Soon I'll begin to log and review the many hours of footage from the trip. In the mean time, I'm reviewing it all in my mind and continue to recall and discover the issues, ironies, and realities that unfolded.
The other two programs were postponed due to tensions and fears after two incidents of violence. The second program in Jerusalem was scheduled to begin the day after the attack at the Synagogue. The Palestinian school feared retaliation and for the safety of their students traveling into the heart of the city. The reality made this more than a headline to me.
We met with the Jewish students at their school to discuss the events of the day and to explain the MiC program. I interviewed some of the students and was moved by the intensity of their stories.
Even though their individual and collective perspectives were mixed, and often even confusing, it seems they are looking forward to participating when the program is rescheduled. I envision this to be one of the more dynamic pairings.
The other postponed program was in Netanya, where a week earlier a man's car was set on fire as he entered the Palestinian area. The man was rescued but tensions remained high.
We made every attempt over the course of a week to relocate both days of the program to a neutral territory, but ultimately decided to postpone as the spirit and method of our program was being compromised by the alterations. This was a hard decision that didn't go smoothly.
On our last day we traveled to Jaffe for a much anticipated reunion with our delegates. When we arrived 2 weeks ago, everyone had confirmed attendance. One by one and two by two, they informed me they wouldn't make it. Some offered reasons… family illness, need to study, no transportation, etc. Just as I was about to order dinner for the few who I thought were still coming, I got the call that they weren't. In truth, I believe there were other reasons that they didn't want to share. I want to think it was more about their sense of safety traveling and not a change in their perspective on coexistence, but who can say for sure? In most cases it was their parents who made the decision. I had so wanted to talk to and film their thoughts and perspectives on the current escalation of tensions, as well as to hear their experiences after returning home. Follow-up is an important part of our work and we will continue to develop ways to stay in touch with all of them and to foster ways for them to connect with one another. Needless to say everyone involved in the cancellations was incredibly disappointed and we do intend to reschedule the programs to take place with our facilitators in Israel.
We were able to expand our network of MiC supporters, including teachers, principals, and potential facilitators during this tour, through direct contact, word of mouth, and via our social media posting. This is very significant for Music In Common, as we intend to broaden and expand our programming throughout the year with a team of Jewish and Arab partners who can work side by side to initiate and implement activities in the region. We will be working diligently here in the U.S. to train and develop this team in Israel so that programming and follow-up can take place. In our commitment to these goals, fundraising for our Israel programs is critical and will be ongoing. With a strong network in the country, our potential for sustainable efforts becomes more feasible.
Tensions throughout the trip were palpable. We remained acutely aware of relatively small incidents reported, reactions and responses by both sides, and of course always aware of our location and surroundings. Navigating the streets and highways in the country is tricky at best, but we made our way around without any major detours, enjoying the diverse beauty of the countryside and cities and meeting many people along the way. Though we weren't able to bring students to Beit Hanina, a school in East Jerusalem, Justin and I visited, toured, and interviewed the principal at the school. Then, we walked and shopped in the bustling town. I personally really enjoyed the familiar Arab atmosphere.
We took advantage of the unexpected down time to enjoy the magnificent Mediterranean Sunset and the night scenes of Jaffe and Tel Aviv. It was also a time to reflect on the events of the past 2 weeks and the outcomes of what happened and what didn't happen.
Even with all the twists and turns, the most prominent vibe of the trip reflects the theme we proposed to the students for their songs, "We Refuse To Be Enemies". In general every student, teacher, and person we spoke to echoed this in one way or another. As the world watches from afar via headlines, life in Israel continues on day to day. People go to work, go to school, shop, enjoy the arts, and travel about. At times, it was hard to believe their was anything noteworthy going on. In some places, it is impossible to identify between Arabs and Jews. We heard many stories about police and IDF screening people on the train, on the streets, and at the borders, both Arabs and Jews. Everyone is suspect and to me, that reality is a very sad reflection on humanity.
What I take away more than anything is that when we look closely, individuals are intent on co-existing and that for better or worse, We Are All In This Together. From my perspective, the We includes ourselves and others... All. My hope is that somehow this concept will flow upstream and change will happen. Maybe at some level it already is. I want to believe it.
My task now is to sift out the dramatic complexities to reveal what actually happens during the MiC process. The shifts in attitude, understanding, expectations, and perceptions are real and tangible every single time. These students are modeling a process toward peace, whether they recognize it or not. That has lasting value in that the experience cannot be unexperienced. This is hopeful and inspiring. For all the exhaustion, stress, and uncertainties I know that we accomplished our goals. The fact we did so amid such challenging circumstances is precisely why we are there and why this work is so relevant.
We are hosting an information session about the February tour in Israel and Palestine with students on Monday November 24th from 5:30-7PM at the Mason Library in Great Barrington. More information see this article.
As always, you can see updates, photos, and videos from the tour on our Facebook Page.
Your support in the form of donations, volunteering, in-kind services, promoting, and networking are welcomed and encouraged. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit our website.
In Gratitude ~ L
In the weeks since my journey has come up in conversation with various friends and strangers, I’ve come to instinctually hold a breath in wait for their inevitable responses, which in one of 2 phrases is delivered with some passion. “Wow, that’s exciting!” or “What are you, crazy?!”
I don’t think I’ve directly answered any one of them out loud, yet in truth the answer to both is “Yes!” Yes, I’m excited about the journey that will begin with a long crowded flight that plays uncomfortable tricks on the mind and body. Yes, I look forward to the relative stillness as we travel literally through space and time to give undivided attention to the mission at hand. I recall the food on Turkish Airlines to be very good… so that’s also something. In my life that is reliably full and hectic and diverse, I am drawn to this window of opportunity to immerse fully in the momentum of this work.
