'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.
 
 
 http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3692571,00.html


http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/25/world/middleeast/25israel.html?_r=2&ref=music

 http://www.comcast.net/articles/news-world/20090329/ML.Palestinians.Orchestra/print/

 
Achinoam Nini and Mira Awad

Israeli-Arab singing duo

 

 

 

 

 

 
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