Israeli Arab Musician Wins Yoko Ono Lennon Courage Award

Violinist Nabeel Abboud-Ashkar will be recognized for his work to encourage Jewish-Arab dialogue and coexistence through classical music education.

Uri Zer Aviv
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Uri Zer Aviv

Nabeel Abboud-Ashkar, a 34-year-old violinist and the director of the Polyphony Conservatory in Nazareth, will be awarded the Yoko Ono Lennon Courage Award for the Arts.

The prize has been awarded annually since 2009 by Ono to artists from various fields for their efforts to promote peace through the arts.

Nabeel Abboud-Ashkar with his violin in Nazareth. Credit: Gil Eliyahu

Ashkar founded Polyphony in March of 2011 in order to promote tolerance and co-existence through classical music education. "The organization believes that through music we can develop equal opportunity for music education and dialogue between Arab and Jewish youth in Israel," Ashkar said.

Ono met Ashkar at a concert in New York this month featuring Majd Mashour (15), a student at the conservatory, and Uri Tivon (17) from Tel Aviv. The concert was one of two organized by Polyphony in February.

Among the guests at the event were Yoko Ono and former Beatles impresario Peter Brown. "Peter Brown called me on Friday to tell me that Yoko Ono had decided to give me the prize," Ashkar told Haaretz.

"The win gave me the feeling that there are people in the world who believe in our path," he said, adding that he hoped more people in Israel would hear about the work of his organization thanks to the award.

"I realized that an artist seeking to tell the truth in her art takes great courage. I recognize the courage required to bring children together from Israeli and Palestinian communities to find commonality in music as a very powerful and effective beginning towards Peace," Ono wrote on her website.
Nabeel Abboud-Ashkar is a member of the West-Eastern Divan orchestra, founded by conductor Daniel Barenboim and Palestinian author Edward Said in 1999. He studied music and physics at Tel Aviv University, and also studied at the Rostock Academy of Music and Theater in Germany.

The cash prize will be awarded by Ono to Ashkar and four additional artists at a ceremony at New York's Museum of Modern Art on February 26.