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)
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 .
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