Army to fight the Nazis, and was killed by a tank shell in Italy. His body was never found.

In a new film debuting in September, Roger Waters: The Wall, Waters is seen playing the trumpet at the spot in southern Italy where his father died, next to a memorial tablet there. From letters his father wrote to his grandmother, Waters learned that his father studied in Jerusalem for two years. His grandfather was also a casualty of war: He was killed in World War I and is buried in France.

Waters never met his father, Eric Fletcher Waters; he was just five and a half months old when Eric was killed in 1944. His mother, Mary, raised him and his brother as a single mother in Cambridge. She was also a communist and taught her children to pursue justice. His brother is a retired cab driver; their mother died six years ago at 96. Roger would sometimes bring her to Pink Floyd concerts, and says the other band members used to bring their parents, too.

Waters will turn 72 in September. As a child, he thought about becoming a veterinarian, and later studied architecture. Hes a very warm and charming fellow, and fond of drinking white wine. When he does so, he opens up even more and becomes very amusing: You have to see his imitation of Mikhail Gorbachev, whom he once met. He loves to cook, and does so every day. The linguine he made for lunch was spicy enough to make the eyes water. In the evening, he baked a superb tarte tatin. He attached a little yellow note to the baking pan, Caution, hot. Dont touch.

For dinner, which was prepared by two young cooks, he invited a dozen or so friends, many of them Jewish. One, a relative of Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal, mistakenly thought the meal was going to take place in Manhattan. When he realized his error, he simply hired a helicopter to bring him to The Hamptons. A senior American television reporteralso joined us.

Antiwar songs

Everything Waters has written in the last few years has a political, mainly antiwar, aspect to it. In one of the new songs hes still working on, Waters sings in French: Je suis Charlie, Je suis Juif. The song was written after the terror attacks in Paris last January. Thats what happens when your father and grandfather were both killed in war.

We sat in the studio until 2 A.M., listening to his new songs. His desk in the studio is piled with papers new songs with lots of notes and revisions. Late in the morning hes a late riser I saw him sitting in the kitchen half-dressed, writing down lines on a little scrap of paper. In the studio itself, theres no trace of Pink Floyd. Waters is not nostalgic or sentimental. Hes not a collector of memorabilia. He doesnt even have a guitar from those days.

Hes in the process of writing an autobiography, played at the Newport Folk Festival last week, and plans to go on another world tour next year. Hes a busy and active man. Once in a while, he plays golf. He also has a pool table in his studio; the Hungarian butler says Waters beats all his guests.

I told Waters that back in my student days, my roommate and I had a strict rule: When one of us was playing Pink Floyd, the other had to stay out of the house. Dark Side of the Moon was the soundtrack to many nights of new loves, heart-to-heart talks and personal confessions.

In the hotel back in Manhattan, before setting out for The Hamptons, I had listened to the album once more and found that the magic was still there, even after all these years.

Over the two days I was a guest in his home, we went up to his recording studio twice for long interview sessions. Waters willingly answered every question. At one point, we stopped to watch several fawns that had pranced into the garden to graze.

When and how did your political involvement in the Middle East begin?

I got an offer to play in Israel, and thats where it really started. It really started for me without thinking because this is how nave I was in 2006. I didnt think about it. When my agent did the deal with Shuki Weiss and accepted the gig in [Hayarkon Park] in Tel Aviv, I was engaged in other things, to my eternal shame but then I started getting emails.

From whom?

There were hundreds of different organizations, mainly from the Middle East and North Africa. But there were other places, Europeans, and people saying, Are you sure about this? Do you know about this new organization? Because it was new in 2006, BDS. But their voice was very measured and persuasive, and I engaged in a dialogue with them.

They were telling you not to go?

Yes, telling me not to come. They said Id be enabling the occupation. How nave I mustve been Certainly living here in the United States and presumably its the same in the U.K. the hasbara [Israeli public diplomacy] is extremely powerful.

Eventually, I canceled that gig but went to Neve Shalom instead.

Who suggested Neve Shalom? Whose idea was that?

I have no idea. I cant remember. But I mustve done a lot of research and I heard about this place where Jewish people and Christians and Muslims try to live together in an agricultural community, and they educate their children together through all the trials and tribulations that that kind of inclusive society necessarily demands of its citizens. It was and still is a beautiful experiment, and should be encouraged in all possible ways.

The gig was fantastic. But and its a big but at the end, I made a short political speech, and suddenly it was as if I was from Mars when I suggested this was the generation of young Israelis that should make peace with their neighbors. They went very, very quiet. Afterward, I thought about the implications of travel restrictions and realized it was pretty unlikely that there were any Palestinians or Arabs in the audience, and I felt really bad about that.

But during the concert itself, what did you feel?

