Counterpoint: 'Every second offers a second chance'
Almost all the songs on Miri Awad and Ahinoam Nini's new album speak of reconciliation.
By DAVID FORMANPublished: JULY 17, 2009 10:52Advertisement
Ahinoam Nini and Miri Awad joined together to represent Israel at this year's Eurovision Song Contest. Nini, an Israeli Jew, and Awad, an Israeli Arab, recently produced an album together. The title of the CD is There Must Be Another Way. Of the 12 songs, some they sing together - in Hebrew, Arabic and English - and others they sing on their own, each in her native language. Virtually all the songs speak about empathy and identity, hope and understanding, reconciliation and peace.
Growing up in the United States in the turbulent 1960s when the two major events that dominated the stage were the civil rights movement and the war in Vietnam, a plethora of folk singers appeared giving voice to the struggle for freedom for African-Americans and for an end to the war in Southeast Asia. The Soviet Jewry movement also introduced folk music that gave expression to those Russian Jews - refuseniks - who wanted to return to Israel, their ancestral homeland.
Pete Seeger's "We Shall Overcome," Peter, Paul and Mary's "If I Had a Hammer" and Joan Baez's "Oh, Freedom" defined the civil rights movement; Buffalo Springfield's "For What It's Worth" and Country Joe and the Fish's "Feel Like I'm Fixin' to Die Rag" bespoke the anti-war movement; and Bob Dylan's "The Times They Are A-Changin'" spoke of the seismic transformations that were sweeping America. "Blue and White," "We and You" and "Let My People Go" fired up every demonstration on behalf of Soviet Jews.
Songs of protest stirred people's emotions to fight for social causes and to bring about change for a more peaceful and decent world. However, when Miri Awad and Ahinoam Nini appeared on the stage together at the Eurovision, cynicism on the part of much of the Israeli Arab community was expressed. The argument went: This is pure Israeli propaganda, an attempt to indicate that harmony and equality exist between Arabs and Jews, whereas persecution and oppression are more accurate reflections of reality. Awad is being exploited to create a false impression of Israeli society and has become a willing pawn to redraw the negative image that Israel so rightfully deserves.
Is it just possible that joint artistic ventures of Arabs and Jews might positively serve Arab interests? After all, there is an image out there that Arabs, especially Muslims, are all terrorists, strapping suicide belts onto their bodies or killing each other with impunity as is the case in Iraq (and Gaza) or crashing planes into the Twin Towers. Might one consider that Awad is helping to alter the picture of those Islamic fundamentalists who decapitated journalist Daniel Pearl? Why must every Arab-Jewish enterprise be portrayed by a significant majority within the Arab community as propaganda? One would think - or at least, hope - that those who try to foster reconciliation would be encouraged.
THERE IS an asymmetry that has penetrated our region when it comes to nongovernmental organizations that promote human rights, civil liberties and coexistence. While there are manifold groups operating in Israel, each harshly critical of government policy, there is a paucity of similar organizations within the Arab world. There are those human rights groups within the Palestinian Authority that criticize Israel, but few that are self-critical. The one or two that operate, do so for fear of their leaders' lives, as is the case within every Arab state.
But what is truly tragic is that Arab human rights NGOs are always willing to join with Israeli human rights NGOs to uncover civil liberties abuses that Israelis commit, but are rarely willing to partner with the Miri Awads of the Arab world who try to foster understanding between Arabs and Jews.
Could it be that the Arab world believes that Awad is not representative of its sentiments because she is a Christian? Indeed, Christian Arabs are caught between a rock and a hard place. They have to reconcile their theology with their nationalism. Like those Orthodox Jews who believe that this land was divinely promised to the Jews, so do those religious Christian Arabs who adhere to the Judeo-Christian tradition. As one can imagine, this theological worldview does not resonate positively with their Muslim brethren who have clothed a chauvinistic theology in a national ego, justifying extreme behavior in the name of God. As a result, Christians in the West Bank have been reduced to an insignificant minority, even in once predominant Christian towns like Bethlehem, the cradle of Christianity's birth.
NO ONE can deny that the Arab minority in Israel does not enjoy the same rights as the Jewish majority. Prejudice against Arabs is all too prominent among Jews. For certain, more than 40 years of occupation has wreaked havoc upon the Palestinians. And yet, there are many bright spots of cooperative enterprises between Arabs and Jews. There are the bilingual schools, the cooperative moshav of Neveh Shalom, the Beit Hagefen community center, Givat Haviva seminar center, the Center for Israeli Jewish-Arab Economic Development - to name but a few of the more than 200 NGOs working in the field of coexistence and equality.
Instead of deriding Miri Awad and Ahinoam Nini's joint efforts to bring some hope to the Middle East, the Arab community should be encouraging their friendship and their attempt to turn that friendship, through the artistic skills with which they are both blessed, into a force for good.
So, hear the words that Nini and Awad sing: "And, when I cry, I cry for both of us. My pain has no name. And, when I cry, I cry to the merciless sky and say, 'There must be another way.'" Listen to their plaintive cry: "Where can we go from here? Sister, it's been one long night. What's to come? I fear. Give me something to restore my faith in the light. Tell me that we're here to stay, and that we can set things right." Absorb their chilling call: "You're broken when your heart's not open... There's no point in placing the blame. And you should know I suffer the same..."
Neither Arab nor Jew has a monopoly on pain and suffering. Sadly, there has been too much of each emotion that has scarred our souls. And yet, there is no future in despair. Belittling two people from different backgrounds and experiences - expressing their heartfelt dream through song that "there must be another way" - is self-defeating. Simply, Awad and Nini would have us hopefully acknowledge that while "the clock's still ticking in a frantic trance, and we are locked together in a tragic dance, remember that every second offers a second chance."
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