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Thursday, December 8, 2016
Reflection: Christian choir denied permit to sing in Jerusalem
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¬†Culture generally, and art in particular, can be a formidable tool in building bridges of understanding and mutual appreciation among people. A golden opportunity for such a cultural and spiritual encounter was, or could have been, the inauguration of the newly-restored Mader organ at the Ratisbonne Monastery in West Jerusalem on Monday 9th April. It was an occasion that many were looking forward to. The resident religious community was grateful to have found generous sponsors and promoters from Italy for the restoration of the 1893 mechanical pipe organ, an instrument that had been lying in a state of neglect for more than 30 years. Among the planned musical items for the inaugural concert were those offered by the Bethlehem-based Olive Branches Choir, a four-part ensemble made up of 14 Palestinian Christians and five resident foreigners. Other choral numbers were to be contributed by the resident seminarians themselves, while three Italian professional musicians (an organist, a viola-player and a soprano) had prepared an abundant second part of the musical programme. The restored organ, of course, was to be a protagonist during the whole evening. Preparations had long been underway and the request for permits had been forwarded well in advance, to enable the Palestinian members to come from Bethlehem to Jerusalem and be joined by the others. Permits, it should be noted, are hardly ever given well in advance. Keeping everybody suspended until the last minute seems to be the regular policy of the Israeli security establishment. So nobody was surprised that the days were going by without any signal. But when Easter Sunday finally came and no news of the permits was given, with a sense of resentment and disbelief, all persons concerned were made painfully aware of the bitter reality: no permits. Moreover, no written or oral answer was forthcoming from the Civil Administration office, nor could any of their officials be traced. A wall of silence. During the concert, after the obligatory speeches and presentations, the microphone was handed over to the resident music director and choir master Fr MulŤ Stagno. He said" "The first part of the musical programme has been planned to highlight the accompanying role of the restored organ, as it sustains and dialogues with the choir or praying assembly. Two local choirs were supposed to intervene". A few raised eyebrows. "Supposed to"? "I regret to inform you, however, that the Palestinian members of the Olive Branches Choir have not been granted the necessary permit to come to Jerusalem and sing". A spokesman for the Olive Branches Choir said: "For a qualified musician involved in human promotion through music, it is humiliating and frustrating, to say the least, to have to witness and undergo such unexplainable and unjustifiable treatment. A group of Palestinian Christians, forming a choir together with a few foreigners, have today been denied the right and the opportunity to contribute actively to a cultural and spiritual event. I know that this might not sound politically correct, but today, concluded the choir director, I cannot say I'm proud to be living and working in Israel. Yet I will still say, echoing Pope Benedict's reassuring words on Easter night: 'In the resurrection of Jesus, love has been shown to be stronger than death, stronger than evil'". Indeed, an opportunity has been missed to bring together Israelis and Palestinians in the name of cultural and spiritual values. But there's more to it than that. The silence of the permit-granting authorities in this case has clearly manifested: 1) a lack of SENSITIVITY towards the event itself and the people concerned, including the choir members, their director, the organizers of the event, the attending public, and the Machsom Watch mediators who were doing their utmost to help; 2) a lack of PROFESSIONALISM in dealing with the requesting institution and/or its mediators; 3) a lack of CIVILITY, which demands, if not dialogue, at least communication. Quite a number of the Israeli music lovers present showed their solidarity after the concert, some even declaring they felt ashamed to hear what had happened. Only the beauty of the music in the rest of the programme managed to alleviate the disappointment of the organizers and those present. As for the members of the Olive Branches Choir, the bitterness and the frustration was eased somewhat by the awareness that the next day they would be busy with their last rehearsal of Mozart's Requiem, before performing it in Ramallah, then in Bethlehem and finally, again depending on permits, in Jerusalem's Old City, all in the same week. No time for self-pity. Life must go on. Most Palestinians, especially Christians, seem to be used to such treatment. Rather than asking for revenge or even for protest, they just shrug their shoulders in resignation: "What else could you expect from the Israeli authorities?"
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