A Dream Come True
July 27, 2008
Tonight at the Jerusalem Festival organized by Yabous Productions at the Tombs of the Kings, I watched a dream come true - The PalestineYouth Orchestra. It was a memorable evening listening to the Youth orchestra play with the Collegium Musicum of the University of Bonn, Germany. Yabous productions had to expand the stage of the festival to make room for the 82 musicians.
No better place more inspiring than this beautiful old archeological site in Jerusalem to host this fantastic event. We seemed to be in a different world, so peaceful. Trying to forget the reality that encompasses the city, I could not help but reflect on the words of the Gospel according to Luke 19:41 "As Jesus approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said: If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace….."
Even nowadays thereis enough reason for weeping over Jerusalem. However tonight we were simply elated with the sound of music. I was specially delighted to see Samer Rashed on the Viola. I remember Samer as a child when he started music at Rawdat El-Zuhur and pursued it faithfully when he transferred to high school and graduated this year. Of course it was not difficult to spot Zeina, my 17 year old granddaughter as she was one of three on the bassoon. The conservatory has indeed provided opportunities for so many Palestinian children as there are more than six hundred and fifty students enrolled in its three branches in Ramallah, Bethlehem and Jerusalem.
The first part of the program was Aram Khachaturian's Gayane Ballet Suite No.2 and Excerpts from Suite No. 3 conducted by Walter Mik fromthe University of Bonn.
The second part was just as beautiful as we listened to the orchestra accompany three women soloists Deema Bawab, Reem Talhami and Rim Banna singing for Jerusalem. Deema excelled in Stephen Adams "The Holy City," and she also sang Rima Tarazi's song Al Quds Arrabiyah which some of you might have heard for the first time sung by Tania Tamari Nasir at St. George's Cathedral at the opening worship service of the Sabeel International Conference in 1996 on Jerusalem. Reem Talhami who has such anexpressive face sang with deep feeling the Rahbani Brothers, "Zahrat Al Madaen," and reached the same standard of excellence as Fairuz, the original singer. Reem dedicated her songs to the Kurd family in Sheikh Jarrah in Jerusalem who have been ordered to evict their home along with 28 other families to make room for an Israeli settlement in the midst of that Arab quarter of East Jerusalem. She also sang one of Suhails's compositions Ya Quds wain Arroh. And with her usual charm Rim Banna who was the star of the fourth night of the Festival sang her own compositions for Jerusalem and for "Sara" the young Palestinian child who was shot dead by an Israeli sniper in the Nablus area.
Ever since the National Conservatory of Music was established fifteen years ago, it has been the dream of my son Suhail, the general director of the conservatory as well as that of the founders of the Conservatory, to have an orchestra of Palestinian musicians from all over the world. Tonight with tears in my eyes I saw the dream come true. Since 2004, and for three consecutive years, the Palestine Youth Orchestra had practiced and performed every summer in Jerash, Jordan. Last year they had a new experience in Germany with the Collegium Musicum of the University of Bonn. But tonight was very special as they performed for the first time in East Jerusalem, on Palestinian soil. Indeed a dream come true. As I write this the young musicians are on their way to perform in Ramallah, Haifa, Amman,and Damascus. Maybe someday you will hear them in your part of the world.
For more about Samia Khoury: http://www.thewitness.org/author.php?id=33
14 Hours: From Heaven to Hell
Aug. 1, 2008
Being in Jerusalem is to experience a rollercoaster of emotions. Never have I experienced this more than these past 2 days. I've been here now for almost a month, arriving July 2 to begin volunteering with the Palestinian peace movement, Sabeel. This is my second time here, having worked with Sabeel for 7 months in 2006-2007. I've already had opportunities again this time to see the natural beauty of the West Bank while at the same time hearing the stories of the Palestinian people who live there, of their daily struggles just to survive. These people are tired. They are exhausted. They live in hope that someday soon this will end and there will be peace, but their hope is diminishing.
