I was asked to come and run a song making experience at Har’el school in Jerusalem, by Yael Tal, a theatre teacher and friend who teaches a group of around 30, 15 and 16 year old theatre students at Har’el.
I was really happy, even somewhat relieved by her offer because prior to this, three out of the five intercultural song making workshops I had planned in the region had fallen through due to the heightened conflict. Either it was too hard for the Palestinian kids to come to Israel, not enough willingness for on either side to show up and make music together or due to the heightened sensitivities we needed extra facilitators and dialogue instructors who were not available at the time. These among other factors meant cancellations.
At first I was upset that I would not be able to run my project, but on reflection I realised it was arrogant of me to feel upset about my project.. Much more upsetting was the situation and the hard times that the young people in the region were going through. When I was offered to run a process with exclusively Israeli kids at their school, I realised that perhaps now was not a time for two sides coming together, but was rather a time to meet each side separately and give them the opportunity to share their experience, to hear from them what it’s like at the moment. Having worked with a Palestinian school the day before, I thought that perhaps now there was also an opportunity here to present to each side, the other’s story, music… Song. Could this somehow bridge a difficult divide?
The kids seemed excited to be doing the workshop. Like the Palestinian young people they were very welcoming, very friendly and very bright. Lots of smiles and receptiveness. As soon as we started I felt excited to be there.
I decided to run exactly the same 3 hour workshop as the day before at the Promise school in East Jerusalem. We would start with group free form dancing, then warm up our voices and then proceed to story telling, writing lyrics from our stories, making sounds and recording our lyrics and chorus.
The obvious difference here was that in comparison the Palestinian class of year 10 students, this was a group theatre students, trained in working together, several of which had experience in playing musical instruments. This meant that working together to improvise sounds as an ensemble in a circle formation came somewhat more naturally to the group.
In the song we hear: Boom Cha, woos, melodies, stomping clapping. We hear the sounds of Relief “ahhh” the sound of Love with kisses, the sound of Difficulty with “oish” all working quite seamlessly together in a nice pattern.
I heard the same richness of life experience being expressed in the story telling and lyric writing component of the workshop as the day before with the Palestinian kids in East Jerusalem… The same difficulty of living in the region: not feeling safe, being sick of the conflict,. The same love of the place, albeit replacing Muslim holy places with “Beaches” and the same sense of hope for a better future.
There was also both the friendly moderate views as well as the more right wing views about the other side. Like the Palestinian young people it seemed to me the divide was between those who had had positive experiences and relations with Arab people and those who had had limited contact, perhaps gaining most of their knowledge about Arabs from the devastating news coming from Israeli media outlets.
One thing that stood out to me was the group expressing an intense feeling of being isolated in the world, not feeling accepted and being judged by the international community. They argued that they simply wanted to live a life in peace. You can hear this sentiment in the chorus “when my friends brother returned from Gaza we were relieved, but we want to tell the world that we’re not killers, we just want to live in peace”. The title for the song is taken from this sentiment and lyric expressed in the chorus.
Take a listen and let me know what you think in the comments below. It may also be worth listening to the song that was made the previous day by the group of Palestinian young people of the age in East Jerusalem.