Music teaching in Palestine

At KPC’s December meeting we had a very interesting talk by two music teachers, Claudia and Michaele, about their experiences over the last few years teaching children in Bethlehem, Ramallah and refugee camps in Palestine. They were hindered at every step in their attempts to bring the children to play together, by the infrastructure – the Wall, and the abysmal road network on the Palestinian side of the Wall, as well as the difficulties imposed by the Israeli authorities with regard to access via the checkpoints.  They also explained that they feel that a single state solution is the only viable one.  (Hopefully more about this in the next newsletter.)

They recommended a few websites for us to find out more:           Alastair is a teacher at the Conservatoire in Jerusalem                   The London One State Group                        Palestinian Campaign for the Academic & Cultural Boycott of Israel                      International Middle East Media Centre                   Israeli news

The restrictions Claudia and Michaele spoke of are exemplified in this excerpt from Alastair Mitchell’s blog, which describes the problems encountered in getting children to a concert in Jerusalem on a day in January when there was extra security because George Bush was visiting the city:

“It was decided that although no word had been heard from the Israelis as to whether the permits would be honoured to let the children through to play in Jerusalem, we would set off from each of the three branches and see what happened at the checkpoints.  On the buses from Ramallah and Bethlehem, any foreigners that were available were recruited to sit at the front, as this usually helps passage through checkpoints. I was to be the spokesperson for the group on the Bethlehem bus, and had planned what to say.  What we hadn’t bargained on was the checkpoint soldier being one of the very few who claim not to speak English.  This meant that our bus driver was now the man doing the talking.  After 20 minutes of checking details we were denied entry and turned around.  Despite my protestations that all the children had permits that were issued by Israel, the soldiers were having none of it.  At this point I suggested the conductor left the bus and walked through the checkpoint to get a taxi to the venue.  At least then he would be in the right place to begin rehearsing with the students from Jerusalem, and possibly Ramallah if they managed to get through.  The option now for the rest of us was to try one of the other checkpoints, but these were even less likely to let us pass, because the first checkpoint is the one we are supposed to use and the others will definitely send us back if they check up on who we are.

“We decide to try the checkpoint at Beit Jala, and make the ten minute drive to that side of Bethlehem. As we arrive at the checkpoint, I sit in the very front by the driver, with all the children farther back, and out of sight.  The soldier stops the bus, waves for the driver to open the window, and asks what we’re doing.  I just show him my passport and say ‘British!’  The soldier makes the assumption I hoped he would, that the bus is full of British tourists, and he waves us through.  I have to say, I don’t like this seemingly imperialistic approach, but the sad fact is that it works.

“As we pull out of the checkpoint, I can’t believe our luck. We have managed to cross into Jerusalem on one of the strictest days of security not only in time for the concert, but in time to rehearse as well. Despite the first checkpoint sending us back, at the second it could barely have been easier.  Moreover, as we pull into the Palestinian National Theatre, immediately behind us, as if in convoy, the Ramallah bus arrives.  The sight of both buses delivering all our students is a relief indeed, and the atmosphere is jubilant as if we’ve already played the concert.  This is understandable, for the most nervous part of the day has passed and the students can now enjoy performing the concert.”