Daily Life in a Land of Conflict

The “Knife Intifada” Context: The Incredible Shrinking Palestine

These five maps tell their own history of the Israeli-Palestinian Struggle. From “Children of the Stone” (Bloomsbury, 2015).

A popular history of the birth of Israel — what we might call the Leon Uris “Exodus” history — describes a nation rising out of the ashes of the Holocaust, as hundreds of thousands of Jewish survivors joined fellow Zionists to reclaim the promised land from its empty, barren past. “Today the Jewish people are again at a period of Genesis,” Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion declared. “A waste land must be made fertile and the exiles gathered in.” Many of the emigrants had been inspired by the Zionist slogan, “People without land go to a land without people.”

Of course, there were people already there, ignored by Uris’s powerful but terribly incomplete narrative. By 1936, about a million mostly rural Palestinian Arabs lived in historic Palestine, annually harvesting hundreds of thousands of tons of barley, wheat, tomatoes, cucumbers, grapes, figs, olives, and citrus. And their history — indeed the history of the Palestinian-Israeli tragedy — can be told in part by a series of maps (from Children of the Stone).

MAP 1, from 1936, shows the whole of Palestine, undivided, under a single jurisdiction known as the British Mandate. Two decades earlier, in the Balfour Declaration, the British had promised a homeland to the Jews in Palestine; the Arabs strongly opposed it. In 1922, the Jewish population stood at 84,000, or about 11 percent of the population — up from about 4 percent in the mid-19th Century. The steady flow, spurred by European Zionism, became a flood after Hitler came to power in 1933; three years later, the Jewish population stood at 352,000 — a quadrupling in just 14 years. Tensions between Arabs and Jews intensified over Jewish emigration, and in 1936 the Arabs of Palestine launched a revolt. The Palestinian Arab population wanted an end to the immigration, and for the land to stay intact, undivided, as an independent state after British rule.

Palestine under the British Mandate, 1936. From "Children of the Stone" (Bloomsbury, 2015)

Palestine under the British Mandate, 1936. From “Children of the Stone” (Bloomsbury, 2015)



MAP 2, from 1947, shows the proposed partition plan for Arab and Jewish states — the result of a 33-13 vote in the United Nations. Jews, with about a third of the population, and owning 7 percent of the land, would receive 55 percent of historic Palestine; the rest, minus a tiny portion for an internationally-administered Jerusalem, would form the Arab state. One Jewish scholar saw the vote as a “gesture of repentance for the Holocaust.” Palestinian Arabs objected. In the words of Harvard Palestinian scholar Walid Khalidi: “The Palestinians failed to see why they should be made to pay for the Holocaust…why was it fair for almost half of the Palestinian population — the indigenous majority on its ancestral soil — to be converted overnight into a minority under alien rule in the envisaged Jewish state according to partition.” Palestinian Arabs pledged to fight the establishment of the new Jewish state.

United Nations Partition Plan, November 1947. From "Children of the Stone" (Bloomsbury, 2015).

United Nations Partition Plan, November 1947. From “Children of the Stone” (Bloomsbury, 2015).



MAP 3 below shows the results of the 1948 war, in which forces from several Arab states were defeated by Israel’s army. Some 750,000 Palestinians fled or were driven out of their homes in what became Israel, in a collective trauma known to every Palestinian as the Nakba, or Catastrophe, David Ben-Gurion depicted the victory, known to Israelis as the War of Independence, in miraculous terms: “700,000 Jews against 27 million Arabs — one against 40.” The relevant number, however, was not the entire Arab population (most of whom lived far from Palestine), but troop strength. In fact the numbers of forces on the ground were relatively equal, and by the end of the war, Israel had superior weaponry, much of operated by battle-hardened veterans of World War II. In any event, the result of the war was that Israel’s portion of historic Palestine, compared to the U.N. partition, had increased to 78 percent; Palestinians, in the West Bank and Gaza, now had 22 percent, which was administered by Jordan and Egypt respectively. This geographic reality remained until the Six Day War in June 1967. The refugees, meanwhile, were not allowed to come home, despite a U.N. resolution advocating for their return. Palestinians, led by Yassir Arafat, vowed to liberate Palestine, and various Palestinian factions launched periodic attacks against Israel.

Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza after the Armistice Agreement, 1949 to 1967. From "Children of the Stone" (Bloomsbury, 2015).

Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza after the Armistice Agreement, 1949 to 1967. From “Children of the Stone” (Bloomsbury, 2015).


MAP 4 (below), from 2005, shows the entrenched results of Israel’s victory in the 1967 war: Jewish settlements dotting the West Bank. The settlement project began in earnest in the 1970s, spurred initially by Israel’s Labor Party leaders, including Shimon Peres, and afterward championed by the future Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon. Sharon had boasted to a British journalist (who happened to be the grandson of Winston Churchill) in 1973 that Israel would turn the West Bank into a “pastrami sandwich”: “We’ll insert a strip of Jewish settlement in between the Palestinians. And then another strip of Jewish settlement, right across the West Bank, so that in twenty-five years’ time, neither the United Nations, nor the United States, nobody, will be able to tear it apart.” Indeed Sharon, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after him, essentially carried out the “pastrami sandwich” plan. In 1993, at the beginning of the Oslo “peace process,” 109,000 Jewish settlers resided on the West Bank, not including Jerusalem; today they number 380,000. East Jerusalem, once entirely Arab, and the would-be future capital of Palestine, is now ringed by hilltop Jewish settlements, almost entirely cut off from the rest of the West Bank. And a land corridor between the West Bank and Gaza, promised under Oslo, never came to be.

Israel and the Palestinian Territories, with Israeli Settlements, 2005. From "Children of the Stone" (Bloomsbury, 2015).

Israel and the Palestinian Territories, with Israeli Settlements, 2005. From “Children of the Stone” (Bloomsbury, 2015).

Finally, MAP 5 shows the reality of land control in the West Bank today. Under the Oslo regime, the territory was divided into three jurisdictions. Area A, quasi-sovereign control by the Palestinian Authority, makes up 18 percent of the West Bank. Area B, under joint Israeli-Palestinian control, accounts for 22 percent. The rest, 60 percent of the West Bank, is under full Israeli military control. The West Bank, in turn, makes up barely one fifth of historic Palestine. Thus Palestinians, whose national liberation movement once sought to reclaim all the land between the Mediterranean Sea and the River Jordan, now have partially autonomous control over 4 percent of it. Those semi-sovereign lands (Israeli can enter at any time by notifying Palestinian authorities) are scattered in islands in a sea of Israeli military control. Between them, hundreds of military checkpoints dot the West Bank, a territory slightly smaller than the state of Delaware.

Occupied Palestinian Territory in the West Bank. From "Children of the Stone" (Bloomsbury, 2015).

Occupied Palestinian Territory in the West Bank. From “Children of the Stone” (Bloomsbury, 2015).


Maps from “Children of the Stone,” by SANDY TOLAN.  Purchase now or learn more here. Coming soon in the “Knife Intifada” CONTEXT series: East Jerusalem.

Tolan on ‘hope and dignity’ amidst Israel’s military occupation

In recent days, clashes and demonstrations have erupted across Palestine as Israeli forces have injured more than 400 Palestinians, according to the YWCA in Jerusalem, attacking more than a dozen ambulances, shooting some 40 with live ammunition, killing four teenagers in barely 24 hours, and shooting a woman dead in cold blood at a checkpoint. An “endless state of emergency,” the YWCA declared.

In such bleak times, with events spiraling out of control, it is tempting to believe that there can be no positive news, no inspiration. But there are people working to infuse Palestinian children with hope and dignity amidst the seemingly never-ending onslaught of Israel’s military occupation. One of them does so with the power of music. Ramzi Aburedwan, pictured here, is the founder of Al Kamandjati (“The Violinist”) music institute in the West Bank, and the subject of my new book, ‪#‎childrenofthestone‬.

Click here to read the exclusive new book excerpt shared by our friends at the Euphrates Institute.

Tolan’s ‘Children of the Stone’ paints an honest devastating portrait of life under occupation


by Pamela Olson

CScoverYou have to hand it to journalist Sandy Tolan, author of The Lemon Tree. In his new book Children of the Stone, he doesn’t pussy-foot around. There’s no attempt at false “balance,” no endeavor to spend equal time on the Israeli side or make their situation seem as bad as—or worse than—the Palestinian reality in order to get the “non-biased” stamp of approval. In today’s language, poisoned by politics, “non-biased” means distorting facts to fit a mainstream narrative that amounts to a near-total inversion of reality. Tolan has none of it.
Instead he dares to tell a sweeping Palestinian story, from a predominantly Palestinian perspective, of passion and loss, hard work and violence, perseverance and corruption, focusing on the life of Ramzi Aburedwan, a boy from a Palestinian refugee camp who grows up to found Al Kamandjati, a gorgeous music school and a pride of Ramallah.

Click here to read the full review. Click here to read what others are saying about Children of the Stone.

The Journal of Music (Ireland): A Musical Intifada

thejournalofmusic_squarelogo_webIn ‘Children of the Stone’, a new book by Sandy Tolan, two drastically different visions of music’s potential collide, writes Raymond Deane

Readers of this magisterial book can make up their own minds, as Tolan presents every side of the argument sympathetically. Children of the Stone is both novelistic and scholarly… Those seeking a human interest story will find the book inspiring; simultaneously and effortlessly they will absorb a crash course in Israeli/Palestinian history, a history that involves all of us because of our governments’ failure to act decisively in the interests of peace and justice.

Click here to read the full review in the internationally-renowned, Ireland-based music magazine, The Journal of Music.

Ramzi Aburedwan and Sandy Tolan on “Performance Today” with Fred Child

The power of music

As a boy, Ramzi Aburedwan threw stones at Israeli soldiers. Then he learned to play the viola, and these days, he fights for peace — with music. On the Aug. 8 episode of “Performance Today,” journalist Sandy Tolan and Palestinian music teacher Ramzi Aburedwan join host Fred Child to discuss the power of music and Tolan’s new book, “Children of the Stone.” Click here to listen now.

Ramzi Aburedwan Antonio Olmos/PR

Ramzi Aburedwan Antonio Olmos/PR





In Palestine, A Child Of Violence Becomes A Music Educator

NPR “Weekend Edition”
July 12, 2015

Sandy Tolan and Ramzi Aburedwan in conversation with “Weekend Edition” NPR host Lynn Neary on Children of the Stone.

When the first Palestinian uprising began in the late 1980s, the images from the intifada showed exploding tear gas canisters launched by Israelis, answered by Palestinian youngsters shooting slingshots and hurling rocks.

A photographer snapped a photo of a boy with tears in his eyes, an 8-year-old named Ramzi Aburedwan.

The image came to represent the rage and frustration of life in the refugee camps. But although his face was famously stuck in time, Ramzi’s life changed dramatically when he was introduced to music at age 16. He began playing viola, received a scholarship to study at a conservatory in France and became a teacher. In 2005, he started Al Kamandjâti, schools to bring music to Palestinian children.

Today, Ramzi is touring America, playing an Arabic instrument called the bouzouk, along with other Middle Eastern players from the Dal’Ouna Ensemble. Sandy Tolan, a radio producer and author, has been following Ramzi’s story told in his new book, Children of the Stone.

BBC Radio 3: “Music Matters” features Sandy Tolan on the ‘remarkable’ story behind “Children of the Stone: The Power of Music in a Hard Land”

bbc-radio-3-logoRamzi Hussein Aburedwan, a child from a Palestinian refugee camp, got an education abroad, mastered an instrument and dreamt of something much bigger than himself. The dream was to build a music school to transform the lives of thousands of children, as Ramzi’s life was transformed, through music. During this journey Daniel Barenboim, the eminent Israeli conductor, invited Ramzi to join his West Eastern Divan Orchestra, which he then left due to the tensions sweeping the region, to continue following his dream.

Petroc Trelawny talks to the Middle East journalist Sandy Tolan who has documented this remarkable story in his new book “Children of the Stone – The Power of Music in a Hard Land.”

Listen here as Trelawny interviews Tolan on BBC Radio 3’s “Music Matters.”

Summer East Coast Book Tour & Concert Dates – Featuring Ramzi Aburedwan & Dal’ouna Ensemble

 in Washington, D.C.
National Cathedral, Perry Auditorium
3101 Wisconsin Ave.
7:00pm EDT
Reservations not required.


Ramzi Aburedwan & Dal’ouna Ensemble with Lena Seikaly and Sandy Tolan
in New York, NY
Le Poisson Rouge
158 Bleecker Street
6:30pm EDT
Presented with in-kind support from Alwan for the Arts. Click here for tickets.

Ramzi Aburedwan & Dal’ouna Ensemble with Lena Seikaly and Sandy Tolan

in Bethesda, MD
Westmoreland UCC
1 Westmoreland Circle
7:00pm EDT
Click here for tickets.

Ramzi Aburedwan, Dal’ouna Ensemble, Sandy Tolan & the Seth Kibel Jazz Trio
with vocalist Lena Seikaly
in Easton, MD (on the Eastern Shore)
Trinity Cathedral
315 Goldsborough Street
5:30pm EDT
Click here for tickets.

Praise for ‘Children of the Stone’ in Huffington Post Books, the Seattle Times & St. Louis Dispatch


Sandy Tolan knows Palestinian life. His first book, The Lemon Tree: An Arab, A Jew and the Heart of the Middle East (2006) was followed up by his popular blog, Ramallah Café: Facts on the Ground in the Middle East. Now he gives us Children of the Stone where we hear more about some of the people we’ve met at his café,” writes Huffington Post Books’ Nancy Graham Holm.

“What we also get is an unexpected “symphony” in four movements with magical Interludes; a blend of biography and politics with a literate discussion of music. The book’s subtitle: The Power of Music in a Hard Land refers to the profound influence music can have on people who live in a perpetually punishing environment…” Read the full review here.

To hear what others are saying about Children of the Stone, check out the latest reviews from GoodReads, the Seattle Times and the St. Louis Dispatch.

Children of the Stone in the media, plus book tour dates

34.  flowersinviolincaseSandy Tolan is just one week into the book tour for Children of the Stone, and the response has been extraordinary. Not only did Children of the Stone appear in both The Daily Beast and Salon, but ‘Friday Was The Bomb‘ author Nathan Deuel referred to Tolan’s latest book as “a moving look at music’s power in Palestine.”  And the praise doesn’t end there:

“Teasing out all the details of this story, from the granular facts of Ramzi’s life to the complicated history of the region, Tolan is a scrupulous craftsman if not always a dazzling one. The end notes to the book run for nearly 100 pages, a workmanlike demonstration of rigor. But it isn’t poetic sentences or surprising metaphors that propel us forward; it’s the hard work of getting the story right — diligence required of any serious project about this, the most contentious of regions.”

You can read the rest of the review online at The Los Angeles Times. Future book tour dates are after the jump. Don’t forget to join Sandy Tolan’s Facebook page to stay current on all events.


Ferry Building Marketplace, 1 Sausalito – San Francisco Ferry Bldg #42 in San Francisco, California
1901 Vine Street, Philadelphia, PA
7:30pm in EDT

Israeli elections hit new low: Foreign Minister threatens to behead disloyal Palestinians

It was the kind of threat you’d expect to hear from the Islamic State – so extreme it made you want to rub your eyes in disbelief.  But there was Israel’s foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, on the campaign trail, calling for the beheading of disloyal Arab citizens of Israel.  “Those who are against us, there’s nothing to be done – we need to pick up an ax and cut off his head,” said Israel’s foreign minister on March 8. “Otherwise we won’t survive here.”

Lieberman’s extremism is well known.  He frequently calls for loyalty oaths of “Israeli Arabs,” as Palestinians are known in Israel.  And in the face of the Arab “demographic threat,” he has repeatedly advocated “transfer” of those Palestinians out of Israel and into the West Bank – choosing the state’s Jewishness over democracy.  Yet Lieberman’s ISIS-like statement was extreme even for him.  It was covered in the Israeli press, and the Palestinian Authority called for Lieberman’s removal.  In the U.S., however, the news — the foreign minister of a close ally endorsing the execution of Arab citizens he deems disloyal — was met with a curious silence.

Sadly, there’s little reason for surprise here.  Israeli officials’ words and actions – the deadly 2014 assault on Gaza that killed 500 children and nearly 1000 other civilians; endlessly expanding West Bank settlements that force Palestinians into ever smaller pockets surrounded by military occupation; death threats from the foreign minister – take place without fear of consequence from Israel’s American benefactors.  (One can imagine, however, the justified outrage if a Palestinian official called for the beheading of Jews.)

The impunity now takes new form.  Last week, mostly Republican members of Congress rose like automatons, 29 times, to cheer the leader of a government under multiple international inquiries into war crimes in Gaza.  The deaths of 1400 civilians in Gaza, the 108,000 made homeless, the children who died of hypothermia, and the utter devastation which could take decades to repair, is framed as part of Israel’s “right to defend itself.”  (In this frame, Palestinians are not accorded such rights.)

Now, however, as Republican members of congress attempt to extend Israel’s impunity, allowing it to meddle in sensitive U.S. nuclear negotiations with Iran, questions of loyalty arise.  Analysis varies as to whether Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton and his 46 Republican cadres crossed the line of treason with their condescending and ill-informed letter to Iran; it appears they did not.  But at the very least, in openly attempting to scuttle a U.S.-Iranian agreement, they were undermining American interests in favor of Israel’s, as narrowly defined by an influential group representing AIPAC, neocon architects of the Iraq war, and the hard-right American casino magnate, billionaire Sheldon Adelson.

Senator Cotton, the newly-elected neocon darling, has received substantial campaign contributions from Adelson, a key promoter of Israeli settlements, close ally to Netanyahu, publisher of an influential right-wing newspaper in Israel, and bankroller of scores of other Republican hardliners.  Adelson, a fierce opponent of any agreement with Iran, instead promotes a U.S. nuclear first strike in the Iranian desert, to show their leaders that “we mean business.”

Another of Cotton’s benefactors is the Emergency Committee for Israel, whose founder, William Kristol, helped forge the bogus justification for the American invasion of Iraq.  Kristol promised a “two-month war” in Iraq; now he is part of the neocon-saber rattling campaign against Iran.  His Emergency Committee, according to Lobelog’s Eli Clifton, provided nearly one million dollars in advertising funds for Cotton’s successful Senate campaign.  Elliot Management, the hedge fund of billionaire and Republican Jewish Coalition board member Paul Singer, gave $165,000 to Cotton’s campaign.

And then there is AIPAC, which, according to Connie Bruck’s brilliantly-reported September 1, 2014 article in the New Yorker, provides “considerable input” in drafting legislation that is presented under the name of its sponsoring member of Congress.  It appears this was the also case with the letter from the 47 Senators.  “On all matters relating to Israel and the Middle East in general, AIPAC writes the legislation (or letters, resolutions, etc) which are then handed over to legislators to drop in the hopper, gather cosponsors, and get it passed or sent,” writes MJ Rosenberg, a former AIPAC staffer who is now sharply critical of the Israel lobby.  “Not only that, the ideas for these initiatives come out of AIPAC rather than (as is usually the case with lobbies) starting with the Member of Congress who then asks the lobby for help with drafting.  AIPAC does it all, from soup to nuts… I know this because back in my days working as a Congressional aide, I participated in that process. Mea culpa!”

Are the 47 Senators thus guilty of harboring greater loyalty to Israel and its lobby than to their own nation’s interests?  Perhaps Cotton and his Senate colleagues are acting on the sincere conviction that, in attempting to undermine sensitive nuclear negotiations with Iran, they are simply representing the American interest as they see it.  However, AIPAC, representing Israel and Netanyahu’s interests, has a history of using its congressional influence to try to destroy any such agreement by pushing for ever more crippling economic sanctions.  “We told them directly that a sanctions bill would blow up the negotiations – the Iranians would walk away from the table,” a senior administration official told the New Yorker’s Bruck.  “They said, ‘This bill is to strengthen your hand in diplomacy.’  We kept saying, ‘It doesn’t strengthen our hand in diplomacy.  Why do you know better than we do what strengthens our hand? Nobody involved in the diplomacy thinks that.’”  This year, with the DNA of AIPAC and pro-Israel hardliners apparently in the letter of the 47 Senators, the question of Congressional loyalties remain.

In recent months, however, there has been notable pushback from the Obama administration.  In late 2013, the White House sharply opposed AIPAC’s sanctions bill.  Sixteen months later, in the wake of John Boehner’s ill-advised Congressional invitation to Netanyahu, the White House isolated Israel, suggesting it could no longer be trusted with U.S. intelligence.  Coincidentally or not, one of the staunchest Democratic supporters of Israel, New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez, who, adopting Netanyahu’s talking points, blasted the administration’s Iran negotiations as a “bad deal,” is suddenly facing corruption charges from the Justice Department. And shortly before Netanyahu’s address to the Congress, the White House announced that Robert Malley, vilified by segments of the Israel lobby as being too pro-Palestinian, would head the Middle East desk at the National Security Council.

Taken together, these developments are part of a steady deterioration in the U.S.-Israeli relationship, now at its lowest point in decades.  The time of impunity for Israel and its American lobby, of actions and words without repercussions, may be coming to an end.


Sandy Tolan’s new book Children of the Stone: The Power of Music in a Hard Land (Bloomsbury, April 7), tells the story of Palestinian children learning music against the odds, under Israel’s military occupation. Of the book, Yo-Yo Ma writes:

In a world where so much popular fiction depicts life in a dystopian world, it is refreshing to have this non-fiction account that reflects one individual’s belief in the power of music and culture to transform lives. Congratulations to Sandy Tolan for bringing us the story of Ramzi Hussein Aburedwan, his philosophy and his personal mission to make a difference.  His story is proof of the famous words of Margaret Mead – “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” 

Praise from Yo-Yo Ma, advanced reviews, and other early buzz for Children of the Stone


CScoverMy new book, Children of the Stone: The Power of Music in a Hard Land, will launch in April, officially on April 21 with a talk at the downtown LA Public Library’s ALOUD series, hosted by NPR’s Kelly McEvers. A two-week national tour follows.  We’ve received wonderful initial feedback so far, including “blurbs” from Yo-Yo Ma and Reza Aslan, and glowing reviews from Booklist and others. We’ve set up a page to keep track of tour details as well as other news about the book itself and the conversations it hopefully inspires. We do want to help change the conversation in this country about Palestine/Israel. I would love you to take a look, like the Facebook author page, and stay in touch. https://www.facebook.com/SandyTolanAuthor

Thanks for taking the time to peruse the quotes and reviews that are coming in — we’re pretty honored and thrilled about it. And a special shout-out to my Bloomsbury editor, Kathy Belden, for her fantastic work on this book (and The Lemon Tree, too). Meantime, it would be great if you could like my author page. Hope to see you on the road!  More here, or click through for a book description and comments from Yo-Yo Ma and others.

Children of the Stone

Book description

It is an unlikely story.  Ramzi Hussein Aburedwan, a child from a Palestinian refugee camp, confronts an occupying army, gets an education, masters an instrument, dreams of something much bigger than himself, and then, through his charisma and persistence, inspires scores of others to work with him to make that dream real. The dream: a school to transform the lives of thousands of children—as Ramzi’s life was transformed—through music.

Musicians from all over the world came to help. A violist left the London Symphony Orchestra, in part to work with Ramzi at his new school, Al Kamandjati. An aspiring British opera singer moved to the West Bank to teach voice lessons.  Daniel Barenboim, the eminent Israeli conductor, invited Ramzi to join his West Eastern Divan Orchestra, which he founded with the late Palestinian intellectual, Edward Said. Since then the two have played together frequently. “Ramzi has transformed not only his life, his destiny, but that of many other people,” Barenboim said.  “This is an extraordinary collection of children from all over Palestine that have all been inspired and opened to the beauty of life.”

Children of the Stone chronicles Ramzi’s journey—from stone thrower to music student to school founder—and shows how through his love of music he created something lasting and beautiful in a land torn by violence and war. This is a story about the power of music, first, but also about freedom and conflict, determination and vision. It’s a vivid portrait of life amid checkpoints and military occupation, a growing movement of nonviolent resistance, the prospects of musical collaboration across the Israeli–Palestinian divide, and the potential of music to help children everywhere see new possibilities for their lives.

Children of the Stone: The Power of Music in a Hard Land
Comments and review excerpts

In a world where so much popular fiction depicts life in a dystopian world, it is refreshing to have this non-fiction account that reflects one individual’s belief in the power of music and culture to transform lives. Congratulations to Sandy Tolan for bringing us the story of Ramzi Hussein Aburedwan, his philosophy and his personal mission to make a difference.  His story is proof of the famous words of Margaret Mead – “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Yo-Yo Ma

Somewhere amidst the separation barriers and the countless checkpoints, the refugee camps and the demolished homes, the fruitless negotiations and endless conflict, there is a people yearning for a life of dignity and normalcy. You won’t see them on TV or in many newspapers. But you will find them in Children of the Stone, Sandy Tolan’s moving account of the dispossessed children of Palestine, and the transformative power that music has had in giving them meaning and reason for hope.

– Reza Aslan, author of No god but God and Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth

Children of the Stone is alive with compassion, hope and great inspiration. It is not necessary to believe in music’s power to defeat evil in order to be enchanted by this wonderful story.

– Tom Segev, Israeli historian and author of One Palestine, Complete and The Seventh Million

Sandy Tolan, author of the celebrated Lemon Tree, has produced another gem on what is happening under the surface in Palestine. This time the theme is the the liberating potential of music. The book contains enthralling  biographical trajectories of ordinary people fighting against the odds, like Ramzi the violist, Suhail the musical composer, Mariam the singer, Alá the aspiring violin student, Suraida the activist, who use music as an instrument of resistance and survival under military rule. Written in the style of investigative journalism, the book is riveting and uplifting, without skirting issues of contestation and controversy.

– Salim Tamari, Professor of Sociology, Bir Zeit University (West Bank) and author of Year of the Locust:  An Soldier’s Diary and the Erasure of Palestine’s Ottoman Past. 

Sandy Tolan’s narrative artistry fuses the coming of age of a talented, ambitious, and fiercely dedicated musician with the story of Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories conquered in 1967.  Ramzi Aburedwan’s music is powerful – even more so when we understand it as a form of resistance to occupation.  Humanizing Ramzi and other Palestinians by portraying them primarily as musicians working in a universal idiom is a major contribution to our understanding of who they are and essential to a political resolution of the conflict. 

– Joel Beinin, Professor of Middle East History, Stanford University

A resolute, heart-rending story of real change and possibility in the Palestinian-Israeli impasse.

– Kirkus Reviews

Eye-opening…Tolan’s exhaustive research and journalistic attention to detail shine through every page of this sweeping chronicle.

– Publisher’s Weekly

The one I can’t put down…

– Library Journal

A rare appeal: Help children under occupation learn music

An Al Kamandjati student learns the violin, Al Amari Palestinian refugee camp.  Photo by Margarida Mota.

An Al Kamandjati student learns the violin, Al Amari Palestinian refugee camp. Photo by Margarida Mota.


For the last five years, I’ve been reporting and writing Children of the Stone: The Power of Music in a Hard Land (Bloomsbury, April 2015), which chronicles the journey of musician Ramzi Aburedwan, a child of the first Palestinian Intifada, and his dream to build a broad musical presence in occupied Palestine.  Today Al Kamandjati (Arabic for The Violinist) has served thousands of Palestinian children through classes, workshops, annual music festivals, a instrument-building and repair center, and a summer music camp.

Now, amid great uncertainty in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Al Kamandjati faces significant financial challenges.  I have rarely if ever used this space to solicit funds on anyone’s behalf, but few causes are more worthy than that of Al Kamandjati, which uses the power of music to transform the lives of Palestinian children under occupation.  About Ramzi and Children of the Stone, the famed cellist Yo-Yo Ma declares:

In a world where so much popular fiction depicts life in a dystopian world, it is refreshing to have this non-fiction account that reflects one individual’s belief in the power of music and culture to transform lives. Congratulations to Sandy Tolan for bringing us the story of Ramzi Hussein Aburedwan, his philosophy and his personal mission to make a difference.  His story is proof of the famous words of Margaret Mead – “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Please consider Al Kamandjati in your year-end charitable contributions.  If you need any more convincing, take a couple of minutes to see Oh This World, a short, moving music video from the West Bank produced by Al Kamandjati, which demonstrates how music can be a source of both inspiration and protection for children living under occupation.  Click here to make a tax-deductible contribution in the U.S., here in France, and here in other parts of Europe and elsewhere.

For more about Al Kamandjati’s fundraising efforts, and additional details on how to contribute, see this fundraising appeal.  I’m sending it on behalf of Ramzi and his wife and Al Kamandjati partner, Celine Dagher.


Blown chances for peace in Gaza

Alongside the toll of death and broken lives, perhaps the saddest reality of the latest Gaza war, like the Gaza wars before it, is how easy it would have been to avoid. For the last eight years, Israel and the U.S. had repeated opportunities to opt for a diplomatic solution in Gaza. Each time, they have chosen war, with devastating consequences for the families of Gaza.  Read more, at TomDispatch.com…

Palestinian relatives at the funerals for the Bakr boys, four cousins aged 9, 10, and 11, killed in an Israeli shelling on a Gaza beach as they played hide and seek on July 15.  Photo by Mahmud Hams, AFP/ Getty

Palestinian relatives at the funerals for the Bakr boys, four cousins aged 9, 10, and 11, killed in an Israeli shelling on a Gaza beach as they played hide and seek on July 15. Photo by Mahmud Hams, AFP/ Getty


Children of the Stones book excerpt, from Granta

Child of the stones: Ramzi Aburedwan, in 1987 and 1997

An excerpt, published in Granta,  from Children of the Stones (working title), my forthcoming book (Bloomsbury, 2014) about making music under occupation in Palestine.  Much of the book focuses on Ramzi Aburedwan, a child of the first Palestinian intifada, whose Al Kamandjati music center serves hundreds of Palestinian children in the West Bank and refugee camps in Lebanon.  From the Granta piece:

Fadi’s Italian arias represented another form of freedom. Anyone who heard him sing for the first time was astonished by the power and tone of the boy’s clear soprano. His pitch, and his resonance, seemed to reach inside listeners. In the practice room with Julia, Fadi’s voice would soar above the piano, cutting through the ambient din of Jenin: clear and resonant. In recitals, he had a natural dramatic presence, his eyes widening at emotional turns in the piece, as if he understood the original Italian. He memorized his first song, ‘Sebben, Crudele’ written by the Italian baroque composer Antonio Caldara for his 1710 opera, La costanza in amor vince l’inganno (Faithfulness in love conquers treachery), in a single lesson. The next evening he performed it at a recital for other students, accompanied by Jason on the piano. Julia was stunned. Teachers found themselves on the verge of tears. ‘A star! A new star at the Kamandjâti!’ Fadi declared that evening, giddy with his own gifts and laughing in celebration. Read more, in Granta…