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Arts

The power of arts in the Middle East crisis

War alters societies, and art can serve to gauge the change. In the war-struck Middle East, artists are hindered in their work, and some are forced to emigrate. But they still believe in the healing capacity of art.

Sayed Kashua, an Israeli-Arab writer and columnist for Israel's oldest daily newspaper "Haaretz," left his home in Israel last month. What was supposed to be a short stay in the United States turned into a permanent move.

The war between Palestinian Hamas and Israel means Kashua cannot go back. The conflict between the two sides has flared up again and again, but this time with such vehemence that it has cost many innocent civilians their lives.

More than that, it's the hate Kashua senses in his country that, after 25 years of writing about "the hope of coexistence," has led him to give up this dream.

"When Jewish youths walk down the street and demand the death of Arabs simply because they're Arabs, then I've lost my own small battle," wrote the 39-year-old in one of his columns.

Battle of words

Not only Kashua is convinced that the current violent conflict is leaving a deeper mark on society than those before it. Many blame this on the murder of three young Jewish men and a 16-year-old Palestinian.

Writer Sayed Kashua, Copyright: picture alliance/Effigie/Leemage

Sayed Kashua says he's given up his language out of protest

According to Israeli writer Assaf Gavron, this kind of brutality has charged the atmosphere and caused taboos to be broken. He says, like his friends, he feels "sadness, fear and frustration" about the current situation.

In order not to be overcome by these negative emotions, the 45-year-old writer says he lives in two worlds. "I totally separate work and everyday life; that more or less works."

Others respond by stepping into the spotlight. Director Shira Geffen is one example; she recently participated in the Jerusalem International Film Festival and, together with other filmmakers, demanded a cease-fire and asked the audience to remember the dead children in Gaza.

In response, Israel's Culture Minister Limor Livnat posted in Facebook, "Such people are a shame to the state."

Geffen wasn't deterred and posted in reply: "Pardon me, but can I no longer show a bit of humanness?" Israeli society has sunk very low, she added.

Appeal for creativity

When it comes to suffering, the Palestinian people have long since reached the abyss, says George Ibrahim, founder and director of Al-Kasaba Theater in Ramallah. He is shocked at what people are doing to each other: "It's unbearable."

In times like these, Palestine's arts scene naturally takes a back seat. "Everyone is full of anger and sadness," Ibrahim said.

He says he understands the shift in priorities, but still encourages artists to continue with their work, adding, "Culture and creativity have to have a place. It's difficult, but otherwise everything is lost."

'We have to learn from each other'

Professor Mohammed Dajani, Copyright: Mohammed Dajani

Mohammed Dajani's reconciliation work cost him his job

Mohammed Dajani, a former professor at Al-Quds University in East Jerusalem, holds a similar opinion. He experienced first-hand how his society deals with those who think differently.

In his spare time he worked on an academic project aimd at reconciliation between Jews and Palestinians, which involved a trip to the concentration camp Auschwitz with young Palestinians. Because of that, Dajani became a target of rejection. He was accused of being a traitor and forced to leave the university.

Nevertheless, Dajani is convinced that peace is possible. "We have to learn from and talk with each other," he said.

Interrupted by war

Then there are those who belong to Israeli society but keep a distance to current events due to their own biographical backgrounds, like German author Sarah Stricker, who has lived in Tel Aviv for the past five years.

She says her feelings are chaotic and she's ashamed that her family and friends back home worry about her safety, "although life here continues as normal."

On the other hand, she doesn't feel able to live a normal life. "Every morning I sit at my desk and try to work, but I can't, because the moment I feel like I'm in the flow, a siren goes off. And sometimes the siren doesn't go off, but you're waiting for it to go off any second," said Stricker, adding that she feels a sense of anger that goes beyond the two conflicting parties.

"If the bloodshed continues, the international community is at fault for not doing anything except politely asking both sides to please stop killing each other."

Writer Sarah Stricker, Copyright: Sarah Stricker

German writer Sarah Stricker finds it difficult to concentrate on work in Tel Aviv

The only thing that helps her get herself together, the 33-year-old said, is writing. Still, war is inadvertently finding its way into her novel - "the way war forces itself into every story and every conversation."

Losing language and voice

Tuvia Tenenbom, an Israeli-born and New York-based writer and dramatist, is particularly critical of the media.

"Foreign reporters speak neither language and have no idea what's going on here," he said. While some reporters go to hospitals in Gaza and film the wounded under the guidance of the Hamas, others sit in posh hotels in Tel Aviv and criticize Israel, he added.

Zubin Mehta, Music Director of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, has a clear statement as well: "I love the country, but not the government." They make many mistakes and lack courage, he added.

The 78-year-old actively strives for Jewish-Arab reconciliation: Six years ago he founded a music school in two cities on the border to the Gaza Strip, where both Palestinian and Israeli students could study.

If the maestro could have his way, he would conduct "Beethoven and Mozart in Ramallah and Gaza." While the region is torn, he is convinced that "music can heal."

Whenever that healing process finally gets underway, it might be too late for Sayed Kashua. He not only left his country behind, but also his language: "I won't write in Hebrew anymore," he said.

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