TEL AVIV (Reuters) - Paul McCartney gave his first concert in Israel on Thursday before tens of thousands of cheering fans, 43 years after the Beatles were barred from singing there because of fears they could corrupt youngsters.
Security was tight at Yarkon Park in Tel Aviv and media reports in Britain said an Islamist militant had threatened the ex-Beatle, while some Palestinians urged him to cancel his trip over Israel’s occupation of the West Bank since 1967.
The 66-year-old ignored the demands, but delighted Palestinian fans during his visit to the region when he went to the West Bank city of Bethlehem, lit candles at the Church of the Nativity there and wished for peace for Palestinians.
McCartney opened the Tel Aviv gig with Beatles song “Hello Goodbye,” and addressed the 40,000 fans in Hebrew and Arabic as well as English throughout the evening.
“Shalom Tel Aviv!” he said, using the Hebrew word for “peace” and “hello.” The ex-Beatle also wished the crowd a happy new year in Hebrew ahead of Jewish celebrations next week and wished Muslims a good Ramadan, the month of fasting, in Arabic.
McCartney, who wore a dark suit over a pink shirt, dedicated Wings track “My Love” to Linda, his wife who died of cancer in 1998, and also paid tribute to late Beatles John Lennon and George Harrison.
Teenaged girls were reduced to tears and the crowd waved its arms in the air as the star performed some of his biggest hits during two hours of almost non-stop music.
Among the favourites were “Give Peace a Chance” and “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” the closing number.
McCartney’s visit to Israel prompted a fresh wave of Beatlemania, with radio stations playing the band’s tunes almost non-stop in the past few days.
“Even just a quarter of the Beatles is awesome to see,” said 16-year-old Gaya Yona before the concert.
Ilan Yacobovich, 55, added that the gig made up for the Beatles ban of 1965.
“That was a screw-up when I was a kid. I’m here to rectify that — this is our compensation,” he said.
Israel’s brusque rejection of a request by the Beatles to perform while at the height of their career was long attributed to Golda Meir, the grandmotherly prime minister who was said to have denounced them as a “corruptive influence.”
But Israeli culture historian Alon Gal said documents show it was a defunct culture panel, not Meir, that made the decision after youthful crowds were unruly at an appearance in the early ‘60s by British rock star Cliff Richard.
Israel’s ambassador to Britain apologised in January for the cold-shoulder to the Beatles. He invited McCartney and the other surviving Beatle, Ringo Starr, to perform in Israel.
During his visit, McCartney was mobbed by reporters as he visited some of the region’s holiest sites.
“All we need is peace in the region and a two-state solution,” McCartney told reporters and tourists outside the Bethlehem shrine revered as the site of Jesus’s birth.
“I am bringing a message of peace and I think that’s what the region needs. It’s my own small way I can bring my message.”
(Writing by Mike Collett-White, editing by Mark Trevelyan)
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