As the darkness fell last Thursday, it seemed that Gaza was getting closer and closer. The pale lights, glinting feebly over the soccer field at Kibbutz Kfar Aza, located just two kilometers from the Gaza border, got brighter and brighter as the sun was going down and the “Cross Borders Concert” began with the sounds of Mozart’s Requiem at around 8:30 in the evening. Hope for peace seemed to be beating in the hearts of the crowd that gathered for the special concert, and the lack of peace was that much more present, so close to the border.
The concert went back and forth between hope and sorrow. It began with sorrow and lament, as Assnat Bartor offered “a prayer for all the victims of the last war, Israelis and Palestinians.” The meaning of her words should be examined closely for a moment, from a statistical standpoint. A headcount. Correct, the sorrow is the same for anyone who lost a loved one, the trauma is the same for all those living with shelling. These words created symmetry between the Israelis and the Palestinians, with regard to what happened last summer.
But does that sentence accurately reflect what happened? Over 500 Palestinian children died, as opposed to one Israeli child. All told, some 2,200 Gazans lost their lives, compared to 79 Israelis. In Gaza 20,000 homes were destroyed, in Israel a couple of dozen; 300,000 Palestinians were left homeless, among Israelis the comparable figure was zero. Humanitarian crisis looms over Gaza, with its lack of clean water, sanitation, electricity and medical care, while Israel has fully recovered. False symmetry was like a cloud of cynicism hanging over the concert from the moment it began.
The second part of the concert, “the hope,” was defined by Bartor on stage as “aspirations toward dialogue and reconciliation.” And thus we returned to the utopia of blinding songs from the 1970s, self-indulgent songs about imminent “peace,” if not tomorrow, then the next day.
Another dimension or two could be added to this sorrow-hope spectrum. Perhaps, for example, anger. That is also a human emotion. Perhaps protest? Yes, a protest concert about the needless deaths of this “operation,” civilians who lost their entire world, babies in “the area near Gaza” and Ashkelon who suffer from post-traumatic stress, and young people who lost their lives. Perhaps a concert of rage, that would demand reparations from the government, and a promise that such things will never happen again. A concert of rage that pounds the table, demanding to know why, and why their isn’t a solution, and when the next such “operation” will take place.
Alternatively, if we half-heartedly say that the concert is about solidarity with our neighbors, then lets specify. Perhaps a concert to end the occupation? A concert for equal rights for Palestinians? To demand an end to the siege keeping our neighbors trapped behind a fence? Even a few peace activists, as Bartor mentioned on stage, weren’t given permission to come participate as guests at the concert. We can add another dimension as well: make concrete suggestions. “Aspirations toward dialogue and reconciliation” with whom? Hamas? Fatah? Human rights groups? Musicians from across the border? No. Just sorrow and hope. Crying and singing.
Roger Lucey, a South African singer who fought against apartheid, once spoke about how he and his friends developed an aversion to the abstract lyrics from their American colleague Bob Dylan. “Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall” – that’s meaningless for us, said Lucey, who wrote songs that clearly described crimes, including about police officers who threw a black suspect out of a window after questioning. Today in Israel, it seems that the power of words and sounds has waned. The refusal to be political, as the concert organizers called it, the insistence on holding a universal concert focusing on “music – the thing that can break down walls,” and music alone, is a thing of the past.
When the requiem was over, everyone was excited and satisfied. Beautiful Israel held its head high with pride. We’ve done something good, we’ve consoled ourselves among this small community of do-gooders. Stuck in this euphoria, it became hard to see Gaza: It was suddenly farther away, and its shimmering lights were engulfed in darkness.