Concerts are very seductive, especially if youre standing on the stage with people going Whoa, how cool are you!

Did you feel all the love directed at you?

Yes, it was fantastic, I could feel it. Maybe I shouldnt tell you this story, but I will. When I visited Jenin [in 2009], I met Ismail, the father whose son was at the center of the movie The Heart of Jenin, about the Palestinian boy who was shot

And his organs were donated to Israelis.

And they donated his organs, so it was very emotional. And then they said to me in Jerusalem, Will you come and talk to the students at the film school? And I thought: What a great opportunity.

So I turn up one day, and everyones all bubbling and theres a room with about 150 young people and all their teachers standing around, and it couldnt have been more welcoming. I thanked them for having me and asked what we should talk about. And they were silent, so I said, Alright, Ill tell you what we should talk about. How many of you have seen the documentary Heart of Jenin? And they might just as well have had stainless-steel shutters behind their eyelids.

I started to talk about it, but it was like I had turned into a Martian or something. Suddenly, you could see the distaste and horror that I would be mentioning this. And I got quite angry. I didnt shout at them but I said: There is something wrong with this picture. So as wonderful and as full of love as playing to that audience of young people was, this was horrific.

Im not a prophet

Do you think youve found the truth concerning the Middle East?

I dont know, Im not a prophet. Nobodys handed me a bunch of tablets and said, This is the truth. Im having to figure this out for myself. What I do know is, whosoever it might be, from any side of any war, if anybody is dropping bombs and killing children I know Im on the other side. So, I live in the United States and I could not be more passionately opposed to the War on Terror drone warfare in particular.

And here we get to the core of the issue, because in Israel many people ask: Why Israel, when there are so many other countries that do the same?

Well, if youre determined to stand on the side of truth, justice, liberty, human rights, individual freedoms, political equality, and freedom to worship whatever you want, all of that from time to time, situations crop up that demand your attention more than other situations, because theyre blatant and theyve been going on for a very long time. People also complain about anybody making comparisons between apartheid South Africa and Israel. But particularly in the occupied territories but also in Israel, in my view the comparisons are valid.

In the 1970s and 80s, there was no question we all focused on South Africa because it was the obvious place to focus. It was a place where it looked like all of us who took part in the Anti-Apartheid Movement, as it was called then, might have an effect, and might cause changes in policy in that small part of the world. Israel is that bit of the world now. Whether Israelis or anyone else like it or not, it just is.

In Israel, you are described as not listening to both sides. Do you listen to the Israeli side?

Okay, tell me what it is and Ill listen. I mean, youre the perfect person to tell me what it is, because Ive read your work and I sense we have a great deal in common. In a way, though, maybe I shouldnt be talking to you; maybe I should be talking to [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu. Well, obviously not. I couldnt. Once I was put on the phone with [Israeli ambassador to the U.S.] Ron Dermer. Maybe he thought he could turn me. It was like having a conversation with a pit bull.

What did Dermer say to you?

He just went, Hey, we all want peace, and I said if we can make peace then that would be fantastic. He told me peace would happen instantaneously if there was a single person on the other side he could speak to.

And what did you say to him?

Nothing. Thats not a conversation I should have. Where can the conversation happen? Because its a very difficult conversation to have. We saw the news recently with Hillary Clintons letter [to Haim Saban] promising to help destroy the BDS movement if shes elected president. I said, What? Is this democracy at work?! You give me money and then I destroy BDS? Where might there be a sensible conversation? Nobody knows whats going to happen. But what we do know is that throwing more armaments at it is not going to help anybody.

So maybe BDS should be aimed at the United States, and you should stop performing at Carnegie Hall?

At some point, it might become the correct thing to try to start a boycott movement of some sort in the United States. But that time is not now. Im part of this BDS movement, which is spreading fast through the universities which is why people are pouring millions of dollars into the universities to try to buy [the students]. You cant buy them! Theyre young people. Theyre not for sale.

In an article I wrote a year ago, I was talking about [pro-Israel lobby] AIPAC: When Netanyahu spoke to AIPAC two years ago, he mentioned BDS 17 times in his speech. The year before that, it was never mentioned to anyone, anywhere. Thats a huge change.

Isnt there a danger that BDS will unite Israelis and make them even more nationalistic?

I dont think so. I think it will give power to Israeli people who are not happy with their domestic and foreign policy, knowing that they have friends and supporters outside the country who are standing with them and applauding them, admiring the bravery it takes to be an Israeli and to stand up for what is right and proper, humane and full of value.

Im not religious, but my suspicion is that, what actually relates much more to Judaism and the humane principles Judaism is based upon, is that those people are not insignificant. It is a small number, but it is a significant number. They are at least being active in some way.

