There must be another way

This piece, by Rachel Shabi, is from Cif.

The timing was doomed. Just as the Israel-inflicted death toll in Gaza reached 900, a third of those children, Israel’s entry to the Eurovision song contest was announced. It was the third week of Israel’s devastating assault on Gaza, in January, and an Arab-Israeli was going to sing to Europe with a Jewish-Israeli, a song about finding “another way”. Condemnation rained down on the duo. They were slammed as willing fig leaves for Israel’s deadly assault in Gaza, not to mention its stifling occupation of the Palestinian territories, not to mention its discriminatory treatment of non-Jewish citizens.

The objection was easy to follow: how could a Palestinian citizen of Israel, the actress-singer Mira Awad, choose to duet with the Jewish-Israeli singer Achinoam Nini (known as “Noa”), and thereby represent the very same state that crushes, maims and kills other Palestinians? The “radical” left wing both within and beyond Israel was unequivocal: Awad should refuse to sing on such a blood-soaked stage.

She didn’t refuse, and the two will appear at Eurovision this week. And while it might be easy to deride her decision, it is harder to dismiss her – or her creative partner, Noa. The Euro-entry song smacks of the sort of bogus peace PR at which Israel excels, but there doesn’t seem to be a lack of authenticity to the two singers. Of course they have polished the patter for the press. But I also saw them banter together once the TV cameras had gone, jokily flicking stereotypes at each other in the sort of dark, absurdist comedy that usually requires much more than a tokenistic understanding of co-existence.

I saw the duo – long-term friends and creative collaborators – sing something completely different, written and led by Awad, at an alternative ceremony for Israeli Remembrance Day. The event was staged by Combatants for Peace, an organisation of former fighters from both sides who are now battling together for an end to the occupation. Interviewing the two, I was struck by Mira Awad talking about staying friends and maintaining discussion with Noa despite their deep disagreements over aspects of the Gaza war. Sticking around for such conversations, when every part of you wants to walk away in disgust, is perhaps one of the most challenging aspects of genuine peace work – and it deserves respect.

Those that slam the duo quite often hold that Israeli society is woefully incapable of changing from within; that the only way to improve the lives of the Palestinians trapped under Israel’s brutal rule is through exerting external pressure. That is a legitimate point and a tactic worth pursuing. But is it so bad to have another view – one embodied by the Euro duo – running in tandem to it? These two singers seem to be saying that, whatever the international community does or doesn’t do about this conflict, Palestinians and Israelis are still going to have to find a way to live together. That’s the draining, demoralising and largely invisible day-to-day work of conflict resolution. That’s what they seem to want to use the Euro stage to state. And you could say it’s a bit hippie and way too understated – but is it nonetheless worth broadcasting?

This piece, by Rachel Shabi, is from Cif.

11 Responses to “There must be another way”

  1. fred Says:

    did they win?

  2. Saul Says:

    The contest is tomorrow.
    However, whatever the outcome, for some of us, the most significant (and poignant) part of the whole contest is the absence of the craggy benevolence of the greatly loved Terry Wogan.

  3. FromIsrael Says:

    What is so difficultfor Ms. Shabi to admit is that not only “the must be another way” but in fact “This is NO other way”.

    Her article is so apologetic and fearfull, as if she is “breaking lines” with some invisible but formidable front.

    She had to the the see,ingly un-avoidable intro, she had salve it over with the “combatants for peace” event, anything but be simply happy that at least some thin threads of freandship still exist and manage to hold in-spite of everhthing else.

    Ahinoam Nini had been working with Mira Awad long before the Eurovision song. It isn’t a pair conjured up artificially for propaganda purposes. It is a genuine tie.

    This is from Ahinoam’s album “Now” – that came out in 2002

    For me it is a proof a person does not have to erase himself in order to make peace.
    You can reach over the abyss and still maintain your own identity.

  4. Jonathan Romer Says:

    Shabi’s piece is almost a parody of Guardian-style high-minded leftism: Israel has no redeeming features, but we ought to let Noa and Awad put on their bit of Kumbaya if they want to. It shows our tolerance and goodwill.

    Lady Bountiful surveys the Middle East.

  5. Global Voices Online » Israel: Eurovision Peace Duo Push for Another Way Says:

    […] Hirsh posts text from a Guardian article by Rachel Shabi, where she describes her feelings towards the duo […]

  6. Official Russia | Israel: Eurovision Peace Duo Push for Another Way Says:

    […] Hirsh posts text from a Guardian article by Rachel Shabi, where she describes her feelings towards the duo […]

  7. Bob Says:

    On Rachel Shabi, see discussion at ZWord and Point of No Return:

    If you’re interested folks, the duo came 16th.

  8. PACBI drives a wedge into coexistence inside Israel « Engage – the anti-racist campaign against antisemitism Says:

    […] 18 May: they came 16th. Rachel Shabi comments. Posted in boycott divestment & sanctions, coexistence, free expression. 13 Comments […]

  9. Global Voices in het Nederlands » Israël: Eurovisie-vredesduo zoekt een andere weg Says:

    […] Hirsh plaatst [en] een tekst uit een artikel uit de Britse krant de Guardian [en] van Rachel Shabi, waarin ze […]

  10. Lynne T Says:

    I wonder what Ms Shabi would have to say about the Gazan obstetrician (whose name I unfortunately cannot recall) who lost a few children during Cast Lead in a bombin raid while he was at work in Israel at a fertility centre, whose response to his terrible loss was only to work harder for peace.

  11. Why Occupation Is Wrong « Soupy One Says:

    […] society is divided, but the fact that so many Israelis are involved in pointing out abuses by the IDF and the Israeli […]

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