Making peace through music in Jerusalem – why not?

This was our second trip to Jerusalem, our first was a holiday 2 years back.  This time we were on a fact-finding mission, scoping out the potential for young Israelis and Palestinians to come together to play music, dance and sing. A core goal of a project; to demonstrate to the World that it is possible for warring people to cross a divide and work together inside a harmonious environment. Making Peace instead of War.

Finola and I were joined by Tom Creed, all volunteers on the RippleZoo 2018 trip to Cameroon (and going back there again in November). Enrico Molinaro and his wife Enrica (5 months pregnant) representing Mediterranean Perspectives based in Rome and RIDE-APS (Head of the Italian network of the Anna Lindh Foundation-ALF), organized all the meetings. Enrico is well known for his commitment to building bridges between Israelis and Palestinians and for developing a number of projects that support cross community peace building.

We were conscious of the challenges we faced. First and foremost, there is a complete lack of trust between the 2 communities. That’s actually a mild description for two countries living on the brink of war. Atrocious acts on both sides have fuelled a hatred that you feel is always lurking just below the surface. For an outsider this is hard to understand given that Jerusalem has so much spiritual and religious history and is claimed as the origins for Judaism, Islam and Christianity. And yet, there it is in front of you: religious intolerance and contempt for your neighbours. 

We were told it would be a big step for Israelis (mostly Jews) and Palestinians (mostly Muslims) to come together inside a collaborative music project. And even if their individual passion for music was a personal carrot, lurking behind would be family and community with the stick. It’s potentially dangerous for individuals to participate in any sort of initiative that has them communicating together.

Second up is the location for the project which would have to be neutral, a place both sides would feel comfortable in, somewhere independent. Several locations in Jerusalem were suggested, including recognized Christian venues with a reputation for impartiality. Then again many of the people we met thought Jerusalem would be too dangerous and it would better to bring the participants together in a more peaceful environment like Galilee which is less of a hot bed. Others felt it would be better to host the project outside the region, in a European country, where a project would be less likely to attract negative local publicity.

From an International perspective all the news and media spin coming out of Israel and Palestine paint a picture of 2 countries moving further away from peace and towards an escalation of violence. There are no real peace initiatives and many influential politicians, inside and outside the conflict zones, seemingly intent on stirring up even more trouble with antagonistic talking and actions.

Yet we were all really moved and encouraged by the amazing and incredibly hard work being undertaken by individuals and organizations dedicated to making a difference in building on-the -ground programs that positively impact both communities. It’s a pity we rarely hear of this important work. The media and politicians certainly don’t give it much attention.

Every person we met was encouraging and willing to help any they can. They are all worth a mention; Petra and Tobias at the Willy Brandt Foundation (their office is right on the Green Line between East and West Jerusalem), George at the YMCA/Three Arches Hotel (an incredible independent facility near the Old City of Jerusalem), Fadwa at the Jerusalem Center for Women (Head of the ALF Palestinian network), Amb. Alon BarBar from the Foreign Ministry of Israel, Fatima at the Shorouq Society for Women, Silvana at the Galilee Institute, Roberta and Martina at the Oranim College (Head of the ALF Israeli network), Fr Ibrahim at the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land, Ladino dancers and experts Ella and Susana, Nadav and Danny of the Tel Aviv Wind Quintet, Couns. James Oshea from the Irish Embassy in Tel Aviv. More on all these people, their organisations and the important work they do coming up in future blogs.

After a week of meetings in Jerusalem, Galilee and Tel Aviv the RippleZoo and Mediterranean Perspectives teams are confident we can organize a project that can allow young dancers, singers and musicians to overcome their fears and come together and deliver a powerful message of peace to their families, friends and communities. And maybe just maybe the politicians will hear them.      

There will be further blogs on the music project as the challenges are identified, considered and overcome.