What is our alternative? Will someone give me an alternative to nonviolent protest, if we believe that the occupation is wrong and if we believe that the Palestinian citizens of Israel should operate under the same laws as Jewish citizens of Israel.

Ending the occupation

Here we come to the question of the goals of BDS, which are presented in Israel in a vague way by the Israeli government.

Will the end of occupation mean the dismantling of BDS? Is this enough of a goal?

Yeah, were talking about equality under the law.

And the [Palestinian] Right of Return it also includes this, correct?

Yeah, of course.

On the basis of equality?

Yeah, on the basis of equality. I would say to people like Ron Dermer: Whats your solution? What would you do? Well, we know they have one, but they still cant quite get it out. A Greater Israel I suspect thats their solution, to preserve the apartheid.

A two-state solution or a one-state solution? Do you have a preference?

Because Im a radical atheist, my personal preference would be a democratic, secular state with equal rights for all its citizens with a universal franchise, equal property rights, freedom to practice whatever religion you want. Im very against theocracies.

But it hasnt worked in many parts of the world, including Northern Ireland.

Okay, thats an interesting point. I agree with you that a divided Ireland may never work. But we dont know what is going to work. At a certain point, it was decided it was going to be a two-state solution. That that little bit [in the north] was going to stay part of the United Kingdom, and the rest was going to be a democratic republic.

If there were two secular states, why not? I care just as much about Jewish children as I do about Arab children. I care about people not having a future where they can work, earn a living, sit around a table with their family and plan for the future, and make decisions about water or the things that are really starting to crop up all over the world with what were doing with the oceans. Or broader questions of conservation and ecology or global warming, or this and that. You cant focus on any of that stuff when youre lobbing bombs at each other over a wall. Theres no time to do anything sensible or grown-up.

So, I dont know what the answer is but I know this isnt the answer. This status quo is not the answer and you cannot, in my view, maintain a status quo that is built on the idea that its okay to expel people from their homes whether its peoples homes in East Jerusalem now, or people who lived in villages during the Nakba [the Palestinian term for the creation of Israel in 1948]. Both things are wrong, and its very difficult to sustain a country based upon invasion and colonization.

Do you understand the sentiment of many Israelis that the Jewish people have the right to their own country after everything they have gone through? And that the one-state solution for them means extermination?

Well thats just nonsense! People are always saying, BDS is trying to delegitimize Israel. No, its not. Its trying to stop the oppression of the Palestinian, Bedouin and other Arab peoples of the region you are oppressing. Its trying to stop you oppressing your fellow human beings. Its not trying to delegitimize Israel.

An Israeli de Klerk?

So give me the scenario where you come back to perform in Israel again. What has to happen and I mean this symbolically.

When you and I can sit down together over a glass of wine and look each other in the eye and hold each others hands and go, Wow! We, they, us everybody did it. We can see that we did it: Everyone has equal rights, nobody is killing anybody. Then I promise you I will come and play The Wall in its entirety.

Will we ever reach that moment?

I had conversations with [Mikhail] Gorbachev in 2002 or 2003. If in the mid-1980s you and I had asked, Are we going to see the Berlin Wall come down within our lifetime? it would have been a very difficult question to answer. But we didnt know Gorbachev then. He is the most remarkable man my two huge heroes since Gandhi are Nelson Mandela and Gorbachev. So who wouldve known? Things can happen. Maybe theres a Mandela somewhere in an Israeli prison.

Maybe we need a F.W. de Klerk?

If you look through one of my recent op-eds, it says, It may be far easier to find the Palestinian Mandela than it will be to find the Israeli De Klerk. But we cannot give up hope. We cannot say its too difficult, because even to abandon one child is one child too many. And the pictures we see coming out of Gaza are so disgusting and so heart-wrenching that those people and Im not saying its not heart-wrenching if a suicide bomber blows themselves up on a bus in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem of course it is, its equally horrific.

Should artists and academic institutions really be at the top of the boycott list?

No. There are a number of Israeli politicians [Shimon] Peres might well be one who cant come to England because theyll be arrested the second they step foot there, as war criminals. Because there is a legal apparatus that, once you define an act as a war crime, even in the opinion of the International Criminal Court, then you have grounds for detaining somebody. There have been a number of Israeli politicians whove had to turn around and go home because they didnt want to risk being sent to prison in the United Kingdom.

Should Khaled Meshal, the political head of Hamas, be arrested if he comes to the U.K.?

I dont know. I would need to be legally advised to know if there is evidence that Meshal has committed war crimes. I havent seen evidence to that effect.

But youve seen Shimon Peres commit war crimes?

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Roger Waters sets the record straight: I hate apartheid …

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November 23, 2017   Posted in: Israel Apartheid |

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