This Duet Between Israeli and Palestinian Superstars Is Giving Me Hope – Kveller
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This Duet Between Israeli and Palestinian Superstars Is Giving Me Hope

The music of Noa and Mira Awad is a candle in the dark.

Festa Dell’Unita’ In Bologna

BOLOGNA, ITALY - AUGUST 27: Israelian musician Noa and israeli palestinian singer Mira Awad performs their concert at Festa Nazionale dell'Unita on August 27, 2014 in Bologna, Italy. (Photo by Roberto Serra - Iguana Press/Getty Images)

Since the brutal massacre that happened in Israel on October 7 and the war that’s now ensuing, I’ve struggled with my usual comforts when I needed a break from the news: I can’t watch TV, can’t focus on books. I even bought a LEGO set in hopes of finding distraction, but my mind and hands are too tired. But the one place where I’ve found hope — and some powerful truths — is music.

Strangely enough, I keep finding myself going back to my favorite song competition and Europe’s biggest televised event: the Eurovision.

Back in 2009, Achinoam Nini, better known as Noa, and Mira Awad took the stage of the Eurovision in Moscow to sing a song titled “There Must Be Another Way.”

That year, Awad became the first Arab and Christian artist to represent Israel in the Eurovision. A popular actress and singer, she starred at the time in the show “Avoda Aravit,” or “Arab Work,” a sitcom about an Israeli-Arab family where she played Amal, a lawyer.

In Hebrew, English and Arabic, Noa and Mira sang about how in each other’s eyes, they saw the same kind of pain. “And when I cry, I cry for both of us, my pain has no name / and when I cry, I cry to the light in the sky and sing, there must be another way.”

For those of you who don’t remember 2009, or would rather forget it, it was the time of the Gaza War, known as Operation Cast Lead — not exactly a time of peaceful coexistence. And Israel, like now, was dealing with the rise of right-wing legislation. It was a different time — the magnitude of horrors that we see today do feel unprecedented, as does the past year of protests in Israel — but it was still a time when war felt fresh. Yet these two women, longtime peace activists, chose to take the stage and sing about seeing each other in their grief and suffering. It wasn’t a popular choice in Israel, but for both of them, it felt important in that moment in time, no matter how bleak things felt, to sing about peace.

“Everyone is responsible to put in his or her two cents for peace and coexistence,” Nini told the New York Times in 2009. “Our two cents is music. We have a real friendship. Of course we argue. But the beauty is that we offer an example of what coexistence could look like.” In the heights of the second intifada, they also released a duet of the Beatles’ “We Can Work It Out.”

These songs might feel like a placating and crowd-pleasing performance of peace and coexistence — like Gal Gadot singing “Imagine” in the midst of a global pandemic, perhaps. But both Noa and Awad have years and years of activism for a proposed future of peace and coexistence, and that activism has often made them not well-liked on both “sides” of the debate. That kind of sisterhood in pain is the foundation of many Jewish groups and much activism that seeks to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through diplomatic means.

Back in 2020, Awad and Noa released another collaboration, this time, Awad’s recording of a popular poem by Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish  called “Think of Others,” that you may have seen shared quite often on Instagram this past week. The recording, part of Awad’s album “HuMan,” wasn’t only a collaboration between Noa and Awad, but also featured some other well-known and beloved artists, like Israeli singer David Broza, Awad’s former “Arab Work” co-star Norman Issa, and Jewish-American songwriter, singer and activist Peter Yarrow from Peter, Paul and Mary and the co-writer of the popular children’s song “Puff the Magic Dragon.”

Aside from Awad, there’s gorgeous singing in Arabic by the enchanting Miriam Toukan, the first Arab contestant featured in the Israeli song competition “Kokav Nolad,” and a veteran peace activist herself. It also features singers Kobi Farhi, Adam Gorlizki and Bassam Beroumi.

The video for “Think of Others,” shot in Israel, featured two TVs playing haunting images from Gaza and two girls playing in an abandoned building. The lyrics are as follows:

As you prepare your evening meal
Think of how the others feel
Don’t forget to feed the hungry dove
As you wage your wars with guns
Think of all the other ones
Those who still believe in peace and love
As you pay for running water
Think of someone’s son or daughter
Nursed by clouds beneath a starry dome
As you return from work tonight
Think of others and their plight
Those who live in camps and dream of home
As you lay your head to rest, dreaming deep
Remember those who have no place to sleep
As you let your words run free in rhyme and tongue in cheek
Remember those who’ve lost their very right to speak
And as you think of others, far away,
Think of yourself and say
If only I could be a candle in the dark,
I wish I were a candle in the dark.
If only I could be a candle in the dark,
I wish I were a candle in the dark.

The song also featured the original spoken word poetry of Yossi Zabari, a queer Yemeni Jewish artist, and an original rap from the Ramle-based rapper Sameh Saz Zakout.

This past March, Awad, who moved to London during the pandemic, sang during a protest in the UK against Netanyahu’s government, in front of 10 Downing Street where he was visiting that day. There were two protests, side by side: that of Palestinians fighting for a free Palestine, and that of Israeli women, all dressed like handmaidens, fighting the Netanyahu government and also, according to Awad, “the crime of occupation.” In both Arabic and Hebrew, she made the two disparate crowds sing Darwish’s words in their native tongues. It showed how incredibly powerful her message truly could be.

Not surprisingly, Awad has not remained silent after the surprise attack in Israel earlier this month. She shared a heart-wrenching video in which she expressed “the despair that I was feeling as a Palestinian, watching the Palestinian cause be hijacked by barbarians… who are taking us back to medieval times.”

She burst into tears as she spoke about “the kind of violence that was used against women, little children.”

“I was worried for friends and family. I still have friends and family in Israel,” she shared.

She added that she had been getting messages from Palestinians telling her that she should not “ignore the history of oppression that Palestinians are living under. Of course I know that reality,” she said, but does not subscribe to the policy of an eye for eye. “This cycle of retaliation over retaliation is not bringing us any results,” she said.

“There is also no contradiction in standing with the right of the Palestinian people for freedom, safety and peace, while condemning the heinous actions of Hamas,” Awad wrote, saying she stands “in solidarity with people on both sides. They are humans just like you.” She added that she hopes people will be critical of the leaders who have lead them to this situation and that they can “choose long term solutions instead of snappy slogans.”

Idealistic calls for peace and solidarity, like the ones found in these songs, may feel disconnected from the messy, polarizing reality of the current situation and the deep bleeding wound we feel. And yet veterans of this pain and activism remind us that it’s possible to find our humanity at the darkest of times.

I don’t think it’s a bad idea — in fact, I think it might be the best idea — to try our best to be a candle in this polarizing darkness for all. And I’m grateful to Awad and Nini for being one.

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