Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Peace Festival in Jerusalem

Palestinian/American comedian Ray Hanania opened up his set on Friday night by telling us “either you must be hard core peace activists or you’re homeless”. It was friggin’ freezing that evening and we were moved from the outside venue to the more intimate auditorium inside Tantur, where IPCRI and it’s leaders Gershon Baskin/Hanna Siniora had organized a full afternoon/evening of Palestinian/Israeli music, workshops and films on Friday and Saturday.

And like the scent of jasmine which entices me or, to better describe this, it’s like a heavy addiction that these wonderful peace activities give me. And so when I found out about this event a few weeks ago, I cooked a quickie Sabbath meal for my family on Friday and ran out the door to catch the last bus into Jerusalem.
It was a chance for Israelis to get to know Palestinian music and for Palestinians to hear Israeli music. We had one famous Israeli name performing on Friday, David Broza.

(David Broza performance)

The atmosphere was festive with food stands set up as well as Palestinian crafts for sale and peace organizations publicizing their stuff. Unfortunately, the crowd numbered a few hundred rather than a few thousand, which I had hoped for, but perhaps that was due to preaching to the preached and not having famous companies like Coca Cola sponsor this kind of event. Ahhh to be a ‘marketing for peace’ person. That is my dream.

(notice the Wall dividing Bethlehem and Jerusalem in the background)

The groups who were in attendance and lucky to obtain permits to enter Jerusalem, were the Peace Club in Hebron, Combatants for Peace, Windows, debka dancers from Anata and a bunch from Bethlehem. Jewish groups came from interfaith dialogue groups, Peace Now, Machsom (checkpoint) Watch and many others. Thankfully there was a lot of media there to report on the events and to capture the moment and to photograph the spontaenous circles of Jews and Palestianians who were planning future events together. I was glad to have made my business cards minutes before I left home because there were many people I gave them to. It feels great expanding this amazing circle of peace-minded friends.

Many of the people I invited to this event asked me “how do we find out about these kinds of things?” which prompted me to begin an email list of my own to promote interfaith/peace activities.

As dusk turned into night, the music was wonderful with the likes of Aliza Hava, an American new immigrant to Israel with an amazing voice who sang original songs, like ”One People, One Land” and Musicians for Peace who had a really wonderful repetoire. But we were all shivering and beginning to feel uncomfortable, so the organizers arranged for the rest of the evening to be held inside the auditorium, where Ray gave us a wonderful preview of his Israeli/Palestinian Comedy Tour, although he is the only Palestinian in the tour. I thought he was hilarious. I laughed my ass off and he was like “was that a sympathy laugh?” No, dahling. It was great seeing a fellow MidEastYouth writer, especially one who gets 3 trillion comments on every post of his. So that was actually a ”jealousy laugh” m’dear.
After Ray’s act, Israeli musicians took the stage. They were a most unusual band. The woman played a tampura (a sitar-like instrument) and sang Jewish prayers in Indian style tunes. It was hauntingly beautiful.

After them, came a Palestinian band who seemed to play klezmer music. I thought - well this is the first Palestinian klezmer band I’ve ever heard - and wanted to invite them to the Safed klezmer festival later on this summer.
I walked a brisk 45-minute walk to my friend’s home with Eliyahu, blabbing the whole way about integrated housing, how wonderful everyone is, wouldn’t it be great if this happened, or that happened and how could we get hundreds of thousands of people into this scene?

Next day I set out for Tantur from the Baka neighborhood of Jerusalem. It was much hotter than the day before. I saw a Palestinian bus from East Jerusalem - those small blue and white mini-buses with hardly any seats. I knocked on the door at a red light. The driver opened up for me and charged me a bit less than an Israeli bus and off we went. Now this was a milestone for me. One of my firsts. I had never taken Palestinian public transportation before because, well, it’s just not done. These buses usually go towards the West Bank where the passengers then pick up Palestinian yellow taxis with west bank license plates. Everyone, of course, was cordial and two men even got up from their seats to give me theirs. But I’m sure their day was rougher than mine - checkpoints and all. I decided to stand for the 10 minute ride.

Getting back to the festival, we started out by watching the film “Encounter Point.” The couple I invited walked out of the film. I ran out to see why.
“It’s just so negative. Everything here is negative.” he moaned. He obviously didn’t come the night before for the non-negative Palestinian-Woodstock-like atmosphere.

“Why don’t you just stick around and wait? The music will soon start and the whole mood will change.”


“How will people learn not to be negative. I know this festival is about 40 years of occupation. But I think of it as a celebration of ’40 years of being reunited with my long-lost cousins’. ”

I thought I saw him smile. Maybe he’ll stay. But he didn’t. A shame. Because even Encounter Point was very moving towards the end as Palestinians and Israelis encountered one another for the very first time. It reminded me of my own story nearly 4 years ago.

We formed chat circles and I spent the late afternoon introducing all these people to one another so that they can form new connections. It just seemed as if I were putting pieces of a puzzle together.

On the big stage were Palestinian hip-hop bands, dancers, Israeli bands, and by the last act, with an Israeli singer of Moroccan background who sang “hafla” songs, we were all dancing wildly in front of the stage, singing “Now is the time for peace”. By the time the party ended, I could really have danced all night. I was so much in a state of bliss that I exclaimed to some stunned listeners that “Peace is even better than sex.”

And now that I’m back into my work week and the tough reality of life, I really think there may even be some truth in what I said...


klara said...

sorry, but I have a hard time thinking these events mean to include EVERYONE, when they're done on a Jewish Sabbath - and to me seems very confusing breaking the Sabbath to have a concert include Jewish prayers. To me, respect of other also means respect of one's own.

jerusalemgypsy said...

Sorry, but these concerts were also Friday afternoon and continuing after the Sabbath. There were a handful of orthodox people who biked or walked to the place. Many Orthodox Jews stay overnight at Jacob's Ladder festival in the Galilee to hear music during the Sabbath. I've been there and have seen droves of them. The concert was free and one didn't have to break the Sabbath to be a part of this....

trouble is - most Orthodox Jews wouldn't have come to this event - even if it were on a weekday.

Bruce said...

I was just telling my co-host (on the Accordion Noir radio show) that I wish we could play some Palestinian Klezmer, that'd be great.

If you ever find that they have a recording, and if they have squeezebox content for us... we'd love to play them on our show.

peace bruce
Vancouver, Canada