Sunday, May 23, 2010

Palestinian Children's Resistence in Music

Children Fight Off Israel With Music


By Eva Bartlett


May 13, 2010




"Why are you rushing? Isn't it nicer like this?"

Mohammed Omer, oud teacher (an oud is similar to a

lute) at the Gaza Music School, asks his student. Omer

takes the oud and demonstrates, playing the song

slowly, gracefully, with the ornamentations that are

key to Arab music.


Mohammed Abu Suffiya, the 10-year-old student, has only

been studying for six months but has already learned to

read music and play a working rendition of a well known

song by Lebanese singer Fairouz.


Glancing only now and then at the sheet music, he

begins to play again, more slowly and with more

expression, his teacher accompanying him on a tabla

(hand drum).


Mohammed Omer, 28, is one of five teachers at the Gaza

Music School in Tel el Howa, Gaza City. Formerly in the

Al-Quds hospital Red Crescent complex, the school moved

to its current location not far from the hospital after

the complex was bombed and burned during the 23-day

Israeli war on Gaza. A piano and at least two ouds were

destroyed with the school premises.


The school opened about six months before the Gaza

assault in December 2008-January 2009 as a response to

the demand at the Qattan Centre for the Child in Gaza City.


School director Ibrahim Najjar holds a music degree

from Cairo. Mohammed Omer studied oud in Iraq. The

piano and violin teachers are from Russia.


"We are open in the evenings, five days a week.

Students receive one-on-one classes, 40 minutes each

lesson," says Najjar. "We teach the solfege system of

note reading, because it is internationally understood."


Currently, students can learn the violin, guitar, oud,

qanoon (a zither-like instrument) and the piano. "We'd

love to teach other instruments, but we lack

professional teachers aside from the five we have."


Fifty students now study at the institute, half in

their first year, and half in their second, continuing

from their start in the Al-Quds complex.


Elena, the Russian piano teacher, works with 11-year-

old Hada. "All my students are girls this year, but I

hope next year will have some boys studying piano,"

Elena says.


Tala, 11, is a second-year student, having studied

piano in her first year. She sits with a qanoon before

her, slowly plucking her way through a song, starting

to find the techniques necessary to make music.


She has studied qanoon for a year now. "I chose it

because it has a beautiful, unique sound. It is

difficult, and not many people play it, so I wanted to

learn it," she says.


"When I play, I forget any problems and just think

about the music."


"All children like music, it's the language of peace,"

says Ibrahim Najjar. "And it's good for the mind, body

and our daily lives."


At the moment, students are all from the Gaza City

region. But this is more a question of logistics than



"They don't pay for the lessons," says Najjar. "The

Qattan centre funds this programme."


But because transportation from regions outside of Gaza

City is too expensive for most families, the students

are local.


Najjar hopes to change this. "I'm trying to arrange a

bus, so that students can come from any region of Gaza,

if they have potential.


"Even if they've never played an instrument, they can

have the chance to learn. We test their ear: can they

hear and hum a melody? And we test their rhythm: can

they replicate a rhythm?"


Mahmoud Kohail, 8, has studied the qanoon for just

under a year, but took first prize in a Palestine-wide

competition in oriental music for ages 7 to 11.


"Everyone asked me how many years he had been

studying," laughs Najjar. "When I told them it had been

only 80 hours, they couldn't believe me."


Emad Kohail, Mahmoud's father, is an accomplished oud

player, and his mother a talented singer.


Also a doctor of mental health and alternative

medicine, Emad Kohail explains how music has helped his



"Mahmoud suffered the same post-traumatic stress

disorder (PTSD) that nearly all Gaza's children suffer,

as well as an attention deficit disorder," he says.


"Music has made an immense difference in Mahmoud's

behaviour. It has been a therapy for his PTSD and as a

means of teaching him to focus."


Ibrahim Najjar agrees that music is therapy, and

constructive for children's learning and mental health.


"There is a big difference in the students' behaviour

from when they first came. Now, they are calmer, and

listen and respect each other. I teach them this, but

also to behave like this in all aspects of their lives."


On a sunny Friday morning in Gaza's south, east of Khan

Younis, Abu Mohammed strums his oud for an appreciative

audience: the children have been traumatised by a May

2008 Israeli invasion which destroyed their home and farm.


"They were terrified, we were in the house as Israeli

tanks and bulldozers destroyed the land and our chicken

coop attached to our house. My children were so

frightened by the shooting and explosions," says Laila

Abu Dagga.


The family has since vacated their house, 470 metres

from the Green Line border, instead renting a house

half a kilometre away. But on this Friday morning, they

revisit their home, with friends, clapping and dancing

to Abu Mohammed's music. "Music really helps people

improve their mental health," says Abu Mohammed.


The oud player says he had to struggle to learn music.


"My father was very religious and looked down on music,

thought it was a waste of time. He used to keep me from

playing, but I'd learn in private. He didn't

understand, but music can be resistance, my oud can be

a weapon against the Israeli occupation."


With a stigma against musicians still prevalent in

Gaza, projects like the music school, and individuals

like Abu Mohammed are vital to the society.


Learning on his own, Abu Mohammed in 2004 won the Gold

prize in a competition sponsored by Palestine

Television. His winning composition featured the story

of a pregnant Palestinian woman who died waiting at a

checkpoint in the occupied West Bank for the Israeli

soldiers to allow her to pass and continue to hospital.


He plays his own works, set to the words of poets, and

highlights themes of the Israeli occupation, siege, and

the war on Gaza. Political, traditional, therapeutic,

Abu Mohammed's music meets various needs



No comments: