Theater of Cruelty

Gaza: If music could muffle the sound of war

"An orchestra today, a state tomorrow," said literary historian and musician Edward Said as he founded the Music Conservatory in Jerusalem. Could there be truth in the slogan?


This day I went through Tel al-Hawa, a small residential area in the southern part of Gaza City that is very marked and destroyed by the war. Then I discovered a group of young people standing together under a window. They listened to beautiful music – both oriental and classical – that flowed out of the tall window.

The window belonged to a small apartment running a music school of the more modest kind – they have no proper lighting, for example, due to the many and long periods without electricity in Gaza – and the music was Mozart's Exsultate, jubilate, played by 11 year-old Natalie Tarazi on a Yamaha piano.

Gaza by. PHOTO: General Synod / Flickr Creative Commons

"She keeps playing better, despite some minor mistakes," says Natasha, her music teacher and originally from Ukraine.

Natalie's desire to learn more about Oriental and Western classical music was not really well received by her mother. She thought her daughter should learn "something more useful" than music, such as management, like her father, who works in the fashion industry.

"It was my father who finally bought the piano. My dream is to become a conductor and swing the baton in front of an entire orchestra. It would have been fantastic, "says Natalie to Ny Tid.

Although resources are limited and space is scarce, nearly 190 eager students gather weekly with their instruments and play together in the rooms and halls, as a kind of escape from the turbulent situation in a city that has been subject to blockade for a decade. The school is funded by the Swedish Development Aid (SIDA).

Music education has not been common in Gaza in recent years. Concerts and other music events have been rare. But when such events take place, there are many who show up to hear – at least among those who can afford to go to a concert.

The music school was established in 2008, but was destroyed by the war that hit Gaza hard on December 27 of the same year and lasted until well into 2009. The school was later rehabilitated in a needy way, and reopened the gates for students.

Liberating. In one of the rooms, ten-year-old Rozan Al Qassas holds a firm grip on his violin. She's trying to play The Nutcracker by Tchaikovsky from old sheet music Her music teacher brought with her from Russia when she got married in Gaza.

Rozan would rather learn to play all the instruments at school. There are about 100 instruments in total, some quite right in poor condition.

"It's so liberating to play the violin. I get a feeling of being lifted up, and I think I'm a tiny person walking around the violin and jumping on the strings like a cartoon character, ”says Rozan.

"I think music helps reduce violence. The struggle for rights in the Arab world needs a more humane register of emotions. "

She goes to music school twice a week with her parents, despite the fact that they think their daughter should pay more attention to the usual school work – and maybe start learning something more useful, karate or something like that.

"These instruments and the art of music in general are part of the war in Palestine, and have no less influence than bullets from Kalashnikovs," claims Jelina Lidawi, Rozan's music teacher, originally from North Ossetia.

"Music is also part of the people's heritage and historical struggle," she adds.

Not a time for music. However, about half of the students have left school, and chosen other, more risky hobbies. Mahmoud Ashour (16) is one of them. He decided to quit once and for all after posting a picture of himself on Facebook playing guitar, and was ridiculed by his friends. "I can't stand such stupid defeats, and I also looked idiotic. I was afraid that the guitar would bring shame on me, "he says.

Instead, he signed up for a youth training camp, organized by Hamas. He has participated in the last three years as one of 30 young people who do hard training for a few weeks every summer. There is no time for music in the current political situation, Mahmoud now believes.

At the same time, the music school does the best it can to keep things going. They have contacted similar schools in other countries with a view to sending teachers and students to courses, workshops and other activities. However, travel is difficult, due to Israeli restrictions on travel from and to Gaza.

Mahmoud's father runs a small grocery store in Gaza City. "The liberation of Palestine has no use for music or drums as long as the Israelis are better at playing war drums and are ready to attack us at any time," he said. He thinks it's nice to develop his business rather than spend money on music school.

Military Camps. It was the Palestinian-American literary historian and musician Edward Said (1935–2003) who established the main branch of this music institute – Edward Said's National Conservatory of Music in Jerusalem – under the slogan "An orchestra today, a state tomorrow". "It is not streets, buildings or the economy that make up the state – the state is culture," said Edward Said Institute director Suhail Khoury in 2014. "Today we have the Palestinian Orchestra roaming the world and being a far stronger messenger. than hundreds of statements and lectures. The orchestra contributes to an understanding of the Palestinian cause. There is a lot of violence in the world, but I think music helps to reduce this violence. The struggle for rights in the Arab world needs a more humane register of emotions. "

An atmosphere of war and suffering is affecting the children of Gaza. Psychologist Sameer Zaqout, who works for the Gaza Psychological Health Program, says that 73 percent of children in Gaza have shown signs of behavioral and psychiatric disorders, and a total of 600 people need various types of psychological help. He adds that this atmosphere constitutes a pressure situation for young people, who with the support of their parents sign up for military training camps to prepare for revenge and to overcome the feeling of defeat.

In the last two years, the camps have recruited thousands of young people. The training includes military exercises, defeating enemy soldiers, kidnapping techniques and the like.

13-year-old Rima Ramadan handles the situation in a different way. She continues in music school. She plays the Arabic string instrument qanun, and one of her favorite songs is the song of the legendary musician Fairuz I will never forget Palestine.

Her parents encourage her to play at every opportunity. "Playing music is the same as spreading joy. I absolutely believe that those who create suffering for people and are involved in murder and destruction, would also have benefited from a few moments of joy, "says the 13-year-old.

The form of joy Rima desires is not easy to achieve with the limited financial, technological and human resources the music school has at its disposal. The lack of music education at university level in the area also contributes to creating challenges for music-loving generations in Gaza.

But as long as people flock around the windows the music is streaming from, there may be hope.

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