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Sunday, 12 July 2009

Playing for Peace: Palestinian and Israeli Teenagers Groove

Written by Matthew Kalman

THE MEDIA LINE
Published Sunday, July 12, 2009

An unusual scene in Tel Aviv: Palestinian and Israeli teenagers – Christians, Muslims and Jews – have just spent two weeks together recording a music track, writing their own lyric and producing a video clip to upload to YouTube.

The 19 youngsters, aged from 14 to 17, gathered at the headquarters of Windows for Peace, a veteran people-to-people organization that tries to bridge the gaps between Israeli and Palestinian youth through workshops, a regular magazine in Hebrew and Arabic, and other joint activities.

The song – “A Step for Peace” - and the accompanying video filmed on the streets and beachfront of Tel Aviv, is a strong expression of the futility of war and their hopes for peace, with a piercingly direct lyric laced over a rap groove.

“We must understand war is not the way, hatred will go away. We want peace, we need peace, oh yeah,” they sing. “We can make the future bright. We should all have equal rights. No racism, no discrimination - together we can change the situation.”

The project is the brainchild of Rob Cowan, founder of the Point Blank music production and DJ college in London, who says music is a powerful way to bring young people together.

“I believe in the power of music as a tool for social regeneration. I believe that the arts can have a place and that we’re just doing our small bit. This is something that we want to do. Hopefully, it’s a step in the right direction,” Cowan told The Media Line.

Natalie Baddour, a 15-year-old schoolgirl from Bethlehem, said she savoured the opportunity to spend time with her Israeli counterparts in Tel Aviv because it would usually be impossible for a Palestinian to enter Israel.

“I hope it will at least influence a couple of people to get them to know what we go through and how we deal with the situation here in Palestine and in Israel and how the two countries communicate and how they live together,” said Natalie, who was spending her third summer at a Windows workshop.

“We all have such different points of view and we come from such different backgrounds so it’s hard to get to one certain point where we all can agree instead of disagreeing and having all these issues, but we’ve worked together for the past three years so we kind of got used to the fact that we may not always agree on anything,” she said.

Natalie said the participants kept in touch through texting and Facebook and had become good friends. Even though it was her first experience writing music, she felt the group had something to say and she was proud of what they had produced.

“I’m really attached to it because it expresses a lot of what we feel and what we go through and also the message of this particular song and the lyrics are very important to us – for both parties, Israelis, Palestinians and of course the Arab Israelis as well. We communicate with the lyrics of the song,” she said.

“The main point is that we want peace and we want to live together peacefully,” she added.

Her friend Tamara Abu Hemameh, another 15-year-old from Bethlehem, said participating in Windows made a huge impact on her attitudes towards Israelis.

“Actually, it changed my life because before I went to Windows I was thinking that Israeli people are really bad and they think of us bad and they don’t like us so when I met the group it was a shock for me,” she said. “Now I really changed all my thoughts about the Israeli people and I’m really happy about it.”

“We just tell everybody in Bethlehem that we are in Windows and it’s really cool and we’re meeting the Israeli people and they’re really good,” she added. “I’m really proud of myself, proud of the group, everyone, really. It’s good.”

Rob Cowan, who has years of experience using music to reach disaffected young people in London, said the Israeli and Palestinian teenagers were an inspiration.

“They’re incredible. They’re fantastic young people. They’ve really been engaged,” he said. “I think they see this as an opportunity for them to communicate with each other, to discuss their thoughts, but also as an opportunity to work on something and learn some skills. The idea is after we leave they’re going to have the skills to carry on doing this kind of work in the future without us necessarily being here the whole time.”

During the two weeks the group spent working on the project, they lived, ate and shared every moment of their lives together.

The instructor was Pakistan-born Mohammed Nazam, a tutor at Point Blank and founder of Baraka, a multi-faith band from London, who said he was “touched and honoured” to be working with the youths.

"It's important that during challenging times like these the people and organisations who are working for peace step up a gear and show the world that there are ways of increasing understanding and crossing religious, national and cultural divides. The work that Windows for Peace are doing with Israelis and Palestinians is incredibly important. I absolutely believe that no matter what, hatred and war are truly not viable options," Nazam said.

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