HAIFA, Israel — 1948 was a tumultuous year for the Middle East. Israel was established and recognized as an independent nation. The British withdrew from the Mandate of Palestine. The Arab League launched a military offensive to end the new Israeli government.
What followed was a succession of lands grabs and surrenders, all ending in a precarious stasis between today’s Israel and its debatably occupied Palestinian territories — the West Bank and Gaza.
So who’s to blame for the conflict? It is impossible to say. The first Palestinian intifada, or uprising, took place in 1987. Clashes between Palestinian citizens and Israeli police resulted in the deaths of more than 20,000 people.
Since the Hamas takeover of Gaza, thousands of rockets have been fired on Israeli civilians. Suicide bombers are a very real threat. Poverty in Gaza and the West Bank, meanwhile, has skyrocketed. Hostilities are aggravated further by the sometimes questionable actions of Israeli police. In May of this year, two teenage Palestinian protestors were shot and killed while unarmed and returning to their friends.
Tensions between the two groups run deep. There is an established sense of ‘the Other’ woven deep into the fabric of the not-quite-two nations. How does one undo decades of polarization?
Aaron Shneyer is combating mistrust with music.
Founded by Shneyer in 2007, Heartbeat is an organization that encourages discussion and cooperation between Palestinian and Israeli teens. During weekly sessions, young men and women meet at Heartbeat centers in Haifa, Tel aviv-Jaffa and Jerusalem. There they develop critical thinking, creative and leadership skills. They speak about their lives and experiences. They make friends, and they make music.
Music is the common purpose. Diverse in background, Heartbeat musicians play guitars, violins, ouds, recorders, darbukkas and pianos. They sing in English, Hebrew and Arabic. Their repertoire is extensive and includes both mainstream pop and original compositions. The latter range from expressions of the suffering caused by conflict to tried and true love songs. Their work is folksy, upbeat and beautiful.
Heartbeat staffs are trained to both facilitate dialogue between students and produce music. The videos and sound files published on the Heartbeat website are consequently of very high quality. Heartbeat may be a departure from the well-traveled search paths of iTunes, but given its sound, its extraordinary members and the significance of its mere existence, though, it is well worth the visit.