FOR many Palestinians, music is a means to safeguard and promote national identity. It may not be an armed struggle but music is an important weapon of cultural resistance. Cultural resistance has been associated with Palestinian music and songs since the forcible expulsion of Palestinians from their villages in 1948.
For many of its composers and singers, the Palestinian crisis has continued to figure in their work as a symbol of the struggle to establish political sovereignty and, in addition, the commitment to creating modern forms of Palestinian Arab culture that are free from Western influence.
In the 1970s and 1980s, due to Israeli authorities that viewed music as a propaganda weapon of resistance, active Palestinian musicians worked under the constant threat of arrest and censorship.
These musicians loved to use lyrics as protest songs. The Israeli authorities officially banned “Palestinian national poet” Mahmoud Darwish from Israeli schools in 2000.
“It’s difficult to believe that the most militarily powerful country in the Middle East is threatened by a poem,” Darwish put it eloquently.
In February 2013, a world-renowned Argentine-born Israeli conductor Daniel Barenboim talked to Al-Jazeera about the power of music and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
Barenboim had managed to attract attention to his views on Israel and its relations with the Palestinians. His political views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict had stirred controversy. His harsh criticisms of Israel’s policies, namely the settlement expansion, had challenged the preconceived notion that all Israelis were Zionists, who supported their government’s actions.
The seven-time Grammy award winner believed music could be an alternative and more tangible solution to the conflict, rather than a political one which seemed to retain the status quo.
“When you hear the narrative of the other from somebody with whom you share a passion, in this case, music, and you practise it together maybe your curiosity is aroused and maybe it takes away the aggressiveness and violence.”
In 1999, Barenboim collaborated with Palestinian-American scholar Edward Said and founded the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, an initiative to bring Arab and Israeli musicians together.
“Of course, they argued. They argued all the time. I think that’s very healthy.”
By bringing Palestinian and Israeli musicians together, it purified him as a controversial character standing on both sides of the divide.
Last month, musicians from all over the world revived the Palestine National Orchestra (PNO) and performed in the occupied territories. PNO was set up in 1936, but was disbanded when Israel was founded in 1948.
The Edward Said National Conservatory of Music, too, has an interesting history.
It began as a Palestinian national music school in Ramallah when a group of musicians came together in 1993 to start a Palestinian national music school.
In 2010, the conservatory decided to revive the national orchestra by bringing musicians together from all over the world.
PNO members are professional musicians of Palestinian origin, with connections to Palestine. They include musicians working in orchestras and opera houses, freelance instrumentalists, studio musicians and professors teaching in music schools across the world. PNO musicians can be found living in Palestine, the wider Middle East and worldwide among the Palestinian diaspora.
PNO is currently a festival chamber orchestra, meeting once or twice a year to bring highquality professional music-making to Palestinian communities, and providing an international platform to promote Palestinian cultural achievements worldwide.
The musicians come from different backgrounds, but are proud of their Palestinian origin.
They are thrilled to be invited to join the orchestra and to share the experience of bringing quality classical Western and traditional Arab music to their audiences in Israel and the occupied West Bank.
Going to Palestine is really a great chance to meet people and to play music with them in a non-political atmosphere.
Muscian Ramadan Khattab said: “When we perform together, our hearts don’t beat out of fear, but out of love.
“It is really nice because we’re here to spread the word about Palestinian culture and the good side of it.”
PNO has continued to bring Palestinian musicians together to express their love for music and show its power as a unifying force, especially for the Palestinian community and to bring together two desires of identity, one as a Palestinian and the other as a musician.
Music transcends time, space and social gaps, making it the ideal tool for political change. Both Israelis and Palestinians utilise music albeit in different ways. Through music, the Palestinians continue to express hope for future generations by means of artistic resistance.
Dr Paridah Abd Samad, a former lecturer of UiTM, Shah Alam, and International Islamic University Malaysia, Gombak, is a Fulbright scholar and Japan Institute of International Affairs fellow.