Checkpoint violinist offered stage

by Orly Halpern and Maxim Reider
12 January 2005
On Thursday (December 23, 2004), West Bank resident Wissam Tayyem plans to
carry his violin past the same IDF checkpoint where six weeks ago he was
allegedly forced by an Israeli soldier to play a tune. But this time he is
going at the invitation of an Israeli music center to participate in a
three-day master violin class that brings together Jewish and Arab musicians.

When Ofer Mendelovitch, an administrator at the Keshet Eilon Music Center,
read about the checkpoint incident, he was so mortified he had to act. He
made a call to the managing director, Gilad Sheba.

"Gilad, did you see the article on the Palestinian violinist?" he asked,
and described the incident. "You know what? Let's give him a stage at
Keshet Eilon."

And so began Mendelovitch's long and uncertain process to invite and
arrange to bring Tayyem, 29, the young violinist from Fara refugee camp, to
Kibbutz Eilon in the North to participate in the center's sixth annual
violin master class, where the best musicians in the country come to learn
or teach.

The incident at the checkpoint was filmed by a Machsom Watch human rights
volunteer. It triggered major criticism of the army and shock among
Israelis who were reminded of stories of Jewish musicians forced to play
for Nazis. The IDF disputed the charge, saying that the soldier had only
asked Tayyem to open his case, and that he played the violin on his own accord.

But Tayyem, in a telephone interview from his home, tells it differently.
"He [the soldier] said play a 'sad song' and you can pass. It made me sad
and I didn't play well."

This time Tayyem will not be playing at the roadblock. He will be traveling
from his home, located between Jenin and Nablus to the edge of the West
Bank, where a taxi will await him at the Salem checkpoint and take him to
Kibbutz Eilon. He will be the first Palestinian musician to attend the
violin seminar.

Keshet Eilon's administrators were not certain Tayyem would agree to come,
or that they could arrange military permission for him to enter Israel.
But, Mendelovitch was insistent. He sent the invitation to Najah University
in Nablus by fax.

When Tayyem agreed, Mendelovitch worked to procure permission from the
military for Tayyem to stay in Israel for the three-day seminar. Three days
ago, a phone call announced that permission was granted.

Tayyem, whose family is originally from Azur where Holon is now located, is
ecstatic. "I know I will benefit from this course and from meeting other
Israeli musicians because I believe that music can [form a] bridge to peace."

He has been faithfully practicing his violin homework which he received at
his university by fax from the music center. But not everyone from his
refugee camp was so enthusiastic.

"Some people were scared for me," he said. "But I'm not scared."

The Keshet Eilon administrators are equally excited and hope that this will
be the beginning of music relationships with Palestinian artists. "We
believe conversations with the Palestinians have to begin sooner or later,
so why not begin with music?" asked Sheba. Almost 50 violinists from the
age of 6 to 29 will participate as well as the teachers of each one.

Normally, the course accepts experienced violinists. Tayyem has only played
for a month-and-a-half but loves music and has played guitar since the age
of 15. Keshet Eilon made an exception for him.

"It doesn't matter his level," Mendelovitch told Sheba, when he suggested
bringing the young musician. "We just want to give him a concert stage to
play, not a roadblock."

Source: The Jerusalem Post, December 22, 2004

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Distributed by the Common Ground News Service.

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