Guardian rock ‘n roll fantasy: Paper blurs identity of Palestinians and Arab Israelis

What’s the first thing you think of when you see this headline?

headline

A great human interest story on rock ‘n roll artists modelling “peace and understanding” between two peoples who have historically been in conflict, right?

Indeed, here are the opening passages from the story:

They are united by facial hair, frayed jeans and a love of heavy metal – plus a belief that music is above politics, religion and conflict. Now the Israeli band Orphaned Land is joining forces with the Palestinian group Khalas to take a message of coexistence through rock’n’roll across Europe.

An 18-gig tour will see the bands perform in six countries, including Britain, this autumn. The musicians will share both a stage and a tour bus for three weeks, proving in practice that their “metal brotherhood” overrides differences of religion and national identity.

At a concert to launch their European tour in Tel Aviv last week, Orphaned Land’s lead singer, Kobi Farhi, and Khalas’s lead guitarist, Abed Hathut, explained their mission.

“We can’t change the world, but we can give an example of how coexistence is possible,” said Farhi. “Sharing a stage and sharing a bus is stronger than a thousand words. We’ll show how two people from different backgrounds who live in a conflict zone can perform together.”

“We are metal brothers before everything,” said Hathut. But, he added, “there is no bigger message for peace than through this tour”.

Coexistence ventures may be new in the world of heavy metal, but precedent was set in the high-brow realm of classical music more than two decades ago, when Jewish conductor and pianist Daniel Barenboim and Palestinian intellectual Edward Said co-founded an orchestra of young Israeli, Palestinian and Arab musicians.

So, it indeed still seems that Israeli and Palestinian bands are touring together to champion peace and reconciliation, doesn’t it? 

Except that, by the seventh passage, we learn something which changes the context a bit. Pay especially attention to the text I’ve place in bold.

The members of Khalas, which is the supporting act on the tour, and Orphaned Land have “become soulmates” since meeting at a radio station and realising they have more in common than divided them, said Farhi. Last week’s gig was their second performance together. But joint ventures between Jewish and Arab artists in Israel have in the past met with boycott calls from Palestinian activists, who argue that coexistence projects sanitise discrimination against Israel’s 1.5 million Arab citizens…

Further passages in the story finally confirm what the above text implies – that the band, Khalas, is made up of Arab citizens of Israel (from Acre) not, as the title and most of the text suggests, Palestinians living in the Palestinian territories who don’t have Israeli citizenship. Whilst some activists do use the term “Palestinian citizens of Israel’ instead of ‘Arab Israelis’ to refer to Israelis who are ethnically and linguistically Arab (but full citizens of the state), the average reader looking at the headline and accompanying text wouldn’t likely understand this distinction.

Moreover, as anyone who lives in Israel, or has spent any serious time here, would surely know, Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel mix, mingle and interact in nearly every area of daily public and private life, and whilst the notion of Arab and Jewish (Israeli) bands going on tour together certainly is a nice symbol, it’s hardly groundbreaking.

Surely, Harriet Sherwood has been in the country long enough to realize this.

h/t Matt

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