Most of us call our country of birth, home. We grow to love the culture. We mingle with the people and build friendships over the food we share. For all the bloodshed that the division of land has caused, it makes us feel like we belong.
On June 23rd, 1963, Gilad Atzmon was born in Tel Aviv, Israel. He was born in a secular Jewish household. He should have had the sense of being part of the ‘chosen people.’ During his years of innocence, he did.
At age 18, Gilad joined the army as a paramedic. Saving lives became his job.
But through his participation in the army, he soon realized that war is not the answer. It never was. That patriotism for any country, even one's own country becomes senseless, when being human ceases to exist.
For the first time, Gilad began to understand the complexity of land division.
“It’s hard to pinpoint when I started feeling this way. But watching my people commit atrocities towards others certainly made me feel uneasy.” Gilad would have felt the same way about any country oppressing another. In this case, it just happened to be his own over another. And he took cognisance of it when all was lost: the sense of pride he grew up with, the sense of belonging, the feeling of being united amongst his own.
Coming face to face with the victims of war troubled Gilad. They were displaced people living in camps. And their lives were pathetic. It was hard to see them as Palestinians or Jews or as right or wrong. They were just mothers crying for their children. Fathers feeling helpless. Children escaping bombings. And those who didn’t.
In 1994, a very disillusioned Atzmon left Israel to move to the U.K. Till date, he is settled there, never once visiting his birth land.
“I do not consider myself to be a victim. Initially I thought there was something fundamentally wrong with my country. Gradually I understood the politics of it all. I left because I felt I was living on somebody else’s land,’ he says.
“For me it was an internal struggle. My wife still goes back to Israel to visit her family. My kids are free to do what they want. But I will never go back until Israel becomes Palestine.”
Starting his life in England, Gilad found within, a language to connect with all. The language of music. As a musician, Gilad found an outlet to express himself. The pain, the anguish, the confusion, the fight all suppressed within finally found a voice and came out loud and clear through his music and his writings. Atzmon naturally built as many enemies along the way, as he did friends.
But Gilad was sure of his purpose in life. It was high time for people of different origins to finally identify as humans first. Enough with the division of people based on ego or colour or religion. Spreading that message remains Gilad’s fight till today.
“The politics of racial profiling is what creates these problems. If you politically identify as a Jew, then you are privileged. Why? Doesn’t every family want a good education for its kids? Doesn’t every mother want to feed her child? I think people who are proud of what they are doing, do not need to identify with a particular race.”
Gilad’s argument is not confined to the borders of Israel.
“If a person is gay, why should that define who he is in society? Why does a person’s sexual orientation affect us so much that we feel the need to either accept or reject it? Why do we feel the need to identify with a certain geographical boundary or with religion or land? Why can’t we just let it be, just be us?”
As a commentator on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he has been praised as well as chided. His books have been termed science-fiction by some but his struggle to find the truth does not stop.
“To reveal the truth; that is my main struggle.”
Many argue that is his truth alone, and not the actual truth.
“Who is to say who is right and who is wrong?”
In September 2011, Gilad released his book, The Wondering Who, talks of the threat to humanity not just from a certain sect, but from all religious and various identities that people stick to. His fundamentally liberating ideas naturally became a threat to orthodoxy and structure of power that divides human from human. His book went on to sell millions of copies across the world, revealing the hypocrisy that lies in society.
Gilad’s war is to stop wars. His war is to end the ideology that there is only one right. Through his music and his books, Gilad is hopeful he can finally bring people together.
“I am a curios person. I love to engage in intellectual discussions. I read about things I may not necessarily agree with. For me, that is what we should be teaching. Many thinkers teach us what to say. That is wrong! We need to be taught how to think, not what to think. And that is what is crumbling our system. We should be taught to think, to argue, to be skeptical and ask questions.”
“I have nothing against Jews and you will not find that in any of my writings,” he says. “I write about identity. I write a lot about the Jewish Question – because I was born in the Jew-land, and my whole process in maturing into an adult was involved with the realization that my people are living on stolen land.”
“Rather than understanding who you are, one invests some effort in differentiating oneself from the other and from the universal. Rather than listening to one’s conscience and engage in an authentic ethical judgment, the negating subject sets his or her relationships with his or her surrounding environment, based on pragmatic and practical decision-making and exchange. At most one may present a pretense of ethical thinking, but no more than that.” - Excerpt from The Wondering Who.
Besides his penchant for intellectual discourse, trained at the Rubin Academy of Music in Jerusalem, Atzmon is a multi-instrumentalist. He plays the clarinet, saxophone and ethnic woodwind instrument and his music has won numerous awards.
Igor Goldkind Passion, one of Gilad's fans feels the drive and intense talent flowing through his veins each time he listens to him. "Every time I see Gilad perform I am confirmed in my assertion that he is the most dynamic and improvisational musician playing on the live circuit in the UK today."
As a Jazz musician with the Orient House Ensemble band, Gilad travels to a lot of places. Just not to Israel.
“Until it becomes Palestine,” he repeats. It’s hard enough accepting that what was once my home is in fact not mine. Gilad is on a journey to convince others of the fact. It is his fight and perhaps a cross only a few bear.
The future is complex for him.
“I have to turn my thoughts into a movement, into a consciousness that brings goodness." Gilad insists, he does not write about politics, but about ethics, about identity.
In this world of politics, religion, extreme left vs far right all shape our perspective and definition of what's right and what's wrong. Whereas Gilad has been strongly termed as Anti Sematic by his critics, those who defend him hold him in the highest regard, a messiah for those oppressed and wronged. In between the two extremely conflicting opinions about this same person, one thing is certain: there can never be that one right answer written in black or in white.
To question the 'truth' in this world amongst all that one is made to learn from the time one is a toddler, by society, by the government, by the education system, and question the authorities is not something everyone thinks of. Fewer still achieve it.
To find that answers lie not in wars, in bloodshed, in supremacy of one over the other is another level of heroism.
To finally find the courage to voice one’s opinion in the face of extreme opposition, is what sets Gilad apart.
Victor Hugo had once said, that music expresses that which cannot be put into words and that which cannot remain silent. Today, Gilad’s work has moved thousands of artists across Britain to say no to intimidation, no to censorship and no to political pressure. In an answer to a demand to ban Gilad’s concert in the U.K. by those who oppose him, thousands of his supporters united to protect the principles of a free society and swear by his courage, music and thoughts free from politically correct writing.
Nicknamed the "hardest working man in British jazz", Atzmon has recorded and performed with the likes of Robbie Williams, Sir Paul McCartney, Ian Dury, Pink Floyd and Sinead O'Connor.
Gilad’s dream now? To see every last country free from occupation by another. To see humans break away from chains that bind them to false pride. And of course, for Palestine to be given back their land.
Gilad Atzmon, as your fight to level all humans continues through your books and music, may you remain steadfast in giving your listeners and readers the option of knowing that a third path exists between an all-black or an all-white path. It’s the path that belongs to us, which we must carve for ourselves.
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