There are some subjects I know not to talk to most people about, because they probably won’t like what I have to say on the matter. Always having been slightly left of most anarchists I’m supposed to hold to certain opinions in order to not let the side down. Yet, I’ve always been of the opinion that being an anarchist means you can have whatever opinion you want and not have to toe any party line. Still that doesn’t prevent most people I know from coming over all strange when I won’t condemn Israel out of hand or give my unconditional support for the Palestinian cause. My problem is that I can see both sides of the argument and refuse to say either side is completely right or wrong.
Of course, being of Jewish heritage probably does have some influence over how I feel about the issue. I can’t help it, but if you’ve studied the history of Jews in the Christian world you’ll know until the formation of Israel it was one of never being sure when your welcome in any country would all of a sudden run out. However, the fact the political leadership of Israel are enacting policies which have created conditions similar to those Jews suffered under prior to the creation of the state for other people is reprehensible. How can a country which was founded on the premise of equality for all and providing a safe haven for those who desired it do so on the backs of others? The situation as it now stands is so fraught with difficulty it’s hard to hold out any hope for peaceful co-existence between the two people of the region.
However, every so often rays of hope do pierce the clouds looming over the region. One of the most recent is the latest recording from the Israeli musician David Broza. For East Jerusalem/West Jerusalem, being released on S-Curve Records January 14 2014, was not only recorded in a Palestinian owned recording studio, Broza recorded with a multinational and multilingual group of musicians including both Israelis and Palestinians. A mix of original material and covers, the album was created as a means of showing the world that it doesn’t matter what politicians say or do – there are still people on both sides of the divide who haven’t given up hope of region’s two people living together peacefully.
Broza is a gifted guitar player and singer, and both talents are on full display in this recording. One thing interesting to note is this record marks the first time he has written songs in English, instead of his native Hebrew. He has recorded in English before, but in an attempt to appeal to a wider audience he has taken the risk of writing his original songs for this disc in English. He figured, rightly, if he wants an international audience to take notice of his message he needed to record it in an accessible language. In the same vain he brought in American recording artist Steve Earle to act as producer for the release in order to ensure he had a better chance of connecting with a wider audience. Appropriately enough, considering the album’s content, he also covers Earle’s song “Jerusalem”, accompanied by Earle on mandolin and harmonica.
With lines like “That I believe that one fine day all the children of Abraham/Will lay down their swords forever in Jerusalem”, one could say the song is part hope for a better future and part wishful thinking – especially considering the current state of affairs in Israel. However, hope and wishful thinking aren’t things to be condemned or put down when people attempt to put them into practical application. In the 1970s Nick Lowe wrote the song “(What’s so Funny ’bout) Peace Love & Understanding” as a response to the backlash against the pacifism of the 1960s. Starting with Elvis Costello’s recording of it in 1979 on his Armed Forces album, musicians have been utilizing this song to remind us not to give up on hope. “I ask myself/Is all hope lost?/Is there only, pain and hatred, and misery?/And each time I feel like this inside/There’s one thing I wanna know:/What’s so funny ’bout peace love & understanding?/What’s so funny ’bout peace love & understand?”
Broza sings this song as a declaration of intent and as a challenge to those who would dismiss those who have given up on seeing peace in the region. He not only sings this, he also shows us an example of how Palestinian and Israeli can work together in harmony if given the chance. On this song, and on his cover of Yusaf Islam’s (Cat Stevens) “Where Do The Children Play”, he’s accompanied by the Jerusalem Youth Chorus whose membership is made up of both Jewish and Palestinian youth. They are by no means a professional choir, but what they might lack in quality they make up for with their passion and obvious belief in what they are doing. Considering they have only recently celebrated their first anniversary their performance is as remarkable as the example they are showing to the world.
While there are other covers on the album, including a wonderful version of Roger Walter’s “Mother”, which are equally remarkable, it’s the songs Broza has written himself, or collaborated on with others which still are the most powerful. Who he has chosen to collaborate with in this process is actually almost as important as the songs themselves. American/Haitian rapper Wyclef Jean co-wrote and performs on the cover track, “East Jerusalem/West Jerusalem”. Whose chorus of “East Jerusalem, West Jerusalem/Shalom, Salam” reminds us how similar the word for peace is in Arabic and Hebrew. While Jean’s participation and performance are impressive, the truly amazing collaborations are the multilingual ones Broza has chosen to write and perform with Palestinian musicians.
“Key to the Memory” features lyrics by Broza set to music composed by Palestinian musician Said Murad, who also plays both on the song, while the lyrics are translated into Arabic by Mira Awad who sings on both this tune and another of his originals “Ramallah – Tel-Aviv”. Like many of the songs on the disc these two songs feature a line up of musicians from both sides of East/West divide in Jerusalem. However, when it comes to multinational and multilingual collaborations the disc’s closing tune, “PEACE Ain’t nothing but a word” is the winner hands down. Broza and Earle wrote the English lyrics, Muhammad Mugrabi and Fadi Awad supplied the Arabic and Shaanan Steet the Hebrew – with the latter three also performing their own lyrics – while Earle wrote the music. Part rap, part traditional song, the lyrics are sung and rapped in all three languages.
As the title implies peace in of itself doesn’t really mean that much. What so great about peace if you’re not free? “Peace ain’t nothin’ but a word/Unspoken and unheard/If I can’t be free/Ain’t any frame of mind/That I’m never gonna find/Gonna save me!” Broza and his collaborators understand peace in Israel is far more complicated than simply getting people to stop killing each other. There has to be mutual recognition and respect for each people’s right to exist and be who they are. You can be a slave and live in peace, but what kind of peace is that?
Of all the songs on the disc, this one impressed me the most for its willingness to face up to the hard realities existing in the region. It proves Broza isn’t just engaging in wishful thinking or is blind to the social political realities of his homeland. In the album’s opening track, “One to Three”, he sings “I was born into this reality/I was brought up with a war/That doesn’t mean I must accept it/Don’t wanna fight no more/Young people from all over/Stray off and cross the lines/It’s a dialogue that we’re seeking/And we’re running out of time”. He knows the reality, he’s lived it all his life. However, he also knows the only way things can change is if people talk for real about the situation instead of merely mouthing platitudes or decrying what happens.
Any real peace between Israel and Palestine will only be accomplished by the people talking to each other and learning how to overcome their fears and distrust. Projects like Broza’s East Jerusalem/West Jerusalem which bring together people from both sides of the divide, Jewish West Jerusalem and Palestinian East Jerusalem, are only one small baby step in the right direction. However, its not only an example of what can be done by people when they put their minds to it, it’s also an album of truly wonderful music. Hope comes in many packages, but this is one of the best you’ll ever hear.