Last week, a group of teenage Palestinian musicians from the Jenin refugee camp (on the West Bank of the Jordan River) performed for a group of elderly Jewish Holocaust survivors in the Israeil town of Holon. The performance, by the 13-member "Strings of Freedom" orchestra, was organized by conductor Wafa Younis, a woman from the Arab village of Ara in Israel.
According to the Associated Press, most of the Holocaust survivors did not know the youths were Palestinians from Jenin, one of the more militant anti-Israeli strongholds in the West Bank, and the youths did not know that they were performing for people who endured Nazi genocide, or even what the Holocaust was.
Reportedly, as a host announced in Hebrew that the young people were from the Jenin camp, there were gasps and muttering from the crowd. Conductor Younis then explained in fluent Hebrew that the youths would sing for peace, prompting the audience to burst into applause. “Inshallah,” said one woman, using the Arabic term for “God willing.” The performance began with an Arabic song, "We sing for peace," and was followed by two musical pieces with violins and Arabic drums, as well as an impromptu song in Hebrew by two in the audience.
Younis said the main mission of the orchestra, formed seven years ago to help Palestinian children overcome the trauma of war, was to bring people together. “I’m here to raise spirits,” she said. “These are poor, old people.” An 18-year-old keyboard player named Ali Zeid reportedly said he was shocked by what he learned about the Holocaust. "I feel sympathy for them . . . Only people who have been through suffering understand each other." Zeid said his grandparents were Palestinian refugees forced to flee the northern city of Haifa during the war that followed Israel's creation in 1948.
A happy, hopeful story of reconciliation in the conflict-torn Holy Land? Well, maybe it was for the children and the old people, for a couple of precious hours. The AP now reports that Palestinian "authorities" in the West Bank have disbanded the orchestra and boarded up conductor Younis' studio there, on the ground that the Holocaust is a "political issue" and that she therefore "exploited the children" for political purposes. One local official said that participation of the children in the concert was a "dangerous matter" because it was directed against the cultural and national identity of the Palestinians. He accused "suspicious elements" of being behind the Holon event, saying that they sought to "impact the national culture of the young generation and cast doubt about the heroism and resistance of the residents of the camp during the Israeli invasion in April 2002." Reportedly, leaflets distributed in the Jenin area have also accused the concert organizers of exploiting the children, and warned Palestinians against participating in such events in the future.
For her part, conductor Younis denied that the issue was political, saying Jenin officials wanted to take over the orchestra to get its funding. "They want to destroy this group. It's a shame, it's a tragedy. What did these poor, elderly people do wrong? What did these children do wrong?" she said.
Indeed. In the eyes of the Palestinian "leaders," those poor, elderly people did wrong just by being Jews. The children and Ms. Younis did wrong by showing them compassion, and by raising a hope, however, remote, that their people and the Jews might be able to live together in peace and humanity. This is dangerous, subversive, and depraved heresy to the gangsters who rule the West Bank and Gaza (Fatah or Hamas, respectively; they're both the same). For them, there is only one allowable destiny for a young Palestinian: to be raised into a hate-filled robot, incapable of feelings or thoughts of their own, and good only for martyrdom to the cause of religious/ethnic murder. Ignorance, fear, and hate are the tools they've used for decades to keep their people subservient and in line. Allowing any other way would expose their own moral bankruptcy, undermine their authority, and lead to their ultimate irrelevancy. This is the way it always is with gangsters, wherever they hold sway.
There should be an a worldwide outcry in favor of this brave teacher and her students, and against the cynical, thuggish action that has been taken against them. The media should keep the bright light of public attention trained on this matter, if for no other reason than to make sure that Ms. Younis and the children are not subjected to reprisals or other harm. They should be in the prayers of Christians, Jews, and compassionate Muslims everywhere. Sadly, I fear the outside world may never hear of them again.