Inmates in Nazi concentration camps sometimes managed to perform music. That same spirited determination in the face of extreme hardship animates the Gaza Music School.
It was established in 2008 thanks to a grant from the London-based Qattan Foundation. At the end of its first year, Israeli bombers — made in the U.S.A. — destroyed the building and incinerated its precious piano.
The school rose again within months and today is a busy operation enrolling 180 Gaza children from ages 6 to 16. They study classical European instruments such as violin, cello, trumpet and piano as well as classical Arab instruments such as oud, qanun, guitar, and nai.
All this I learned at a benefit for the Gaza Music School held at Fattoush Restaurant in Noe Valley, San Francisco, this afternoon.
Norman Finkelstein, a former colleague of mine from the National Guardian staff in 1974, who has gone on to become an important writer and speaker on Mideast issues, served as MC.
Alice Walker, the Pulitzer-Prize winning novelist, poet, and speaker, was present and gave a short, moving talk.
Johnny Harper, a frequent accompanist to folk singing legend Barbara Dane, entertained with his own voice and guitar. A string quartet performed Mozart. The outstanding violinist Georges Lammam honored the assembly with soulful Arab tunes during dinner.
The Israeli lock-down prevents the Music School students and staff from meeting with other music students in competitions outside Gaza, but they manage to join in anyway via video hookup.
Music in a big prison like Gaza is as essential as air and water. I am grateful to Norman for inviting me to participate in a fundraiser for this worthwhile cause.
For more about the Gaza Music School, here are some links:
CNN coverage: Gaza music students find smart ways around travel ban
The Independent: The children finding peace in the beauty of music in war-torn Gaza