But that hope seemed to come to life on Sunday night. I was invited to attend a concert given by the Palestinian Youth Symphony as part of the annual Jerusalem Festival. The theme of the concert was "Celebrating Jerusalem" and celebrate is what these young people did. They joined with the Collegium Musicum of the University of Bonn in performing works by Aram Khachaturian and then accompanied three singers, 2 Palestinian women and one from Jordan, who performed 6 pieces which sang the praises of the City of Jerusalem.
The whole experience was incredible, from the outdoor setting under the stars at the Tomb of the Kings in East Jerusalem to the music itself, which practically lifted us from our seats in its beauty and soul. The highlight for me was the singing of "The Holy City" by Jordanian soprano, Dima Bawab. I have always loved this piece, but never had I heard it so exquisitely sung. I felt as though I was being lifted up to the heaven of the "New Jerusalem" of the song. I returned home totally uplifted by the experience and in awe of the creativity and giftedness of the Palestinian performers. Surely this was an expression of the hope that lies within.
On Monday morning, after our weekly staff meeting at work, a Palestinian co-worker approached me. Did I want to come with her to witness a home demolition in East Jerusalem? How does one answer that question? Yes, I wanted to be there, if only to be able to write about it as a first hand experience. But did I really want to see it? Did I want to see the pain of families losing their homes?
We drove a mile or so until we were blocked by a barricade set up by the Israeli police. Taking a side street we reached the site of the demolition. We parked the car and walked towards the people who were beginning to gather. Israeli police were everywhere, blocking us from a clear view of what was about to happen. We heard that this family had been issued a permit to build their 4 story home. But they had enlarged a porch area and found out that the permit did not allow for this. They had appealed and eventually paid a fine for the work, but the demolition order was given. They had also begun work on an additional floor as an extension of the living space for the families. This, too, was not covered by the permit. They had promised to tear this down, but their request was not granted. They had pleaded that the demolition would only be of the work not covered by the permit, but their pleas went unheard. The whole building would come down. Eight families, 70 people, living in this building were now losing their homes.
We heard that the police had come around 4 a.m. that morning, forcibly removing the residents and taking the father and son to prison. The police then went to neighboring homes and had the tenants removed. Dogs were brought in to make sure that no one remained behind.
And then we waited. A large backhoe was in place next to the building. Various camera crews set up as close as they could get before being moved back by the police. Five members of an Orthodox Jewish group arrived and sat in protest with their Palestinian neighbors, holding signs that read "Torah demands 'Stop Destruction'" and "We Beseech Human Rights Organizations to Intervene Immediately to Rescue Our Palestinian Brothers from Zionist Captivity." There was no violence, only a protest of presence.
And then we heard the sickening sound of the backhoe as it began to tear away at the outer lower wall of the home. I could see the stones breaking apart as the drilling continued. I couldn't imagine what it would feel like to see your home destroyed. The loving work of your hands that had taken years to complete. The lives of the families that were now being totally uprooted.
How many thousands of homes have to be destroyed before the world says, "Enough." How many thousands of families have to suffer before the world has the courage to call this what it is: terrorism. Institutional terrorism that is the result of government policy, but terrorism nonetheless. This is nothing short of evil. Why is it that we are so quick to name other violent acts as acts of terrorism, but don't see the terrorism of these acts that we not only sanction, but finance?
Do you now see why I talk about a rollercoaster of emotions? The hope that I had witnessed so beautifully displayed on Sunday evening at the concert had turned in just 14 hours to the hopelessness of Israeli policies that continue to drain the life from the Palestinian people.
When and where will this end? In this election year let us look for leaders who will have the courage to address this problem in ways that will give hope, real hope, to both Palestinians and Israelis who have had enough of policies that only deplete and dehumanize. It's beyond time for us to take a stand. May we all have the courage to do so.
For info about Tina Whitehead see http://www.yourtwinboros.com/advanceleader/article/whitehead-brings-back-stories-israel
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