SermonsGirl on Fire

Alicia Keys, if you’re going to play Israel, at least show this video when you sing “Girl on Fire”

Dear Alicia Keys,

This week, you will be giving a concert in Israel, in spite of pleas that you respect an academic/cultural boycott, observed by people like Stevie Wonder, Coldplay, Elvis Costello, Roger Waters and Stephen Hawking because of the military occupation of Palestine that Israel shows no intention of ending.

Since you have made this decision, I have another suggestion.

Students for Justice in Palestine at the University of New Mexico, put together an amazing video* of young Palestinian women resisting the Israeli military occupation set to your song, “Girl on Fire.” In its soulful opening strains, a young Palestinian woman with a Palestinian flag runs up the back of a huge water cannon truck used to disperse crowds at demonstrations. Then for the rest of your song we see young Palestinian women “on fire” as they protest the confiscation of their land, destruction of their farms, restrictions of their movement, and general assaults on their dignity. They do not back down even when soldiers beat them, pepper spray them, throw them to the ground or threaten them with weapons. Some of your lyrics, in fact, are hauntingly evocative of what we see the young women dealing with in the video.

When you sing “Girl on Fire,” this week, Ms. Keys, you could show these girls and young women to your audience. You could dedicate that song to all Palestinian and Israeli women who are struggling to end the forty-six-year-long Israeli military occupation of Palestinian civilians in the West Bank and Gaza.

Palestinian girls study on the street in Hebron because soldiers will not let them access their school.

Palestinian girls study on the street in Hebron because soldiers will not let them access their school.

You have said, “Music is a universal language that is meant to unify audiences in peace and love, and that is the spirit of our show.” These are laudable sentiments. But I think if you witnessed—as I have during my work as a human rights advocate for the last eighteen years in the West Bank—the utter contempt with which Israeli soldiers and settlers treat Palestinian women, children and men, I think your position would be more nuanced. If you explored the information put out by Palestinian and Israeli peace and human rights organizations I think you will begin to see that the only road to the peace that you say is the spirit of your show lies in ending this brutal occupation. If you want to unify Israelis and Palestinians, showing this video footage may be the only small way you can do so, since the majority of the Palestinians featured in that video live under Israeli military occupation and their movements are severely restricted to a limited geographical area. The Israeli military would never give them permits to see your show.

Ms. Keys, most artists never have the privilege of having their songs taken up by popular culture to support a freedom struggle. You could contribute to the soundtrack of a liberation movement. Or you, like most of your Israeli audience, can continue to behave as though the Palestinian girls, teenagers and women in that video are not suffering, are not having their human rights violated, are not worth being seen.

Your call.


Kathleen Kern

*Your people forced Youtube to take it down, even though they appeared to have no objections to parodies or other amateur performances of the song. I found it on Facebook and here.