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Israeli, Palestinian Group’s Performance Promotes Political Unity Through Music

By Zara Zhang, Contributing Writer

UPDATED: Feb. 24, 2014 at 9:20 p.m.

In an interactive, interfaith performance at Harvard Law School’s Wasserstein Hall on Saturday night, seven Israeli and Palestinian musicians shared a message of peace through the only language that they said they all share–music.

The musicians were part of Heartbeat, an organization that unites Israeli and Palestinian youths and provides “opportunities for musicians from both sides to work together to build trust between their communities,” according to the group’s website. Heartbeat is on its third US tour, which culminates in a performance for the U.S. Congress in March. More than 100 young musicians have participated in Heartbeat programs, which include camps, master classes, and tours.

The performance, co-sponsored by Harvard Hillel, Divinity School, and the Harvard Negotiation and Mediation Clinical Program, was highly interactive. Audience members were encouraged to get on their feet and participate in music-making by clapping and singing along.

Bringing together three languages–English, Arabic and Hebrew–and various musical genres, the group’s original songs seek to convey a vision for hope and peace in the Middle East.

“What is the wall good for?” the group sang in “The Wall,” referring to the barrier separating Israel and the Palestinian West Bank.

“I’m convinced that the only way to solve [the Israeli-Palestinian] conflict is through enabling the two sides–who I see as fundamentally wanting the same things–to see and hear each other,” said Aaron Shneyer, a bassist from Washington, D.C., and the group’s founder. “Music is a powerful way to reach people and influence public opinion.”

Harvard’s contact with Heartbeat started when Law professor Robert C. Bordone, the director of HNMCP, and Divinity School student Adriel Borshansky met the group’s founders through Seeds of Peace, a peacebuilding organization based in New York City. Getzel Davis, associate rabbi at Harvard Hillel, also helped plan the concert.

“My job is to create a Judaism on campus that is an expression of what the students want,” Davis said.

The performers on Saturday, ages 18 to 23, came from diverse backgrounds both geographically and musically.

“It sounds crazy because some think we have this ‘difference,’ but we are family. We share a blanket,” Gefen said.

The concert featured a dialogue session during which the musicians answered questions from the audience. Addressing the political tumults in the Middle East, the percussionist Tamer Omari said, “What you are seeing here on stage is not the reality back home. I believe before we can co-exist, we must co-resist against the status quo of inequality and injustice.”

Many in attendance Saturday night said they reacted positively to the performance.

“Just seeing the two sides coming together making trilingual music is awesome,” said Leore C. Lavin ’17.

Sasha Pippenger, a Harvard Law School student, agreed, saying that, “Harvard should do more to reach out to groups like this.”

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

CORRECTION: Feb. 24, 2014

An earlier version of this article misquoted Heartbeat founder Aaron Shneyer. In fact, he said that he sees the two sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as "fundamentally wanting the same things," not "fundamentally one and the same."

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