Point and coun­ter­point

Nor­man Lebrecht ques­tions claims of har­mony. Ge­of­frey Al­der­man re­flects on loss

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE -

ARamzi Abu­red­wan the young stone-thrower and (above, at right) play­ing vi­o­lin in Nablus LON­DON OR­CH­EST RAL v i ol i nist I know spends her s u mmer l e a v e work­ing with can­cer kids in Africa. A French bas­soon­ist takes a 100-kilo­me­tre run in sup­port of an ed­u­ca­tional mis­sion. An Aus­tralian vi­o­lin­ist vol­un­teers for Médecin sans Fron­tières. Few oc­cu­pa­tions in my ex­pe­ri­ence are as car­ing, as giv­ing of time and ef­fort in good causes, as that of the clas­si­cal mu­si­cian.

Over the years, I have seen dozens of Euro­pean and Amer­i­can mu­si­cians back­pack off to Ra­mal­lah with the aim of train­ing Pales­tinian young­sters to play in or­ches­tras. Al­though many re­turn with a re­stricted view of the sit­u­a­tion, I have al­ways as­sumed that their civil­is­ing pres­ence did some good. Read­ing Sandy Tolan’s one-eyed, un­ques­tion­ing, hope­lessly sen­ti­men­tal nar­ra­tive of “the power of mu­sic in a hard land”, I am forced to re­con­sider ev­ery as­pect of that as­sump­tion.

This should have been an up­lift­ing hu­man story. Ramzi Abu­red­wan is the child whose pic­ture was splashed across the world’s front pages and the walls of Ra­mal­lah in 1988 when he was snapped dur­ing the first In­tifada throw­ing stones at the mech­a­nised forces of Is­raeli oc­cu­pa­tion. Not since David faced Go­liath has an im­age ac­quired such power of metaphor.

Ten years later, the pic­ture ap­peared again, this time on a poster show­ing the boy stone-thrower turned into 19-yearold Ramzi with a vi­o­lin in his hand, study­ing at a mu­si­cal con­ser­va­toire.

Fast for­ward an­other 15 years and Ramzi has his own mu­sic school, Al Ka­mand­jati. He works with Daniel Baren­boim’s West-East­ern Di­wan Orches­tra and has re­cruited western mu­si­cians to teach at his school. If ever there was a story of swords into ploughshares, this could have been it.

The­flaw­isthatRamzi­isno­peace-seeker and Tolan, an Amer­i­can doc­u­men­tary maker, is in­hib­ited by a con­sti­tu­tional in­abil­ity to ask a crit­i­cal ques­tion. We learn, by re­lent­less rep­e­ti­tion, that Ramzi lost his fa­ther and his brother dur­ing the two upris­ings. It takes a close read­ing to dis­cover that both men were mur­dered by Pales­tini­ans, and a search of the foot­notes to con­firm that for ev­ery 10 West Bankers killed by Is­raelis seven were ex­e­cuted by their fel­low-Pales­tini­ans. The Mid­dle East con­flict is a mine­field of half-truths and hor­rors.

Ramzi is in no doubt of his ed­u­ca­tional goals. “This is a mu­si­cal in­tifada,” is how he de­scribes his school. Work­ing with Baren­boim, he de­manded that the West-East­ern Di­wan agree “to boy­cott Is­raeli prod­ucts as well as cul­tural and aca­demic in­sti­tu­tions un­til Is­rael… ends the oc­cu­pa­tion.” There are Is­raeli play­ers in the orches­tra. Ramzi is ap­par­ently un­able to grasp that har­mony can­not be ex­pected when one half of an orches­tra boy­cotts the other.

I can sym­pa­thise with Ramzi’s cir­cum­stances and re­spect him for what he is: a com­mit­ted free­dom fighter with a French pass­port who uses mu­sic ed­u­ca­tion as pro­pa­ganda. Tolan and vis­it­ing western mu­si­cians are re­cruited as use­ful fools to fol­low Ramzi’s flag with­out en­gag­ing their crit­i­cal fac­ul­ties.

This is a pro­foundly de­press­ing book, a case his­tory of the abuse of mu­sic as a po­lit­i­cal weapon. Nor­man Lebrecht is an author and cul­tural com­men­ta­tor


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