By Brian Ives
Recently, Radio.com reported on a new compilation called 2 Unite All, a benefit album produced by an organization called Project Peace on Earth, to raise funds for humanitarian aid to Palestinians in Gaza.
Since publishing the article, Radio.com reached out to Copeland, who has more insight into the conflict in the region than most rock stars…or most Americans. That’s because he grew up in Beirut, Lebanon, and spent much of his childhood in the Middle East.
In a lengthy phone conversation, Copeland spoke even-handledly about the Israel-Gaza conflict. But he was also up for discussing his Sacred Grove sessions (jam sessions that he records with his “fancy friends” at his house) and what could be the most unfortunate hard drive crash of all time. He also addresses his former band, Oysterhead…and that other one, too.
Radio.com: How did you get involved with Project Peace on Earth and the 2 Unite All album?
Stewart Copeland: Well, a year ago, they were over [in the Gaza Strip] organizing events. There was one last Christmas, which was all about seeking to promote accommodation between the various tribes of that region, and it was about eschewing confrontation. I got interested in them at that point. And then they were making this album to provide relief, and that’s when I volunteered a track.
In the press release announcing the album, you said, “Our music may not be able to rebuild homes nor bring back victims of violence, but at least it can soften hearts. Hard hearts allow violence in the Holy Land and softening up allows persuasion.” Unlike a lot of other musicians or celebrities, you don’t seem to judge either side, you’re just recognizing that a lot of people are suffering in the region.
That’s right: it’s aid, not advocacy. We’re not advocating for, or against, anybody. We just want to get that aid there.
On your song on the album, you collaborated with Serj Tankian of System Of A Down, who had a more incendiary quote in the press release [“It’s the least we can do for a people that have suffered under an occupation, embargo, and invasion.”]. Meanwhile, you said, “‘Kumbaya’ is more credible than ‘They Must Go.'”
They Must Go is a book written by Rabbi Meir Kahane. It’s the embodiment of the supercharged Zionist spirit on one side of this equation. And I just think “Kumbaya” is the other extreme. And I think that, given the situation that the region finds itself in, “Kumbaya” really is a lot more credible than “they must go.” There’s been 60 years of war… the “right” and “wrong” of how we got to where we are today are a little bit irrelevant in facing the problem. These folks are stuck together. All kinds of forces have been brought to play—by fair means and foul—to separate them. And it just hasn’t succeeded. There appears to be no political power that can separate these two people on that one piece of land. Which leaves us with a very logical, unemotional solution. I’m really not being a hippie here when I say that “Kumbaya” is really the way forward.
Back in the 1980s, it would have been hard to imagine you doing this much “Kumbaya-ing.”
[laughs] It seems really kind of “hippie,” but they do have to look for ways of stopping the incendiary conflicts, the provocations, the blame, the shouting. Everybody needs to turn the temperature down!
The peaceniks can be derided as being unrealistic. And the reason I chose the most unrealistic sounding meme, if you like, is because it really is that way. I’ve looked pretty closely at this: I’m a child of Beirut, since the age of 6. I was there during the war in 1958. I’ve been following Middle Eastern events very closely. And even with a very hard-eyed view, what’s needed there right now is accommodation. Not blame, not advocacy of one position or the other. It’s all about the real problem that Israel faces today, which is not how to send off a hostile Palestinian state, it’s how to accommodate 4 million Palestinians into the one state of Israel.
It’s surprising that you’re so optimistic that that can work.
I’m not optimistic. and I don’t prescribe the “one-state solution” as a solution. The de facto situation is one state, I’m afraid. The Knesset controls Ramallah much more than Washington, D.C. controls Los Angeles. It’s actually more integrated in the security sense, and the political sense, than the United States are, in a way. It would be wonderful if there were some way of separating them. I don’t think the “two- state solution” is possible. I think the ship has sailed on that. Security can’t be guaranteed on one side, and the gift of the land can’t be made on the other side. Neither side has what the other side needs to come to the table. The best minds, and the worst minds, have been working on how to separate these two people to create two countries on that land, but I feel there’s just no possible way it can happen.
This is not a value judgement. This is not what I want to happen. My analysis leads me to the conclusion that it can’t be separated. Which brings us back to “Kumbaya.” They just have to figure out how to coexist. And I think that rehashing the last 60 years of history—establishing blame, advocating for one side or the other, going over the injustices and the cruelties—that doesn’t move the ball down the field. I think for Israel and the Palestinian people to get to where they need to be, it’s all about “Kumbaya.”