Can music help bring us closer together? Noa and Mira Awad hope their message from the Eurovision Song Contest reaches far and wide.
Earlier this year, in the midst of the Israeli military operation in Gaza, it was announced that Mira Awad, a Palestinian-Israeli actress-singer, will perfom a duet with the Jewish-Israeli singer Achinoam Nini (known as “Noa”) in the 2009 Eurovision Song Contest. While the chosen song held a message about finding “another way”, condemnation rained down on the duo. The objection came from Arab artists who urged Mira to withdraw from the contest. In their message, they asked her not to represent the same state that 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.
The Eurovision song contest is one of the most viewed and televised events across the European continent. It has been broadcast every year since its inauguration in 1956 and is one of the longest-running television programs in the world, bridging together countries that are part of the European Broadcasting Union (including some countries outside of continental Europe such as Israel, Lebanon and Tunisia). Although its nature is purely musical, the event can turn out to be a highly politicized night, with regards to participants and the voting choices that each country makes. In the past, Lebanon has pulled out of the contest because it refused to show the Israeli song entry on the Lebanese TV channel Tele-Liban. This put Lebanon in breach of the contest rules, stating that countries taking part must broadcast the entire event.
I admit: I did not feel sorry that the movie Waltz for Bashir did not win the Oscar. I will also not shed a tear if Achinoam Nini reaches the last place in the Eurovision song contest. Both are examples of what's currently happening in our culture, trying to de-legitimize and vilify Israel for the world to see. The journalist who interviewed both singers is also not clean from guilt, as he wrote that the two are “trying to prove that even with the election results, Israel of 2009 still has people who seek peace…” – in other words, he thinks that the 70 per cent who supported this coalition are seeking war.
In any case, this is the message of the song the two artists are about to sing to the world. Nini (Noa) thinks that “the situation in Israel is a catastrophe”, she adds that she thinks many give their lives towards peace from both sides, but without being able to mention herself even one name from the Palestinian side whose done this.
Throughout the controversy, the duo gave a stellar performance in the song contest and even reached the finals, which took place last night (May 16th):
- This is the first time that an Israeli/Arabic combination will go to the Eurovision Song Contest. Is the music the best way to join a divided town?
Noa: Mira and I are very proud to be the first Arab-Jewish Israeli duo to go to Eurovision. We are also proud that upon our demand, the internal laws were changed and Arabic was allowed to be sung as a formal language representing Israel in the ESC. Our duo sheds light on the complexity of our situation here in the Middle East. Israel has a very large minority, almost 20 per cent, of Palestinians, Christian (like Mira) and Muslim, who are Israeli citizens. This sector is still fighting for full integration into Israeli society. This is separate from the Palestinians living in the occupied territories, who are fighting for their independence and the establishment of the state of Palestine. In addition, Israel is surrounded by Arab countries most of which do not recognize her right to exist. So you can see, the situation is complicated. Mira and I do not represent [Israel] to present reality, but what our nations can STRIVE for if we choose dialogue over violence. Our friendship is a symbol of how we CAN get along, based on respect and communication.
Art and music cannot solve the world’s problems, but we can help. And we MUST help. We must do our part in the GLOBAL effort for peace and reconciliation that must include EVERY human being and every organization, each playing his part.
- How was the announcement received in Israel? How have the levels of support been from the public since the song was chosen?
Noa: There were some people who objected to this duet for various reasons, but the large majority are VERY supportive and excited. I think for most people we are a symbol of hope. I have received amazing e-mails from all over the world, including Arab countries like Lebanon, Syria and Qatar! This always moves me so deeply and gives me strength to continue my road.
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.
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?