A Palestinian youth orchestra from Jenin was disbanded after it played for Holocaust survivors in Israel. Palestinian authorities also banned Strings of Freedom orchestra conductor Wafa Younis from the northern West Bank refugee camp and her apartment, where she taught the 13 music students, was sealed off.
The orchestra played for the elderly Israelis in Holon March 25 as part of a Good Deeds Day sponsored by the Good Spirit charity, which is connected to billionaire Shari Arison, Israel’s richest woman. This is beyond tragic; this is the kind of stuff that makes even the most hopeful among us, despair about the future.
The irony here for me personally, is that when I first read about this performance last week, I was actually disturbed by how little the kids new about the Holocaust and about what their audience had lived through. But I reasoned, how much would a similar group of Israeli kids know about the traumas faced by many Palestinians in the same age cohort as those in the Holon audience?
No, the Holocaust and what Palestinians describe as al Nakba, and the rest of the world knows as the founding of the State of Israel, are not equivalent.
But remembering how much we still need to learn about each others’ experiences, or at least our respective understandings of them, helped me to appreciate the importance of these kids from Jenin simply celebrating their art with a room full of Jews. At the very least, people who were not previously real to each other, became more so. And that is actually a very big deal. I guess the PA understands that, and they can’t bear it. That’s the tragedy here.
In this case at least, the Palestinian leadership is prepared to punish even the smallest steps toward genuine reconciliation that would run deeper than a tactical political arrangement. Of course, if that is all they want, then they are doing the right thing. But if they really want their people to join the rational world and see the Holocaust as a real historical event, Israel as a permanent reality, and Israelis as real people, then this was a terrible blunder. One I hope that they will correct, and the sooner the better.
Real peace does not demand what Shimon Peres used to describe as Israel/Palestine as the Hong Kong of the Middle East, with birds chirping and rainbows in the sky. But it does require nations to see that those with whom they negotiate are human beings.
It’s why the Israeli ministry of education, over the strenuous objections of those on the right, teaches about al Nakba in all Israeli schools. And it’s why the Strings of Freedom orchestra and its conductor, Wafa Younis, deserve to be trumpeted as leaders, not punished as betrayers, of a new Middle East — one which promises greater freedom, dignity and safety for all.