Regional Programs > Israel & Palestine > Next Story

 With love, from Clara
 Clara T., USA
 March 9, 2002

. . . You know, probably too well, how horrifying the events of this week have been both for Palestinians as well as Israelis. However, this week was also a remarkable one in many ways. An overview: you know that Daniel Barenboim came and did a recital here in East Jerusalem. He also planned to do a concert or a master class in Ramallah! It was supposed to be on March 6th that he would go to Ramallah, but Shin Bet prevented him from entering Ramallah, and he was very angry about this and stated this on Israeli news. Of course people in the conservatory were really excited, but I said from the get go that he would not go or that he would not even get in. Sometimes, I am an unfortunate fortune-teller. Unfortunately, I did not get to see Barenboim, even for the Jerusalem recital, because the checkpoints were sealed and I could not even leave with an EU or a UN car.

But I was involved in a project that was also very exciting. Barenboim has two orchestras; I play in his Chicago Symphony (whenever I am in Chicago as a substitute) and I also was a finalist in his other orchestra which is the oldest orchestra in Germany, the Berlin Staatskapelle Orchester. Members of the Berlin Staatskapelle organised a trip/residency in Bethlehem in solidarity with Barenboim and with the Palestinians. And because they knew I was here in Ramallah—they invited me to play a chamber concert with them in Bethlehem.

Well, this is what happened. I left Ramallah on March 2nd. I went to East Jerusalem to meet the members of the chamber group from Berlin at the American Colony Hotel at 7. At about 7:30, we heard a loud boom across the street on the Jewish side and then watched in horror as people were carried away in the many many ambulances. As you probably know, 9 people died that night. The next morning, we loaded up from the hotel in European Commission armored cars and went to Bethlehem. We had a reading session, it was a nice day, despite all the horrors. After that, I held a master class and gave lessons to conservatory kids when the rest of the group went to dinner.

The next day, March 4, we rehearsed, then, at about 5-6pm, we heard the reconnaissance planes in the air, buzzing about. Although I had lived through several bombings and shellings, for some reason, I got really crazy and I started crying. I kept on running out of the hotel lobby outside and counting and recounting the number of F-16's. I couldn't believe there were four of them. I was sure that I would die, because in Ramallah, they've never had four hovering in the skies. Old women were crying and running into the streets, I had never felt such tension or desperation in the air and my heart was broken.

A lot of soldiers were in the lobby of my hotel and that made me really desperate because in Ramallah, the IDF does not bomb hotels, but in Bethlehem, they do. And having Fatah and Tanzim in the hotel lobby made it a huge target. The organizer kept on inviting the soldiers, praising them, and toasting them and calling them "freedom fighters". I understand if you do not share my sentiments about pacifism, but I am a devout pacifist if I am devoutly anything. The presence of soldiers puts everyone who is a civilian at a much much higher risk for bombing. It is no secret how Israel assassinates and bombs cars and homes of political leaders. Political writers, political cartoonists have been assassinated by Apaches, and soldiers are a much bigger threat.

I became really crazy and desperate and the manager of this residency ran after me as I tried to run away from the hotel, because I understood the danger of what was happening by inviting and hosting soldiers as "heroes". This lady has never lived here, so she didn't really understand what she was doing. I had two men who knew the soldiers tell them to disperse, which they did, but I was so nervous that I was shaking. I could hear the F-16s louder and louder and I was getting weak from fear. I was not supposed to leave the hawk-eye view of the organiser. But I stole upstairs to call my best friend to thank him for being my friend and my moral hero and ask if he would pray for me and call my parents if he didn't hear from me in 12 hours. Though I am not a religious person, I felt that prayer was all I could ask for.

And as I was on the phone with him, I suddenly felt the air pressure change in my room and I heard the 2 second approach of the F-16s and I screamed on the phone and my window shattered. I was not hurt by the window breaking, because the heavy floor-length curtains were drawn; when this all happened the entire building was shaking, it was horrible, horrifying, terrifying. But I was OK. What broke me more than my own fear was that, after the second bombing, I saw an old woman run into the darkened street, an old woman in one of those traditional peasant dresses and she was crying and she raised her arms to the sky. She didn't say anything, but her expression, her movements and her sorrow just broke me. Because however frightened I am, I am not a Palestinian—though I live here, this is not my home, I have not yet learned to love this place in a way that they do, it is not my ancestry, my blood, my soil; though I was broken by her expression, I understood at that moment that I will never understand the true depth of her anguish, but that I had grasped only the surface and that was enough and too much to bear.

The Berlin people took the bombing with incredible equanimity. I was really surprised. The IDF bombed Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday. The day after the first day of bombing, the next morning, I woke up with an overwhelming sense of fatigue, something I couldn't shake, a true somatic feeling of trauma. I felt strange, as if I had become somewhat muted. Nonetheless, I went to the university to present a lecture on the Platonic theory of harmony and music in his Laws and The Republic. They bombed almost every single day we were there. And despite the bombings, which shattered all the glass, almost killed our driver, and shook the ground everywhere for days, I continued teaching, we all continued rehearsing, holding master class, continued with our educational residency and we performed a concert for the Palestinians at Bethlehem University to a completely full audience, standing room only. Despite the true danger and the even more frightening sense of fear, everyone was determined beyond belief to persist and to play a concert. I think that CSO [Chicago Symphony Orchestra] should do that too! If you think about the courage of the musicians! They did not have to do any of this. Just a few hours after we left, again in our armored European commission cars, the IDF invaded Bethlehem proper and reoccupied it.

As I was presenting Platonic theory, of course, I talked about the occupation in philosophical terms: what is war but the attempt to kill the flowering of life? We must defy this attempt. I am in Ramallah to show that nothing will prevent the flowering of life. No one can take away children's urge and will toward beauty; and I dread the day that this might happen. I like to believe that the flowering of life is inevitable, instinctive, organic and unstoppable under any condition, but we all know that that is not true and it cannot be true, but that we need justice for this efflorescence as a precondition. . . .

So take care, and please give my regards to the gang, love,

Clara T.

Clara T. is a professional musician who has worked with Not In My Name and been living in the West Bank periodically since 2001.