The Middle East, Peace through Music and a No-mans-land

April 16, 2009

'Strings for Peace'
A little story of hope that lightened up the news in the beginning of the week became a story of despair at the end of it. On March 25th, it was reported that a group of Palestinian children from Jenin (a miserable refugee camp in northern Westbank that was the stage of a bloodbath in 2002) gave a touching musical performance for holocaust survivors in the Israeli town Holon. Interestingly, the children had no idea they were singing for holocaust survivors, and the holocaust survivors had no idea the children had come from Jenin. After the performance they talked. And the holocaust survivors talked about the holocaust, of which the Palestinian children hadn’t heard of, and the children were shocked. And Zeid, one of the Palestinian kids told the survivors how his grandparents had fled from Haifa in 1948 and never were able to go back to their home. He also said how “Only people who have been through suffering understand each other”. The children had never seen Israeli civilians up close. They were surprised at how different the elderly Israeli looked compared to their own elderly.
It was too good to be true. This this story was followed up with reports that authorities in the Jenin camp had shut down the children’s orchestra, boarded up its rehearsal studio and banned its conductor from the camp after they had found out about the singing to the holocaust survivors.
This story sadly parallels another story involving music, peace, the middle east and too good to be true. A few months ago the Israeli public choose Mira Awad (a Christian Arab) and Achinoam Nini (Israeli and Jewish) to represent them in the 2009 Eurovision song festival (for those so lucky to have never heard of the Eurovision song festival, it is an annual orgy of kitchy music that captures the attention of a 100 million Europeans every year). Achinoam Nini has a long history of reaching out to Palestinians through her music (singing with them, refusing to sing in the settlements etc…) activities that the far right in Israel hasn’t exactly been appreciative of. Not a few of her concerts have been canceled due to bomb threats from the extreme right.
Anyway. as soon as this duo was elected to represent Israel in the festival, opposition and controversy rose up out of nowhere. It was however not the far right in Israel that soured the attempt at reconciliation but the (not that far) left. The duo was accused of prettifying the situation in Israel, of presenting a too rosy and harmonious picture of the situation within Israel. A petition went around to demand their withdrawal from the festival, saying that the duo “is giving the false impression of coexistence in Israel and is trying to shield the nation from the criticism it deserved.” Please note that the duo is not exactly singing kumbayas. Their songs are about the difficulties of reconciliation. They might very well end up being the least kitschy artists of the festival. If they make it.
Finally another story comes to mind. The one in which British soldiers and German soldiers in the trenches of WWI interrupted their brutal activities to sing Christmas songs together on a strip of land called no-man’s-land. The question I have is the following: if soldiers, caught up in the middle of one of the most brutal and harsh conditions, living in mud and with the only purpose of killing each other, can get themselves to stop hating each other and sing together for one cold and yet human Christmas evening, then why can’t the Israeli and Palestinians? Is the hatred so deep that even the mere talk of peace, the mere suggestion of reconciliation is enough to turn Palestinians and Israeli red-hot with rage? It made me think of the concept of a no-mans-land. Maybe it was the chunck of land that didn’t belong to anybody (why by the way does land always have to belong to somebody?) that made one evening of peace possible in 1917. No-mans-land as a condition of suspension of hatred between enemies. A neutral, hate-free zone so to speak. Can there be a symbolic or even a real no-mans-land between Israeli and Palestinians? A place where hatred is suspended and stories are shared? A place that belongs to everybody and to nobody at the same time?
“And when I cry, I cry for both of us, my pain has no name”
Achinoam Nini and Mira Awad sing.,7340,L-3692571,00.html

Achinoam Nini and Mira Awad

Israeli-Arab singing duo







3 Responses to “The Middle East, Peace through Music and a No-mans-land”

  1. owlminerva Says:

    I agree completely with you that a lot is wrong in Israel and how they treat the Palestinians. But the lyrics aren’t really saying that. They sing about the fact that “there must be another way” (the title of the song). I will put the english translation of the lyrics below. So they are basically saying that what is going on isn’t good and something has to change. I agree though that them appearing together in itself makes it look like Israeli and Arabs are great friends, which obviously is not true. But that is actually what the song is about, that it is not the case but that it should be the case, that ultimately there has to be a way to create a peace. I don’t know. I still find it sad that there is controverse about enemies singing together. There should be moments of truce. Not everything should be a relentless fight.

    English translation

    There must be another
    Must be another way

    Your sisterly eyes
    All that my heart wants, it requests
    We came all the way till here
    A long way
    Such a difficult way
    Hand in hand
    And the tears trickle and flow in vain
    A pain with no name
    We wait
    Till the day that will come

    There must be another way
    There must be another way

    Your eyes say
    The day will come and all the fear will disappear
    In your eyes a determination
    That there is a possibility
    To continue the way
    As long as it may take
    Because there isn’t only one address to the sorrow
    I call into the vastness, to the stubborn heavens

    There must be another way
    There must be another way
    There must be another
    Must be another way

    A long way we’ll go,
    A very difficult way,
    Together to the light,
    Your eyes say,
    All the pain will disappear,

    And when I cry I cry for both of us
    My pain has no name
    And when I cry I cry to the merciless sky and say
    There must be another way

    And the tears trickle and flow in vain
    A pain with no name
    We wait
    Till the day that will come

    There must be another way
    There must be another way
    There must be another
    Must be another way

  2. beyondtheborder Says:

    I agree with you that its sad that the authorities in the Jenin camp shut down the children’s orchestra because of the holocaust song. What I gathered from other news sources, however, was that the children didn’t know what the holocaust was while they were singing (correct me if I’m wrong). Although its sweet that they sung for holocaust survivors, even though they’re victims of Israeli occupation, its kinda ‘wrong’ to make children do stuff without their knowledge – its like using children. Of course, had the children been aware that they were singing for holocaust survivors, its all good, and its definitely sad that the ochestra was shut down.

    As for Noa and Mira, I definitely thing what they’re doing is completely wrong. The message Mira and Noa are sending is that everything is all good back in Israel-Palestine. Its just a cultural misunderstanding. Of course, this is not true. Israeli Arabs are treated pretty badly in Israel, and heavily discriminated against, not just by regular Israelis on the street, but by the government itself. I guess these lines summarize the problem:
    “The Israeli government is sending the two of you to Moscow as part of its propaganda machine that is trying to create the appearance of Jewish-Arab ‘coexistence’ under which it carries out the daily massacre of Palestinian civilians,” the letter said. “Israeli artists, authors and intellectuals that take part in this propaganda machine, instead of working for justice, equality and the upholding of human and civil rights, not to mention international law, are partners to the crime.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: