Daily Life in a Land of Conflict

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.

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Want to read the latest excerpt from Children of the Stone before anyone else?

grace

Want to read the next excerpt from Sandy Tolan’s new book? Share next week’s Grace Notes with your friends and you can read it right now! (more…)

Grace Notes: Week 2

11. AK Courtyard11.2005

Read all of the excerpts from the second week of Grace Notes. (more…)

Grace Notes: Week 1

9.  Ramzi&Sido

Read all of the excerpts from the first week of Grace Notes. (more…)

Grace Notes: Children of the Stone hits store shelves today

27.  BattirConcert

To promote the release of Sandy Tolan’s latest book, Children of the Stone, Ramallah Café presents Grace Notes, short excerpts curated by the author himself. The book, about one Palestinian’s dream to build a music school in the middle of a military occupation, is out today. Children of the Stone is already receiving wide praise from historians, early reviewers, and the famed musician Yo-Yo Ma. (more…)

Grace Notes: Read the first excerpt from Children of the Stone

grace

Beginning today, Ramallah Café presents Grace Notes, short excerpts from Sandy Tolan’s forthcoming book, Children of the Stone. The book, about one Palestinian’s dream to build a music school in the middle of a military occupation, comes out this month. Children of the Stone is already receiving wide praise from historians, early reviewers, and the famed musician Yo-Yo Ma. (more…)

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.

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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…

Over the Wall, to Play Beethoven in Jerusalem

Jamming at Qalandia: Musicians bound for Jerusalem to play Beethoven's 4th Symphony played a waiting game, hoping the rest of the Palestinians in the orchestra would make it through the checkpoint. Photo by Eric Culver

Beethoven’s 4th Symphony has inspired countless thousands of musicians since it was first performed more than two centuries ago.  Yet few, I’m sure, have risked arrest and prison time just to play this magnificent piece of music.

Enter the Ramallah Orchestra, made up largely of Palestinian musicians in their teens and twenties, accompanied by 15 or so visiting teachers and performers from Europe and the U.S.  The orchestra is a project of Al Kamandjati, the Ramallah-based music school at the center of my next book.  For the Palestinians in the orchestra, Beethoven’s music, inspiring at it is, makes up only part of the story.

The concert venue was in the Old City of Jerusalem, a holy place embedded deep inside the collective dreams and history of the Palestinians, yet denied them by a combination of bureaucracy and concrete.  For the Jerusalem concert, some of the musicians had managed to obtain the permits Israel allows for special occasions.  But on this hot summer day in Palestine, five members of the orchestra were not so lucky.  To play with their orchestra in the Holy City, the musicians would resort to the otherwise unthinkable:  climbing over the separation wall.

Their journey had started in the early afternoon, in the lovely stone and copper courtyard of Al Kamandjati’s headquarters in Old Ramallah, where a jasmine vine in bloom crawled up the wall to the rooftop.  Three dozen young Palestinian musicians and visiting accompanists carried their timpanis, double basses, cellos and music stands into the luggage hold of the tour bus.  They climbed aboard, instrument cases slung over their shoulders, renewing an annual Jerusalem ritual which, for many of these musicians, is reason enough to learn music.

For Palestinians, Jerusalem is becoming an imaginary city.  Though barely ten miles separate Ramallah from the walls of the Old City, reaching Jerusalem is increasingly less a physical journey than an exercise of the mind and spirit.  The city has been effectively sealed off by massive physical and bureaucratic barriers, while ironically being declared “united” by Israel, the authority in control during this period of the city’s five-thousand-year history.  To prove that, Israel’s Minister of Public Security recently shut down a children’s theatre festival and puppet show at the Hakawati, East Jerusalem’s Palestine National Theatre, because the festival had allegedly received funds from the Palestinian Authority.  The PA is confined to the West Bank, but its position, backed, in word if not in deed, by the most of the world’s nations, remains that East Jerusalem should be the capital of a sovereign nation called Palestine.

Now the lucky permit holders of the Ramallah Orchestra would be reconnected, if only for a few hours, with their holy city. (Al Quds, the Arabic name for Jerusalem, means “The Holy.”)  But the five musicians – one of the orchestra’s four violists, both of its timpani players, one of the double bass players, and a gifted violinist – had been told they would need the magnetic “biometric” cards Israel is implementing for its permit regime.  When Al Kamandjati went to apply, director Ramzi Aburedwan told me, “they said, ‘We don’t have the magnetic cards until July 10’” – days after the concert.  “It’s fucking crazy,” Ramzi added.  In an orchestra of only 37 people, the contributions of these five musicians was vital, Ramzi said; if the Ramallah Five couldn’t participate, he told me, he would cancel the concert.

We arrived at Qalandia military checkpoint, a exhaust-choked border crossing where hot, fuming drivers jockeyed for position, funneling into a single line before submitting for inspection.  Vendors selling kebab, tissue packets, pillows, bottles of water and verses from the Quran weaved through the knots of vehicles and the plastic litter and chunks of broken concrete.  Our bus inched forward.  Here, where the massive wall separates Ramallah from Jerusalem, the Ramallah Five would try Plan B:  Sit in the back of the bus, hoping that the soldiers would somehow get lazy and check only the foreign passports and approved permits.  As part of this plan, musicians holding the proper documents were strategically placed toward the front of the bus.

Three Israeli soldiers came on board, their American-made M-16s slung around their shoulders, and began their inspection.  One of them, baby-faced, with a round, pretty face and honey-blond hair, appeared to still be in high school.

They checked our papers, then conferred, apparently discussing whether to check the whole bus.  After some barked orders from a radio clipped to one of the soldier’s uniforms, they moved past us, toward the back. Plan B, it appeared, was not going to work.

Within minutes nearly all of the Palestinians, even the ones holding the proper papers, had been ordered out of the bus.  Permits or not, they would not be allowed to cross the checkpoint in relative dignity, like us foreigners who remained on the air conditioned bus.  As we rode to a parking lot on the other side, I pictured the Palestinian musicians, in the scrum of the pedestrian crossing where I have stood many times on my way to Jerusalem.  They would walk past the red metal benches of the “passenger lounge,” surrounded on three sides by blue vertical bars, then pass down a long corridor of silver bars, akin to a cattle chute on a western ranch, except for at the end they would be required to move through multiple eight-foot-high turnstiles, before ending up jammed with dozens of other Palestinians in front of yet another turnstile.

*

Our bus was waiting on the other side.  Montasser Jebrini, a Palestinian clarinetist now studying on France, was riffing on the hot pavement, playing a solo performance of “Helwadi” (Beautiful Girl), the song made famous by the Lebanese singer, Fairouz.  Montasser believed he had been allowed to stay on the bus because he passed for European or Anglo American.  “I am glad to be here,” he told me, “but I feel bad it’s just because my skin is lighter, while my friends have to walk through the checkpoint.”

In the parking lot, Simon Hewitt Jones, the visiting British soloist scheduled to perform the Mendelssohn that evening, stepped out of the bus with his violin.  Other musicians broke out their instruments, and they began jamming:  Violins, viola, cello, French horn, trumpet, clarinet, performed by an American, three Brits, a Frenchman, an Irishman, and a Palestinian.  Mozart’s “A Little Night Music” gave way to the Mendelssohn (“opus baking in the sun,” someone quipped), then morphed into Morrison’s Irish Jig, led by Johnny McBride, a fiddler from Northern Ireland.  The whole tableau was set against the backdrop of gun turrets, spindly red-and-white surveillance towers, and the supposedly impenetrable wall.  “It’s pretty threatening,” said the fiddler, “but not altogether unfamiliar.  For the first half of my life, this is what Northern Ireland looked like.”

*

Steps away, on the Ramallah side, separated by more walls of bars, the Palestinian teenagers waited in the scrum.  Every so often, above the turnstile, a red light turned green, a click sounded, and three or four more people passed through to place their possessions on a conveyor belt, hold up their permits to a dull green bullet-proof window, and wait as bored-looking soldiers on the other side inspected the documents and waived the permit holders through.

But there were only nine permits for fourteen musicians, and the musicians without them couldn’t talk their way through.  And so the Ramallah Five were turned away.  They clicked their way backward through the turnstiles and cattle chute to the Ramallah side, denied Jerusalem and uncertain what to do next.  They had to come up with a Plan C.

*

One or two at a time, Palestinian string players joined us at the bus.  Soon all of them had arrived, except for the Ramallah Five.  “They couldn’t get through,” someone told us.  “They said to go on to Jerusalem.  They will try to join us somehow.”

We rode south in silence for a time, wondering if the concert, in the Old City on the grounds of the French church, St. Anne’s, would have to be canceled.

*

“Hey,” someone said to the musicians on the other side, “you want to go to Jerusalem?”  He sat with a group of men smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee, and nodded toward a van.  Yes, the musicians said, they did.  “You are five?  It will be 250 shekels”  – about 70 dollars, or 14 per musician.

The man turned to his partner.  “Get these guys to Jerusalem.”  The Ramallah Five piled into a van.  The door slid shut and the driver began working two phones, making arrangements.  “Give me the money,” he said.  They haggled over the price, agreeing on 40 shekels (about 11 dollars) each. “But you have to pay now,” the driver said.  The man gave them his phone number, and told them to call when they reached Jerusalem.  Apparently he wanted satisfied customers.

A short time later the driver pulled over, stepped into a building, and emerged with a very long ladder, which, when extended to its full length, reached the top of the wall.  “Come,” he said.  The five musicians approached the towering slab of concrete, which reached at least 25 feet high.

*

The mood on our bus was subdued; as we rode south, it was still unclear whether the five musicians would somehow make it through to Jerusalem.

*

A string player went up the ladder first, gazing up to the top of the wall, where nasty-looking loops of curling concertina wire appeared to present a sharp and dangerous obstacle.  But the Palestinian trafficker, who had scrambled to the top of the wall, had already cut the wire; now, he sat beside the ladder at the top of the wall, and, with the back of his forearm, simply swept the loops of wire aside, like a curtain.  This was all completely organized beforehand, the musicians realized.  They must do this all the time for illegal Palestinian workers.  Then the Palestinian coyote pulled a long knotted rope from a plastic bag, looped it around a metal post at the top of the wall, and dropped it down to the other side.

One by one, the young musicians mounted the ladder, sat atop the wall, grabbed the rope, and slowly slithered down, trying to use the knots as footholds.  It wasn’t easy; the knots were small.  Halfway down, one of the string players saw a vehicle approaching on the narrow access road.  He froze; was this a soldier coming to arrest him?  “Don’t worry,” the coyote called down, “it’s a local Palestinian.” Still, the violist began to imagine what would happen if he were arrested.  From the midpoint, perhaps 15 feet above the ground, he fantasized about being taken to jail, and telling his fellow Palestinian inmates, to boisterous laughter, that he’d been arrested for intending to play music.  Then, still sliding down the rope, he imagined the speech he would give to the judge in Israel:  Why am I guilty?  The only thing that I am doing is trying to make my music for people in Jerusalem; I just want to play Beethoven and Mendelssohn. For your information, his imagined speech continued, I have learned about your suffering. I was shocked by this history.  What I don’t understand is why you’re treating us this way…

The hard ground at the end of the rope snapped the musician from his reverie, and he looked up to see the timpanist toss the bag of his sticks down toward him from the top of the wall.  Now the violinist was coming down.  But something was wrong; he was having trouble telling how far he was from the ground.  He jumped too early, landing on his feet and falling hard onto his back.  Everyone laughed, and at the time, it seemed he was okay.  From the top of the wall, the bass player tossed him his violin, in its soft blue case.

Now all five musicians were together, on the Jerusalem side of the wall.  The entire operation had taken five minutes.  They brushed themselves off and entered a restaurant for kanafe, the pizza-shaped Palestinian dessert made of sweet cheese and pistachios.  “That kanafe was very good,” recalled the viola player.  “Then we called to see where the bus was.”

*

The Ramallah Five appeared in the road beside our bus, smiling broadly and bounding up the steps to cheers from the orchestra.  One of them showed me a video of the ladder, and the wall, and two of the musicians climbing toward the sky:  proof of their deed.

Twenty minutes later, we arrived on the tranquil grounds of St. Anne’s, a French church built during Crusader times.  An old French priest welcomed us with a soft smile and a heavy accent; tourists wandered quietly through the garden, or rested on shaded benches.  A French flag flapped from the steeple.  It was as if Qalandia and the wall had never existed.

The musicians disappeared the cavernous, echoey church to rehearse Beethoven’s 4th Symphony, and the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto.  I sat on a rock wall outside the church.  The sound of a violin solo drifted out, joined now by the entire orchestra; trombone, oboe, flute, and the pounding of the timpani.

Soon we learned that the violinist who had climbed the wall fell ill, vomiting repeatedly.  It was shock, a doctor told him, from the hard landing at the wall.  He would not play the Old City that night.

But the other 36 members of the Ramallah Orchestra would.  A little after 8 in the evening, strings whispered the haunting first notes Beethoven’s 4th, in a minor key, as 200 visitors filled the chairs of the old church.  They had no idea what it had taken to get to Jerusalem to play Beethoven.  But perhaps they sensed something. Moments after Diego Masson, the visiting French conductor, made his last thrust, and the final notes of the 4th echoed off the walls, the audience rose in a sustained, joyful ovation.

A small tale of healing in Palestine

The profound amid the quotidian: Al Kamandjati's Ramallah Orchestra, rehearsing Beethoven and Mendelssohn in Old Ramallah, for a series of concerts beginning June 29 in Jerusalem

I arrived in Ramallah a week ago, limping heavily, and right into another story of Palestinian hospitality. I had torn a calf muscle doing exercise in my Jerusalem hotel room, and, after managing to get on the #18 minibus to Ramallah, then hop a cab to the flat I’m renting here for two weeks, I met my landlords – three generations of an old Ramallah family who live in the flats above and below the one they were renting me.  This is my sixth trip to Palestine since 2009, all for reporting and research for my new book, about making music under occupation in Palestine.  Every time I come, I encounter small, profound kindnesses: surprise in the quotidian life.

When he saw me limp up the stairs, Ziad, a young doctor, provided a quick assessment of my ailment; then with a look of concern, he asked me if I needed any groceries, since I wouldn’t be able to walk to get any. Well, yes, thanks, I said. Make a list, he said. Then he told me he knew an orthopedist at the end of the block; would I like him to try to get an appointment? Well, yes, thanks, I said again.

Ziad went off to see the doctor and came back a short time later: the doctor was about to leave his office but could see me now. Take my arm, Ziad said, as I hobbled down the block. In moments the orthopedist had diagnosed the muscle tear, given me a shot in the rear, prescribed two medicines and a support sleeve, and told me I’d be better tomorrow. Then he and Ziad discussed, in Arabic, whether it was right to charge me, since I was a visitor. Finally the doctor accepted 100 shekels, or about $30.

Ziad helped me walk back hom home and then set off for provisions.  A short time later he arrived with my coffee, milk, fruit, bread, and medicines.

I had scarcely moved a muscle, but now was supplied and cared for by people who, moments earlier, had been complete strangers. They put me on the mend. And today my limp is gone.

The whole experience was awesome, of course, but after 19 years of traveling to Palestine, not surprising.

Oday Khatib, acclaimed Palestinian singer, set free; discusses his time in an Israeli prison

By Sandy Tolan and Anan Abu-Shanab

Oday Khatib, the acclaimed Palestinian singer from the Ramallah-based Al Kamandjati music school, walked out of an Israeli prison a free man this week.  Oday was arrested on March 19 at Al Fawwar refugee camp near Hebron, and sentenced to three months in prison for allegedly throwing stones at Israeli soldiers.

Despite the joyful return with his family at Al Fawwar, and the experience of tasting his his mother’s oven-baked chicken after nearly three months of prison food, Oday, 22, expressed mixed feelings about his release.

“My happiness was not complete,” he said during a telephone interview from the family home at Al Fawwar on Thursday, which was interrupted repeatedly as well-wishers continued to stream into the house.  “I felt like I was abandoning the guys.  I felt guilty.  I was ashamed for only spending three months.”  Many of the other men in the two prisons where Oday was incarcerated had been sentenced to much longer terms.  Stone-throwing carries a sentence of ten years under Israeli Military Order 1651, and the conviction rate for all charges against Palestinians by Israel’s occupation authories is 99.74 percent, or about 399 out of 400.

Oday maintains that on March 19 he was not throwing stones, but rather standing near a group of boys who were.  Nevertheless he was arrested by Israeli soldiers, beaten “really badly,” and charged with the crime of stone-throwing.  For two months Oday and his lawyer maintained his innocence to the military authorities, reminding them that he was a singer, had never been arrested, and was not interested in throwing stones.  “I have my life and my work to worry about,” he told them.  Oday has long maintained that his resistance to Israel’s occupation would come through his music.  During the trial, Oday said, “soldiers and witnesses lied” about his alleged crime.  Faced with the prospect of a long prison term, the singer, who has recorded and performed across Europe and the Arab world, agreed to plead guilty in exchange for the three-month term.

“I was ashamed that I was the youngest and had the shortest sentence,” among his fellow prisoners, Oday said.  “When they would ask how long I am staying in prison I would only say three, without saying it is only three months so they would think it is three years. I started crying when I left.  I was not that happy.

“When all my family and friends met me at the checkpoint,” Oday added, “I told them that they did not have to do all of this. I mean I barely spent any time in prison.”

During Oday’s relatively short  stay in two Israeli prisons – in Ofer, near Ramallah, and Ramon, in the Negev Desert – he entertained his fellow prisoners with his powerful, mournful voice, which has captivated audiences from Al Fawwar to the Gulf to Paris, going back to the days when Oday was barely a teenager, and still a boy soprano.  “I tried my best to change the atmosphere of the prison and make a pleasant mood for everyone,” Oday said of his time as a prisoner. “I started singing for them and telling them that we should deal with it as a summer camp, not as a prison, to lighten things up.”  This also picked up Oday’s spriits, to a certain extent.  “It helped relieve some of my suffering, but at the same time,” because of the sad themes he sings about, “it brought me back to suffering.”

Now that he’s free, Oday is suddenly able to make simple plans, like attending the birthday party of Hussein Aburedwan, son of Ramzi Aburedwan, founder of Al Kamandjati, and his wife, Celine Dagher.  Hussein turns four on June 10, and told his mom he wanted Oday to come to the party.  Oday also plans to travel to France for a singing gig, attend Al Kamandjati’s international summer music camp in Ramallah in July, and consider entering the “Arab Idol” singing competition.  “And to get engaged,” he added.  “There are some plans for that.”

Before all of that, however, Oday Khatib plans to visit the families of some of the men he spent time with in prison. “I promised some of my friends,” he said.  “They also asked me to write songs for prisoners since there are not a lot of songs about prisoners.”

During the long days and nights behind bars, Oday recalled, “I thought about everything:  my family, my work, my dream. I started praying and thinking about my family, and all of the people who are not going to leave prison and I stopped thinking about myself. All I thought about was my fellow prisoners, and how God may stand with them.”

 

ODAY KHATIB TO BE FREED: Israeli military court convicts the acclaimed Palestinian singer of throwing stones; release expected in June

By Sandy Tolan

An Israeli mlitary court has convicted acclaimed Palestinian singer Oday Khatib of throwing stones at Israeli occupation soldiers, sentencing him to a three months in Ofer military prison near Ramallah.  Oday’s release is expected no later than June 19, and perhaps as early as the 4th.

Oday, a rising international star and a featured singer of the Al Kamandjati music school, was arrested on March 19 not far from his home in Al Fawwar refugee camp, near Hebron, and accused of throwing stones at soldiers from Israel’s occupation forces in the West Bank.  Oday’s family maintained that the 22-year-old singer, who had never been arrested, had been waiting for a friend near the camp’s entrance, and that he had been arrested mistakenly after youths in the area engaged in a stone-throwing clash with soldiers.

That the singer was found guilty was not a surprise, as the conviction rate for such military trials is 99.74 percent, or 399 of every 400 tried.

Oday was charged under Section 212 of Israeli Military Order 1651, which states that anyone convicted of throwing stones ”[a]t a person or property, with the intent to harm the person or property shall be sentenced to ten years imprisonment.”  Oday, however, was given a three-month sentence, retroactive to his arrest on March 19, according to Capt. Eytan Buchman of the Israel Defense Forces.  The military spokesman added that the sentence was “part of a plea bargain,” and that Oday was also required to pay a fine of 1500 shekels, or about $400.  Oday is expected to be released as early as June 4.

Oday’s incarceration shed light on a draconian system of arrests and imprisonment by Israeli occupying forces in the West Bank. Oday is only one of thousands of incarcerated Palestinians.  According to B’tselem, the respected Israeli human rights group, as of February, 4,713 Palestinians were held in Israeli prisons, including 169 under “administrative detention,” which allows Israel to arrest and detain Palestinians indefinitely without charge. The 10-year sentence for throwing stones can apply to youths as young as 14, according to a report by UNICEF.

Yet beyond whether or not Oday and thousands of other Palestinian youth are “guilty” of throwing stones is a more fundamental question: what constitutes legitimate Palestinian resistance to a 47-year military occupation?

Al-Fawwar, like most Palestinian villages and towns, sits on land surrounded by Israeli settlements. The camp is in the midst of Area C, under full Israeli military control, which takes up 60 percent of the West Bank. One of the central purposes of Israel’s occupation army is to protect the settlers, whose illegal occupation, under international law, remains a towering obstacle to a just settlement between Israel and the Palestinians.

For generations of Palestinian youth, as reported here earlier, throwing stones has formed the core of their efforts at expelling the occupying army. Stone-throwing was at the heart of the first Palestinian intifada, which forced Israeli leaders to the negotiating table.

Oday’s family reports that he has kept his spirits high during his incarcertion, in part by singing for his fellow inmates.

“He sings in the prison, and everyone listens to him,” said Oday’s mom. Added his father: “He is singing the songs he first sang, the songs that he sang for his brothers when they were in prison and when he first started singing.”

Among those songs is Oday’s signature ballad, Ghareeb, or The Stranger.  Another, roughly translated, is called “Darkness of the Prison.”  (Listen to a Youtube version here.)

Oh, darkness of the prison,

Settle down

We relish the darkness

For nothing comes after night

Except a transcendent, glorious dawn.

Thanks to Anan Abu-Shanab and Eman Musleh for help with this report.

 


Defense presents its case in stone-throwing trial of Oday Khatib; testimonies continue to pour in

Beloved Palestinian singer Oday Khatib. His trial continues with defense testimony on Wednesday. A verdict could come within days.

As Oday Khatib’s defense in his stone-throwing trial begins, family members, friends, and fellow musicians from around the world continue to protest his innocence.  The trial of the acclaimed Palestinian singer, which began last week, is taking place in Ofer military prison in the Israel-occupied West Bank.  If convicted, Oday could receive ten years in prison under Israeli Military Order 1651.  A verdict could come within days.

Oday’s testimony, according to his father, who has made his way through the prison gates to the courtroom for each day of the trial, is expected to focus on apparent inconsistencies in the testimony of Israeli soldiers.  Oday is charged with throwing stones during what Israeli Defense Forces Capt. Eytan Buchman described as a “riot” at Al Fawwar refugee camp near Hebron on March 19.  Oday’s family contends he was not throwing stones, but rather waiting for a friend near an Al Fawwar crossroads to share a meal.  The friend, a 22-year-old named Baha’, is expected to testify in Oday’s defense on Wednesday.  At least three text messages on Oday’s cellphone, his father explained, could corroborate this.

In the meantime, dozens, perhaps hundreds of Oday’s friends and musical colleagues have exchanged concerned messages on Facebook and in private emails; some of them have written directly to Israeli officials to protest Oday’s innocence.  (To express your own concern, you can send it by fax to Israeli Brigadier General Moti Almoz, head of the Civil Administration in the Occupied Palestinian Territories: +972-2-997-7341)

As I wrote in an earlier post, Oday has been long beloved for his soaring, expressive voice, best known both in his high-pitched child’s voice and now as a young man for his lyrical intepretation of Palestinian resistance songs.  He has performed across Palestine, the Arab world and Europe, and now in Ofer Prison, and has been known to captivate his audiences, including those who don’t understand the words he’s singing. Ramzi Aburedwan, the founder of the Al Kamandjati music school where Oday has trained and now teaches, recalled the time Oday took the French stage for the first time.  “He created an amazing quiet in the room,” Ramzi reflected.  “People were standing there with their mouths open.  And for the ones who understood  Arabic, they started to cry.  Even a French girl, who understood the sadness, was crying.”

Here, meantime, are memories and testimonials from some of the friends and colleagues of Oday Khatib who’ve written to express their concerns:

Sarah Roger (French former volunteer for Al Kamandjati)

Hello,
To whom it may concern.
Here is what I can say about Oday.
He is a very lovely and peaceful boy only interested in one thing: singing. His only aim is to spread love and make people happy thanks to his beautiful voice. I have been living with him in the same apartment as a roommate for 2 months and I have only heard him spreading love and peaceful words. I am deeply touched by what is happening to him and I really think he wouldn’t handle spending even a day in prison, I think it would harm him and his peaceful art.

Simon Hewitt Jones (British violinist)

Oday and Ramzi came to London to perform with me and my group Fifth Quadrant last year. His intensely moving singing had a profound effect on audiences in London, including at the Spitalfields Festival (there is a very rough recording of it here:http://www.simonhewittjones.com/project/road-to-jericho/music-of-road-to-jericho/)
We also took him to Aldeburgh to work with young british musicians, who were astounded that someone so young – someone barely older than they were – could have such an powerful musical voice, and such inspirational artistry.
Personally, I have always found Oday to be an exceptional musician who sings straight from the heart. Though he speaks little English, and I little Arabic, I found that the intensity of his eyes and his smile convey great warmth, love and understanding – without the need for words. Working with him was a joy – he is such a considerate and kind person and musician. And of course, when he starts to sing, it feels truly authentic – the emotion can be heard in his voice.

Peter Sulski (American violist, formerly with the London Symphony Orchestra)

Oday is a true Palestinian voice who sears the receptive heart with his song, who is absolutely connected to his soul.He is a man of peace who would rot behind bars.

Mariam Tamari (Palestinian-Japanese opera singer, living in Paris)

Working with Al Kamandjati in Palestine, it was a joy to see Oday every day. He is truly a noble soul, communicating the warmth of his heart and quiet strength, and with a great capacity to appreciate beauty.

Etienne Cardoze (French cellist)

Oday for me, it’s this incredible surprise of discovering an estonashing voice in 14 years old body when he came in France for teh first time. It’s also the pleasure of seing him growing each year, maturing his voice playing with the little Hussain, becoming an adult ready to give to the youngest what he received from the oldest. I keep a small video in my mobile made a year ago with him and Eyad rehearsing in the wedding hall ( 1850 french style ) of one of the city halls in Paris.So simple and moving voice.

Jessica Duchen, British music journalist

I met Oday during an unforgettable few days in Aldeburgh with the ‘Road to Jericho’ project. He struck me as one of the gentlest people I have ever encountered, and I was moved to hear through the film about the transformation of his life through by music. He is a wonderful singer and an inspiring individual.

Vena Johnson Violin teacher, Philadelphia, USA

Oday is an outstanding human being and endearing musician. The moment I met Oday I knew there was something very special about him, his warmth and artistry shone brilliantly. Oday’s voice pierces the heart with a rare and intense sincerity. Oday believes in peace and transmits this peace to his listeners through his powerful voice. Oday must sing. Music is what has brought peace into his soul, and it is music that will help him to share this peace with audiences around the world.

Clemmie Burton-Hill British violinist

I have been lucky enough to know Oday through Al Kamandjati for a number of years. I count myself genuinely blessed to have encountered both his musical talent – which would be an astonishment wherever he came from, even if he had been fortunate enough to have been born into the luxuries of New York, Paris, London or Tel Aviv – and his humanity.

Oday is an exemplary young man of noble, peaceful character. Moreover he is the sort of young Palestinian that the Israelis should be supporting and celebrating, not imprisoning, for it is empathetic, inspiring people like Oday who might one day help to forge a lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

If Oday spends the next ten years or even ten months, weeks or days in jail, that prospect of that peace will be further jeopardized. I am sickened to my heart at the prospect of what such a jail term might mean, both for Oday, his family, his friends and all who have been touched by his music; and for the people in the wider region.

Nawras Ibrahim Palestinian bassist and oud player

I know Oday alkhatib since 7 years ago .. He has been more than a brother to me we shared special moments together discovering the world by spreading our music to people .. Oday is known by his sensitivity he signs from his heart and he is a very kind, funny and people person .. The last time I saw Oday one week before they arrested him we were together in a concert in Nablus to celebrate the national cultural day and Mahmoud Darwish’s Birthday he sang for his friend who was killed by Israeli soldiers in His camp (al Fawar) one day before the concert .
Nawras Ibrahim

Gunilla Kerrich and Luca Francetti, violinist and cellist living in Italy

Since 2010 with my husband Luca Franzetti, I work almost twice a year for Alkamanjati association. Every time we played and worked with Oday. His remarkable professionalism, his sweet voice and most of all his deep knowledge concerning teaching music and peace values to the kids, in order to create better human beens for the future, is outstanding and moving at the same time. His contribution to improve a better peace and brotherhood culture is essential.

We really hope that all this talent won’t be wasted.

Jerrell M. Jackson, Bass teacher, Philadelphia, USA

I met Oday, in 2009, while I was performing with the Al Kamandjati Baroque Festival. On a day off from performing, Oday walked with me around Ramallah and took me to the Boys Club in Old City. He sat with me drinking tea and talking about his life. We talked about America, music, politics and his hopes for Palestine in the future. My heart is with him during this time and I pray that he will be released soon.

Julia Katarina, British ormer voice instructor, Al Kamandjati, Ramallah

I would like to add to these wonderful testimonials of Odai’s profound artistry and great warmth and kindness of heart, that he has such a fabulous sense of humour! He’s really funny and doesn’t mind laughing at himself, he’s not afraid of making a fool of himself, which is part of why he’s such a brilliant performer, he isn’t over self conscious and doesn’t take himself too seriously. Even though he has such a beautiful voice and is so serious about his singing, he’s quite capable of parody and does a mean impersonation of a donkey! He’s had me howling with laughter in lessons and is generally great fun to be around. I hope and pray they give him back soon.

Eman Musleh, college student, Al Quds University, Abu Dis, Palestine

I have known Oday for a very short time. but all what i can say about him; he is very respectable, humble, nice. with a great talent; his beautiful voice. he went through hard times in his life, and despite that he’s strong and responsible.

Anything can be helpful to help to get his freedom back.

Nicolas Dobson British former percussion teacher, Al Kamandjati

I knew Oday for almost two years when I was a teacher at Al Kamandjati 2009-11. Aside from his musical talent, he was a lovely person to be around – gentle, considerate, tolerant, open-minded and very, very funny. He radiated warmth, goodwill and equanimity, and absorbed all the foreigners passing through the school into his family of friends as if he’d known them since childhood. Oday helped make AK a unique place – a throwback to genuine community and fraternity. He is probably the least likely person I know to be involved in any kind of violence.

Members of the Orchestra de Chambre, Paris

We are all saddened and grieved to learn about the situation in which Oday is in today. We are hoping for a clear and clement judgement from the part of his judges as we have learned to know

Oday through our contact with him at the Al Kamandjati music conservatory (at Ramallah). We have all been in admiration of his musical gifts and of his sincere desire to use his talent

to help spread a message of peace.

May his judges appreciate these qualities,

Sincerest best wishes,

Hélène Lequeux and Mirana Tutuianu, violin players, Fany Maselli, bassoon player, Bernard Chapron, flute player, Michel Giboureau, oboe player, Joël Soultanian, violia player and Etienne Cardoze, cello player. All of them members of the Orchestre de Chambre de Paris.

Benjamin Payen, French violinist and member of an orchestra in Spain

I’m Benjamin from France, used to be violin teacher at Alkamandjati. I knew Oday from that time, and since all this very shamefull story began, I just remember this little time I spent with him up a little montain you reach from his parent’s house in Alfawwar. The very last bit of open space even without any security of coming back and with views to uggly settlements…

I don’t imagine Oday guilty of anything punishable of already 1 month jail, according to a human respectfull society system. That story repeating every day just shows to us which kind of “conflict” is that.

Whatever I could do to help, please tell me! Should we -all french citizens- send a letter to consulate, ambassade, president…?
Good night to all.

Julia Katarina, former voice coach, Al Kamandjati music school:

Let our caged bird keep singing, confident of his freedom, that he may sing ever more beautifully upon his release.

With Much Love
Julia xxx

 

 

Oday Khatib, awaiting Israeli military trial, sings from his cell

Oday Khatib at age 15, in 2005, with Ramzi Aburedwan, founder of Al Kamandjati music school. Photo by Celine Dagher.

By Sandy Tolan, Anan Abu-Shanab, and Eman Musleh — On Wednesday, April 10, Oday Khatib’s stone-throwing trial was postponed.  Again. The Palestinian singer walked into Israeli military court and stood ready, for the third time, to face his accuser at Ofer prison near Ramallah.  But the accuser, an Israeli soldier, didn’t show up.  So says Oday’s father, Jihad Khatib, according to my colleague, Anan Abu-Shanab.  Oday, 22, the rising star singer whose arrest and incarceration by the Israeli occupying authorities has set off waves of worry and musical witness in Europe and Palestine, stands accused of throwing stones at Israeli soldiers, who arrested him while chasing a group of kids on March 19.  The penalty for such an offense, under Section 212 of Israeli Military Order 1651, is ten years in prison.

The law is so sweeping that Oday could have received the same sentence had he thrown a single stone at a road sign.

Interviews with Oday’s parents by Anan and our colleague Eman Musleh indicate their son is in good spirits, enjoying camaraderie with his fellow prisoners, if not the prison food and cold nights.  He has requested long underwear from his family.  Oday’s father, in his conversation with Anan, described Oday as generally “happy, comfortable, and not worried at all.” Anan reports: “Oday’s father says that everyone in the prison is happy with Oday, he is friendly with everyone, even the soldiers are very respectful and treat him well, because of that.”

One reason for Oday to be optimistic could be that, according to Oday’s father, the judge said that if the prosecution does not produce evidence by the next court date – April 17th – Oday will be set free.  This would be an exception; 399 of every 400 cases in Israeli military courts results in conviction.  For that reason, the optimism is muted.

Oday’s mother, for her part, remains worried – so worried that she cannot bring herself to go to the court.  Oday is the youngest of her five sons; the one who was always the smallest; the one whose powerful high child’s soprano voice captivated the entire refugee camp, and later, throngs of astonished concert-goers in France, Belgium, Italy, Austria, Norway, Lebanon, Dubai, Jerusalem and Ramallah.  She admits that Oday is the favorite of her sons.  “He is the closest to me,” she said.  “He’s so soulful and compassionate.”

When Oday was arrested, his mother was about to embark on the Umrah Muslim pilgramage in Saudi Arabia.  “I was praying for him, asking God to release him,” she said.  She only got a chance to speak to Oday a few days ago, and when she heard his voice on a cell phone from the prison, she burst into tears.  “But after he started talking to me, and telling me to calm down and saying everything is fine with him, I stopped crying just because of his great spirits.”

A few days ago, Oday’s former voice teacher, the British mezzo-soprano Julia Katarina, wrote that she hoped Oday was singing in prison to keep himself sane.  The interviews with Oday’s parents reveal this is precisely what he’s doing – so much so that other prisoners are competing to be his cellmate.

“He sings in the prison, and everyone listens to him,” says Oday’s mom. Added his father: “He is singing the songs he first sang, the songs that he sang for his brothers when they were in prison and when he first started singing.”

Among those songs is Oday’s signature ballad, Ghareeb, or The Stranger.  Another, roughly translated, is called “Darkness of the Prison.”  (Listen to a Youtube version here.)

Oh, darkness of the prison,

Settle down

We relish the darkness

For nothing comes after night

Except a transcendent, glorious dawn

Oday is only one of more than 4,700 Palestinians in Israeli military detention.  Many of their families go through precisely what Oday’s family is facing.  But for Oday, whose voice has transported thousands of people who can’t even understand his words, there are many more people watching and waiting to see what will happen in the military court on April 17.

Israeli military trial of Oday Khatib, acclaimed Palestinian singer, postponed again, to April 17

5:20 AM US Pacific time: The Israeli military trial of Oday Khatib, acclaimed Palestinian singer and instructor with the Al Kamandjati music school, has been postponed a third time, to April 17.  Oday, 22 years old, has sung across Europe and the Arab world.  He was arrested under questionable circumstances at Al Fawwar refugee camp near Hebron on March 19 and accused of throwing stones at Israeli soldiers.  If convicted, he could be sentenced to ten years in an Israeli military prison.

Check here later for updates, including interviews with Oday’s parents and reports of him singing in Ofer military prison.  Photo: Oday Khatib at 14, singing in France. Courtesty Al Kamandjati.

 

 

The System In Place: Military trial of beloved singer Oday Khatib sheds light on Israel’s system of arrest and detention [UPDATE: trial postponed to Wednesday, April 17]

Oday Khatib, France 2012. He he stands accused of throwing stones and faces Israeli military trial on Monday. Photo by Khaled Jarrar

Imagine being confined to a small sliver of land, in plain view of a wider homeland that you cannot touch.  Your house is in a refugee camp, surrounded by fine red-roofed homes built by and for strangers who seized your territory without warning or permission.  The strangers, perched on hills that make it possible for them to spy into your home, are protected by one of the world’s most powerful armies, with its tanks, rockets, and helicopter gunships supplied by the top military power on earth.  The soldiers tightly restrict your movements through your own territory.  They subject your family to random searches at military posts along the road, where you’re forced to submit your documents, and sometimes to strip down to your underwear.  At night, without warning, the army may enter your home and take your teen-aged children.  In fact, they often do.  Once you finally find out where they are, they may or may not face any charges.  If they’re not charged, the military courts can hold them there indefinitely.  If they are, the chances they will be found innocent are one in four hundred.  Imagine that you lived in such place, in a land you had long dreamt would be your own sovereign country, but which is now cut up into tiny enclaves that keep you thus confined.  What would you do? If you chose to resist, how would you do so? Oday Khatib fought back by singing.

Read more, at Aljazeera.com

 

As singer Oday Khatib awaits Israeli military trial, testimonials pour in from around the world. (Update: trial postponed until April 8)

Oday Khatib, performing in France in 2012. Photo from France TV, DR / Culturebox

Testimonials from around the world are pouring in for Oday Khatib, the celebrated, star singer of Ramallah-based Al Kamandjati music school, who faces Israeli military trial on Monday, April 8.  (The trial was earlier scheduled for April 3.) As I wrote recently, Oday was arrested March 19 for allegedly throwing stones at soldiers.  As the 22-year old singer from Al Fawwar refugee camp awaits trial in Ofer Prison near Ramallah, his friends, fellow musicians and supporters of Al Kamandjati, founded by Palestinian musician Ramzi Aburedwan, are lighting up social media sites in support and musical witness.

“Oday and Ramzi came to London to perform with me and my group Fifth Quadrant last year,” writes Simon Hewitt Jones, a British violinist who has taught numerous workshops at Al Kamandjati. “His intensely moving singing had a profound effect on audiences in London.  We also took him to Aldeburgh to work with young British musicians, who were astounded that someone so young – someone barely older than they were – could have such an powerful musical voice, and such inspirational artistry.”

“Working with Al Kamandjati in Palestine, it was a joy to see Oday every day,” wrote Mariam Tamari, a Japanese-Palestinian opera singer based in Paris. Mariam, who sang Mozart’s peace plea, “Alleluia Exultate Jubilate,” for the launching of the Palestinian National Orchestra in Jerusalem on New Years Eve, 2010, writes of Oday: “He is truly a noble soul, communicating the warmth of his heart and quiet strength, and with a great capacity to appreciate beauty.”

“Oday is a true Palestinian voice who sears the receptive heart with his song, [which] is absolutely connected to his soul,” writes Peter Sulski, an American violist formerly of the London Symphony Orchestra, and who has taught for years at Al Kamandjati.  ”He is a man of peace who would rot behind bars.”

Oday’s father, Jihad Khatib, told Musa Abuhashhash, a field worker for B’tselem, the Israeli human rights organization, that Oday was arrested at Al Fawwar while waiting for a friend he was meeting for dinner. Nearby, Jihad said, some youths were throwing stones, “and when the soldiers chased the kids, it did not come to his mind that the soldiers would go for him.  Otherwise he would have run away.”

Oday’s father, joined by musicians from the U.S., UK, Italy, France, Palestine, and elsewhere, expressed skepticism that Oday would have been throwing stones. He has never been arrested, and has long sought his resistance to occupation only through his singing, “since he was nine years old,” Jihad said.

“He is a very lovely and peaceful boy only interested in one thing: singing,” wrote Sarah Roger, who came to Ramallah from France to volunteer the Al Kamandjati office. “His only aim is to spread love and make people happy thanks to his beautiful voice.”

“His remarkable professionalism, his sweet voice and most of all his deep knowledge concerning teaching music and peace values to the kids, in order to create better human beings for the future, is outstanding and moving at the same time,” declared Luca Francetti and Gunilla Kerrich, husband and wife cellist and violinist, respectively, writing from Italy.  ”His contribution to improve a better peace and brotherhood culture is essential.  We really hope that all this talent won’t be wasted.”

Oday’s family has expressed hope that several of the soldiers who chased the youths on March 19 will be willing to testify that Oday was not among the stone-throwers.  This does not appear likely: The conviction rate for such alleged offenses in military trials, in 2010, was about 399 out of 400.

Beyond whether or not Oday was “guilty” of throwing stones is the question of what constitutes legitimate Palestinian resistance to a 47-year military occupation. Al Fawwar, like most Palestinian villages and towns, sits on land surrounded by Israeli settlements.  The camp is in the midst of Area C, under full Israeli military control, which takes up 60 percent of the West Bank.  A central purpose of Israel’s occupation army is to protect the settlers, whose illegal occupation, under international law, remains a towering obstacle to a just settlement between Israel and the Palestinians.  For generations of Palestinian youths, throwing stones has formed the core of their efforts at expelling the occupying army.  Stone-throwing was at the heart of the first Palestinian  intifada, which forced Israeli leaders to the negotiating table.  (The Oslo agreement they forged with Palestinian negotiators proved to be disastrous; nevertheless, there was a palpable since during the first intifada that the stone would lead to Palestinian liberation.)

I have spoken with several American officials in recent days regarding Oday’s arrest.  The Americans have provided funds to Al Kamandjati to help support its past summer music camps, where Oday was featured prominently.  Thus I thought they would take an interest in Oday’s case.  My inquiry — whether the American government would at least inquire about Oday’s incarceration — was met with virtual silence. “I just don’t have anything for you on that,” U.S. Embassy spokesman Geoff Anisman told me four or five times from Tel Aviv.  Another American official in the region was only slightly more forthcoming:  ”There’s a system in place,” the official said, referring to Israel’s system of arrest and incarceration.

Yes, there’s a system in place:  A military court system in which 99.74 percent of the accused are convicted.  The sentence for adults convicted of throwing stones “[a]t a person or property, with the intent to harm the person or property shall be sentenced to ten years imprisonment,” according to Section 212 of Israeli Military Order 1651.  Some of the convicted “adults” are as young as 16; many of them plead guilty in exchange for a lesser sentence.  A significant portion of the incarcerated are children — 7000 in the last ten years, according to a UNICEF report, which states: “the common experience of many children is being aggressively awakened in the middle of the night by many armed soldiers and being forcibly brought to an interrogation centre tied and blindfolded, sleep deprived and in a state of extreme fear. Few children are informed of their right to legal counsel.”

Adults like Oday know full well that they could receive a lengthy prison sentence. Currently more than 4,700 Palestinians are being held in Israeli prisons.  Oday’s case is no more or less unfair than thousands of others; it simply sheds more light on the system that’s in place.  And it prompts dozens of Oday’s friends and fellow musicians to write in his defense:

“Oday is an exemplary young man of noble, peaceful character,” writes Clemency Burton-Hill, a British violinist who has performed with the West Eastern Divan Orchestra, founded by the Israeli-Argentine conductor Daniel Barenboim and the late Palestinian intellectual Edward Said.  ”Moreover he is the sort of young Palestinian that the Israelis should be supporting and celebrating, not imprisoning, for it is empathetic, inspiring people like Oday who might one day help to forge a lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians. If Oday spends the next ten years or even ten months, weeks or days in jail, that prospect of that peace will be further jeopardized. I am sickened to my heart at the prospect of what such a jail term might mean, both for Oday, his family, his friends and all who have been touched by his music.”

Nowras Ibrahim, an Al Kamandjati-trained Palestinian bass player who is now studying in France, writes that Oday “has been more than a brother to me. We shared special moments together, discovering the world by spreading our music to people.  Oday is known [for] his sensitivity.  He sings from his heart.”

Julia Katarina, the British Mezzo-Soprano who put her opera career on hold to teach voice lessons at Al Kamandjati for three years, writes of Oday:  ”He is very generous with his art, and just loves singing beyond all else! He is a true singer, and I imagine the only way he is surviving prison is by singing. I hope he sings in the military court,” Julia writes, because on April 8, if Oday’s accusers can find “an ounce of humanity in their hearts, they will release him.”

Note:  This article will be updated with additional testimonials.