A German duo‘s requiem for Palestine

30. Mai 2013

Two German musicians are presenting a symphony in East Jerusalem and the West Bank dedicated to their murdered Palestinian partner and his city, Jenin, as well as a boy who was killed by the IDF; they have found little room for collaboration with Israel. German film producer Benjamin Deiss was visiting Jenin and working in collaboration with Juliano Mer-Khamis when the latter, a celebrated Israeli-Palestinian actor and director, was murdered in April 2011. Leaflets were soon dropped around town suggesting Mer-Khamis had brought in corrupting Western influences. Deiss says his hosts in Jenin recommended he and all the other foreigners in town leave – they could not guarantee their safety.

In the more than two years that have passed, Deiss and Markus Rindt, a founder of the Dresdner Sinfoniker, a chamber orchestra based in Dresden, Germany, have continued to work towards realizing a dream that was already in the works when Mer-Khams died: to perform a “Symphony for Palestine.” Or, at least that is the name they finally settled on, after finding that realities on the ground limited what they could say and whom they could invite. They played with other titles, among them “Symphony for Peace.” But the very word peace seems to elicit mostly skepticism and scowls these days, especially with the so-called Oslo process heading toward its 20th birthday with, in the opinion of most Palestinians, very little to show for itself. “When we were looking for partners, people in Palestine said peace is a good thing, but we’ve been talking about peace for decades, and nothing has come of it, so we’re sort of tired of this word,” explained Deiss at a press conference earlier this week at the Al-Hakawati Theatre in East Jerusalem. The symphony will have its largest of the three free performances at the Ramallah Cultural Palace Thursday night at 7:30 P.M., followed by a performance at Al-Hakawati on Saturday and a finale in Jenin on Sunday. The project is dedicated to Jenin, to Mer-Khamis’ memory and to 11-year-old Ahmed Khatib, who was shot dead by an Israeli soldier in 2005, who mistook his toy gun for a real one. His parent donated his organs – to both Israelis and Palestinians. But is “Symphony for Palestine” synonymous with solidarity for Palestine? Many of the people involved with the project – including the funder, Kulturstiftung des Bundes, or the „German Federal Cultural Foundation“ – say they would have loved for it to be a series of concerts bringing together the visiting symphony with both Israeli and Palestinian musicians and for it to play inside Israel proper as well. That, however, was not in the political cards, they say. Projects that sound like normalization do not find a wide audience. Friederike Tappe Hornbostel of Kulturstiftung des Bundes said in the future, she hopes an Israeli-Palestinian collaboration will be possible. “I would have preferred to also do the concerts with Israel, and we do a lot of projects in Israel as well. But at the moment, Palestinians do not want normalization.”

Still, they say, their goal is a celebration of music as a means of communication, not as a political tool. “Everybody will interpret something from this,” says Deiss, 31, who wears a long, impressively full brown beard that, in different clothing, would allow him to pass for a resident of one of the settlements not far from one of the West Bank cities he’ll be visiting. “Most of our musicians only know this conflict from their television screens. I don’t see myself as a representative of the German state or as a solidarity project. “But we are dedicating the whole project to the citizens of Jenin and to the idea of opening a cultural institution where there isn’t one, where people can barely travel at all. We hope that by going there we can inspire people to use culture as a way to communicate.” The key piece of work they will perform is “The Silent City,” written by Iranian composer and Kamancheh virtuoso Kayhan Kalhor. The group had hoped to bring Kalhor here but his advisors said it might make it difficult for him to return to Iran. In addition to the 20 musicians coming from Dresden, the performance will incorporate three Palestinian musicians and two from Azerbaijan. “Some of our musicians were a little bit nervous and concerned, but now that they’re all here, I think the feeling is very positive,” said Rindt. The key image on the posters advertising the event shows a man in a hammock seemingly hanging out on the separation barrier – an amusing image that the team says their Palestinian partners loved. Lest you try to figure out where in the West Bank such a brilliant image was created, it was shot in Turkish Kurdistan, in another land of unresolved issues.