By Arianna Weingarten
The first time the Israeli/ Palestinian conflict was explained to me, it was described as “intractable”. By the nature of the conflict, there has never been a possibility of a win-win outcome. The cultural and political rift between Israelis and Palestinians has always appeared as an unbridgeable, infinite abyss.
On April 29th, I attended the screening of the documentary East Jerusalem/West Jerusalem at the Santa Cruz Jewish Film Festival. The film focuses on Israeli singer-songwriter David Broza as he bridges the gap between East and West Jerusalem through the creation of his latest album—a collaboration between Israeli, American, and Palestinian musicians.
Both the film and the album revolve around the Old City of Jerusalem. Enclosed in the walls of the Old City, one can hear the incessant sounds of everyday life among the three major monotheistic religions. Broza seeks to take us away from the political turmoil by creating a safe space in the Sabreen Studio in East Jerusalem—the Palestinian, Arabic speaking- side of the city.
The album “East Jerusalem/West Jerusalem” features Israeli-Arab singer Mira Awad, Palestinian hip-hop artist Muhammad Mughrabi of G-Town, American singer-songwriter Steve Earle, Israeli percussionist Gadi Seri, and the Jerusalem Youth Chorus—a choir of Jewish and Palestinian children. The album’s lyrics are sung in English, Hebrew, and Arabic in order to reach speakers of all three languages. As artist Mira Awad explains, “languages are just mirrors of culture”. Her ethereal, mesmerizing Arabic verses in “Key to the Memory” make you close your eyes and surrender yourself for a moment.
Another focus of the film is Broza’s relationship with his good friend, Israeli-Arab singer-songwriter Issa Frejj. There are several powerful scenes of them speaking together on the roof of the Frejj family’s 200-year-old home. They speak about the human connection being able to overcome the tragedies of conflict. All the while beneath them, Jerusalem Day is taking place on the streets; right-wing Israelis can be heard chanting, “We love
the IDF” and “Muhammad’s dead”. As they sit cross- legged on the roof strumming their guitars, Frejj glances down, sighing,“Sometimes everybody’s against everybody.”
The music of the album, played throughout the film, manages to bridge the Israeli/ Palestinian divide—even if only amongst the musical cohort. Broza says this project is about breaking down the walls in people’s minds and hearts, best achieved through face-to-face interactions.
He implements this strategy in the film by traveling to Shuafat, a Palestinian refugee camp in East Jerusalem, accompanied by rapper Muhammad Mughrabi, originally from the area himself. They start a monthly collaborative musical program for children in the refugee camp. Broza expresses his ultimate goal of opening a music and arts school within the camp, understanding that true change starts at a community level, emerging through person-to-person contact.
East Jerusalem/West Jerusalem sheds an optimistic light onto a perpetuated storm of conflict. The fusion of the music, community, and dialogue born from David Broza’s album creates a silver lining of hope for the future generations of Israelis and Palestinians. Although Broza’s musical movement is an unconventional step forward, it is built upon empathy, perseverance, and evolution of the human spirit.