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A concert was held yesterday at Beit Almusica, the music conservatory in the northern Arab town of Shfaram, to launch a new music education program in the Israeli Arab community.

The program, called Turning Point, was developed at the initiative of the director of the Israel Philharmonic, Zubin Mehta.

"Music is an international language, and this was shown here," Mehta told Haaretz. "Everyone understood it, Jews and Arabs. Everyone played the same composition, and there was no need for words." He promised municipal support for the music conservatory despite budget cuts.

The program has attracted Israeli corporate support and is being run in cooperation with the Israel Philharmonic and several Israeli educational institutions. The project will provide music instruction, workshops, scholarships and camp programs for young musicians.

At yesterday's concert, which featured performances by students and faculty from the conservatory, Mehta discussed music's role in bringing people together.

Joint choir

He recalled that at the time of the 1993 Oslo Accords, he attended a concert featuring a joint Jewish-Arab choir in the presence of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, PLO chairman Yasser Arafat and foreign minister Shimon Peres, now president.

Mehta said yesterday that Arabs and Jews can live together in peace as well as make music together.

After the concert, Shfaram Mayor Nahed Khazem spoke about music's importance as a bridge between nations, adding that Shfaram's schools would cooperate with the conservatory.

Conservatory director Amer Nakhleh, whose school is the first in the Arab community under the supervision of the Israeli Education Ministry, said efforts were only just beginning.