I read a very touching story in Haaretz recently about ‘Strings for Peace’, a Palestinian youth orchestra from Jenin who played for a group of elderly Israeli Holocaust survivors in Holon. There was much confusion and disbelief on both sides – the Israelis were amazed to meet young Arab musicians from Jenin, many of the young Palestinians had never heard of the Holocaust – but overall, mutual stereotypes were definitely cracked if not shattered, human contact was made and everyone was left with warm feelings.
Most of the Palestinian youths had not seen an Israeli civilian before – only gun-toting soldiers in military uniforms manning checkpoints, conducting arrest raids of wanted Palestinians or during army operations.
“They don’t look like us,” said Ahed Salameh, 12, who wore a black head scarf woven with silver. Most of the elderly Israelis wore pants and T-shirts, with women sporting a smear of lipstick. “Old people look different where we come from,” Salameh said.
She said she was shocked to hear about the Nazi genocide against Jews. Ignorance and even denial of the Holocaust is widespread in Palestinian society.
Amnon Beeri of the Abraham Fund, which supports coexistence between Jews and Arabs, said most of the region’s residents have no real idea about the other.
The youths said their feisty conductor, Wafa Younis, 50, tried to explain to them who the elderly people were, but chaos on the bus prevented them from listening.
The elderly audience said they assumed Arab children were from a nearby village – not from the refugee camp where 23 Israeli soldiers were killed, alongside 53 Palestinian militants and civilians, in several days of battle in April 2002.
Wafa Younis soon had her reward for this small, but ground-breaking event. The Jenin Youth Orchestra has been disbanded and Wafa Younis has been banned from entering Jenin refugee camp. According to Adnan Hindi, a camp official, the Holocaust is a “political issue”.