A Lebanese belly dancer has placed herself at the center of a cross-border war of words after performing at a French musical festival with an Israeli metal band, and brandishing the Israeli and Lebanese flags.

Johanna Fakhry, 22, says she can’t return to her homeland following threats from her family and compatriots for appearing on stage with the band Orphaned Land in front of 90,000 fans at the Hellfest festival last month in Clisson, France.

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Amateur video of the performance has amassed 20,000 YouTube views over the past month. The clip shows Fakhry wearing traditional garb and waving a Lebanese flag while dancing around lead singer Kobi Farhi as he sings in Hebrew. She then stands next to the singer and helps him raise a significantly larger Israeli flag.



“This is all about peace, my friends,” Farhi tells the crowd as the two performers hold the banners up alongside each other. “We are all brothers and sisters. Now I want to see all of you jumping and party with us, okay?” The crowd responds with cheers and heavy-metal “devil horns” signs, and as the tempo picks up both performers jump up and down holding their flags.

With its mix of heavy metal and Middle Eastern influences, Orphaned Land has amassed a following in the region far beyond the most esteemed Israeli cultural ambassadors. Fans from Turkey, Bahrain and Iran regularly turn up for the band’s concerts in Europe.

“That phenomenon creates a loyal audience that stays with us, and even endangers [the audience’s] own life,” Farhi told The Jerusalem Post. Indeed, several years ago Egyptian authorities sentenced a fan to six months imprisonment for “Satanism” after he was found with an Orphaned Land CD.

The singer said the idea to make a political point onstage had been entirely Fakhry’s.

“This dancer contacted me on Facebook and said she wants to perform with us. Of course we said yes, and then she suggested we wave the Israeli and Lebanese flags,” he recalled. “I told her, ‘We’d love to, but we think it might endanger you, and expose you to a lot of criticism.’ She said, ‘I know.

Bring the flag – this is my choice, and I want to use my art for the sake of peace.’” With Israel and Lebanon technically at war since 1948, Lebanese law forbids citizens to have contact with Israelis. Fakhry was born to a Muslim family in southern Lebanon, but has lived in France for most of her life and has French citizenship.

“Of course there were many negative responses – that’s not a shock – but to our surprise there were also many, many positive responses,” Farhi said.

He said he received Facebook messages ranging “from calling her a whore who sold the flag to the Mossad, to Lebanese who said they were moved to tears, that we expressed their hopes and dreams that we can all live here in peace.”

Fakhry has refused to recant. A response attributed to the dancer posted by New York-based Israeli blogger Roi Ben-Yehuda said, “I wanted to take this opportunity, so rare in history – witnessing on stage an Israeli group and a Lebanese dancer – to say that beyond the artistic exchange and our collaboration for the love of art, we were willing to make it a symbol of peace.

“And these two flags that we held as high as the fist can rise, transcends all these years of war and suffering. We both experimented, endured the vicissitude of this never-ending war. But we belong to this new generation – those who behold far the horizon, who open the boundaries,” she wrote.

“She can’t go back to Lebanon now,” Farhi said of the singer. “She stands behind her decision, she has no regrets. I’m in touch with her every day, and we’re performing with her once more in France in August. She may even come to Israel,” he said. “Our last names are very similar – she’s Fakhry, and I’m Farhi. The letters got switched at some point,” he added with a chuckle.

Attempts to contact Fakhry went unanswered Thursday, but the day before she told Channel 2 News in a short web interview that her family had barred her from returning to her country of birth.

“People started criticizing me, threatening me, saying they’d kill me – even my family,” she said.

“They’d say things like, ‘You should be ashamed of yourself – never come back to Lebanon.’ But I’m dealing with it, as long as I still have support from people I love.”

That same day, she told the website NOW Lebanon, “As a young child living in Lebanon, I, too, thought of Israel as an enemy, now I consider them friends. We are all one people.

“I want to tell my fellow Lebanese that I am proud of my roots and my country and who I am as a Lebanese. I will always raise the colors of my flag with great pride. Please understand me before you judge me. I don’t regret what I did on stage because my actions were delivering a passionate message of freedom and peace,” she added.

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