Through music, Druze singer hopes to bridge gap between Palestinians and Israelis |

LONDON –

“Yalla, yalla, raise your hands! Israeli Druze singer Mike Sharif shouts in Arabic to the Palestinian crowd rocking to a Hebrew hit at a wedding in the occupied West Bank.

The scene, all the more unusual as it took place in Yatta, a Palestinian village near Hebron and a place of frequent friction with the Israeli army and Jewish settlers, created a buzz on social networks and local media.

“I had prepared three hours of performance in Arabic only. After half an hour, everyone, the families of the bride and groom, the guests, asked me to sing in Hebrew,” said Sharif, interviewed in the northern Israeli Druze town of Daliat al-Carmel.

The Druze, an Arabic-speaking minority descended from Shia Islam, number around 140,000 in Israel and the occupied Golan Heights.

Nicknamed “the Druze prodigy” after winning a TV competition at the age of 12, Sharif, now in his 40s, shot to fame with his Mizrahi (Eastern) pop songs in 1990s Israel, but also met with success in the West Bank, Gaza and elsewhere. Arab countries.

“I have always belonged to everyone,” says the self-proclaimed “ambassador of peace” between Israelis and Palestinians.

“Hebrew in Hebron, Arabic in Tel-Aviv”

From the beginnings of Mizrahi pop, influenced by the Jewish cultures of the Middle East and North Africa, reciprocal influences were established with the music of neighboring Arab territories.

Today, the popularity of artists like Israel’s most famous singer Eyal Golan or the young Eden Ben Zaken is reaching Palestinian society.

At the same time, the big names in Arabic music, Oum Kalsoum, Fairuz or Farid al-Atrash, have long been appreciated by Israeli Jews.

For Sharif, this musical proximity should make it possible “to bring everyone together” and help to put an end to conflicts.

“I sing in Hebrew in Hebron, in Arabic in Tel-Aviv and Herzliya. I sing in both languages ​​and everyone sings on both sides,” he said.

“Music can contribute to peace. Politics doesn’t bring people together that way.

His show Yatta, however, drew waves of criticism and even threats from both sides, with some Palestinians and Israelis calling him a “traitor”, the former for singing in Hebrew in the West Bank, the latter for performing at a Palestinian wedding.

And after saying he wanted to be “the first Israeli singer to perform in the Gaza Strip,” the territory controlled by Islamist Hamas that Israelis cannot enter, he dropped the idea “due to tensions,” Sharif said.

“Emotional Experience”

Oded Erez, a popular music expert at Bar-Ilan University near Tel Aviv, links the notion of music as a bridge between Israelis and Palestinians to the “Oslo years” of the early 1990s after the signing of the interim peace accords.

Jewish singers like Zehava Ben or Sarit Hadad performed Umm Kulthum songs in Palestinian cities in Arabic, he recalled, but according to the musicologist, this phenomenon collapsed with the political failure of the peace accords. ‘Oslo.

“This shared investment in shared music, style and sound is not a platform for political change or political reconciliation per se, you would need to politicize it explicitly, mobilize it politically, for it to become that,” he said of current cultural music. Trades.

Today, the musical affinity between Palestinians and Israelis is reduced to the essentials: “more physical and emotional than intellectual”, he says.

The request from the Palestinian revelers at Yatta’s wedding was “not a request for Hebrew per se” but rather for Sharif’s “hits” of the 80s and 90s, when “his music was flowing” and some songs entered into the “canon” of marriage. Erez said.

The same goes for the track “The sound of gunpowder” written in 2018 in honor of a Palestinian armed gang leader from a refugee camp near Nablus in the West Bank which is played several times at Israeli weddings. , Erez said.

“When there’s music, people disconnect from all the wars, politics, differences of opinion,” Sharif said.

“They forget everything, they just focus on the music.”

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