McCartney revives Beatlemania in Israel

50,000 fans enjoyed Paul McCartney's first ever concert in Tel Aviv, some 40 years after the Beatles were banned from performing in Israel. Tickets sold for as much as 1,000 euros.


Beatlemania gripped Israel Thursday as Paul McCartney played his first ever concert in the Jewish state, urging some 50,000 rapturous fans to "Give peace a chance."

Four decades after the Fab Four were forced to cancel a gig over official fears they would corrupt the country's youth, Sir Paul performed an outdoor concert in Tel Aviv, defying death threats from an Islamist cleric and calls from pro-Palestinian groups who wanted him to boycott Israel.

The veteran rocker started the gig with a rousing "Shalom Tel Aviv," followed by greetings in Hebrew and Arabic before singing John Lennon's "Give peace a chance."

"Make peace, make peace," he added, slighting distorting a popular hippie-era slogan.

The 66-year-old Peter Pan of rock wowed the audience at Hayarkon Park, some of whom paid as much as 1,000 euros (1,450 dollars) for the privilege, belting out songs interspersed with Hebrew words.

The legendary left-handed bass guitarist's "Magical Mystery Tour" was a lifetime's dream for some like 58-year-old Leora Fried.

"He is so handsome, so thin," she said, struggling to hold back her tears.

"I have been dreaming about this concert for such a long time."

Yanor May, 38, who travelled from the northern city of Haifa for the event, said: "I grew up with the Beatles. It was like seeing a family member."

McCartney had dismissed security fears amid warnings about the concert.

"You have to realise that any high-profile event brings with it some worries," he said in an interview with The Jerusalem Post published on Sunday.

Earlier this month, militant Lebanese cleric Omar Bakri Muhammad was quoted by London's Sunday Express as saying McCartney should not travel to Israel. "He will not be safe there. The sacrifice operatives will be waiting for him."

But McCartney, one of two surviving ex-Beatles along with Ringo Starr, said he hopes his "Friendship First" concert will spread a message of peace.

"It often does happen you know, you'll go to a place and it can affect the audience," he said on his website.

Several pro-Palestinian groups had urged the pop star to boycott Israel because of the way it treats Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and the besieged Gaza Strip.

"I was approached by different groups and political bodies who asked me not to come," McCartney told Israel's top-selling Yediot Aharonot newspaper. "I do what I think, and I have many friends who support Israel."

McCartney made a surprise trip on Tuesday to the West Bank town of Bethlehem just outside of Jerusalem, where he lit a candle at the Church of the Nativity, built on the traditional site of Jesus's birth.

He also paid a brief visit to the Edward Said Music Conservatory there, where he watched a rehearsal by young Palestinian students.

The British musician had told journalists and fans who greeted him at Ben Gurion airport outside Tel Aviv on Wednesday that he wanted to bring "a message of peace and love" to the Middle East.

The Beatles had planned to play in Israel at the height of Beatlemania in 1965, but they were cancelled after sponsors failed to raise enough money as members of parliament voiced concern they might corrupt young Israeli minds.

Israel's ambassador to Britain Ron Proser apologised for the cancellation earlier this year, calling it "a great missed opportunity" in a letter to the band's surviving members.

McCartney and his entourage have taken up 21 rooms in a luxury hotel on the Mediterranean seashore, where their bill is expected to exceed 100,000 dollars (66,000 euros), media reported.

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