To those who ask, “Are you crazy?” I might well respond, “More so than you know.” The experiences of my last two entries through Israeli customs were enlightening by all means. My last name is Najimy, which is undeniably Arabic. Lebanese to be exact. "No, I have not been to Lebanon." "No, I don’t have contact with family still living in Lebanon." "No, I can’t recall the name of my grandfather’s birthplace." "No" to the other questions that might have offended, discouraged, humored, or enraged me.
My decision to lead this tour did not come lightly. After much consideration and due diligence to be informed and aware of current tensions and risks in the region, and with eyes, mind and heart wide open, I discovered that the journey that has led to my being faced with this decision at all, is precisely the reason I am compelled to do it.
2014 marks my 7th year with Music In Common (MiC). Todd Mack approached me in 2008 with the story of his mission to strengthen communities through music to honor the life of his friend and band mate, Daniel Pearl. What began as a backyard jam in 2005, had evolved at that time into a tour of 17 FODfest concerts in 18 days on the east and west coasts of the United States. That adventure was my initiation. It was magic.
Todd's inspiration was reverence for how his friend lived and to speak out against the very public atrocities that claimed Danny's life. The many artists' and audiences' motivations seemed to come from their passionate faith in the power of music to heal. Mine was a conviction that we are all in this together and that our stories shared in a collective creative process is a path to making a better world. Whatever it was that brought each of us to this work has fueled an unstoppable momentum to implement music and multimedia to positively effect change in people and in communities. Since that time we have toured and developed programs with youth, artists, organizations and communities in the U.S., Taiwan, Israel, and Palestine.
To say I am proud of our work, or that everyone should support these efforts, or that I am involved in something profoundly meaningful, or even to claim this is my passion, all seem to be trite and self-serving rhetoric. I do this work not because I am an Arab, not because I am not a Jew, not because of any political or religious convictions, and not because I have anything in particular to offer. I do it because I am a human being and this is ultimately the human spirit of love, compassion, and connectedness at work.
This summer MiC hosted our first International Youth Summit at Bard College at Simon’s Rock. This was an ambitious and challenging endeavor, intensified by its direct timing with active conflict between Israel and Gaza. After nearly 2 years of planning, in the weeks leading up to the Summit we questioned if we could actually pull it off. Our team in the U.S. and in Israel struggled and juggled with logistics, students’ and parents’ fears, cultural tensions, programming, and concerns for safety. Yet fueled by our collective mission & motivation, we prevailed!
The students together chose to write a song about their vision for how personal change can lead to global change. Their song and video, “The Change We’ll Bring” reflects their own belief in the power each of us has to initiate an alternative, non-violent solution to conflicts in our own lives and in the world.
The community was incredibly supportive and welcoming to the MiC Delegates, greeting and interviewing them, hosting and facilitating events, discussions, dinners, and a concert. A documentary crew came by to produce a short video, "Harmony In Tragedy", that was featured on Huffington Post. All of this acknowledgement moved and inspired these young people tremendously, knowing that their time, effort, and song had already touched people. They were justly recognized for their contribution toward a better world.
As we said “Salaam, Shalom, and Peace” on the last day one delegate said,
We feel it is our responsibility to carry this message forward and to cultivate the seeds that have been sown. We are planning more of these cross-national programs in the U.S. and in Israel for 2015. But for now back to the trip at hand.
When the time came to consider if I would not only make this trip but to lead it, I first took time to check in with myself to see if I was prepared to take on the inherent complex responsibilities. My role as the Arab also played a significant part in this decision. Todd Mack is a Jew, both of our staff in Israel are Jewish. If we are seeking to promote cross-cultural unity then our own cultural balance truly matters. It inherently strengthens and validates our very foundation in ways that all the peace-talking video-making good intentions can’t reach.
I recalled the delegates I had met and come to love this summer. I looked at photos and reread their notes asking when they would see me again, Habibi. I wondered if their experiences have stayed with them and in what ways? I felt a pull to find out for myself.
I also thought a lot about my Dad during this process and looked to him for guidance. With my Dad’s illness in 2012 and death in January 2013, I was not capable of taking on the emotional, mental, and physical intensity of MiC’s two trips to Israel in 2013. Both of my parents have always been faithful advocates of Music in Common and believed in the impact of all aspects of our work. My Dad was a man of quiet strength and unassuming service to others. He is the reason I am Arabic. He is the reason I am not a terrorist.
I am dedicating this trip to Dad and his legacy of love and service to others.
Our objectives for this tour are twofold. We will bring five MiC Youth Songwriting and Multimedia Programs pairing among 11 Jewish and Arab schools. I will also film for a short documentary, recently funded by a supportive and generous donor to Music In Common. This is an incredible opportunity to reconnect with the Youth Summit Delegates and to have them illustrate the tangible impact that has evolved from these projects over the past 10 years, from a backyard jam to a non-profit organization providing a platform for making peace through music in the U.S., Israel, and Palestine. This project will continue when we return and is schedule for completion in April 2015.
So, yes I am cautiously excited. In so many ways this journey has been well underway for years and to disembark now would the crazy part. Wish us well.
We also invite you to follow Music In Common on Facebook.
Tax deductible donations to support Music In Common's work can be made at Music In Common’s website.
PEACE * SALAAM * SHALOM ~ L
In addition to sharing random musings, Beansprouts Blog will offer ideas, tips, strategies, and reflections on multimedia production, social media, and other insights.