Category Archives: human rights education

Disruptions and Reflections: On Asking “Why?” Here and Now

Today I feel called to write. To go deeper into what I do not know. To question further what I am discovering.

We were around seven meetings into our music education-facilitation course, and I felt frustrated. Something was wrong. Part of that responsibility was my own as one of the educators of the group of Israelis and Palestinians learning facilitation skills with and through utilizing the expressive arts, and yet that was not just it. The other entity at fault was the reality enveloping us all: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and its impact on socialization and inflicted trauma. As I spoke with one student during an activity trying to reach him, to make him think beyond what has been forced into his mind as a form of submission, inside I felt desperate. Remain calm. Move slowly. Think deeper. Unfold carefully. Love truly. How deeply had this young man been socialized by the conflict, by trauma, and the education system to be functional, and yet with a sleeping consciousness. How could he begin to imagine and think beyond these forces, to think for himself on his own terms as a young person with already the knowledge and experiences to speak his own truths – to awaken. Sometimes I think I am not prepared to do this; sometimes I think maybe I am not supposed to do this at all. After all, am I not also part of the system? This is in the back of mind all the time – submission of another kind that must also be disrupted.  

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This is not my first encounter of this situation with both Israelis and Palestinians of all ages and sectors, but as I work with Palestinian and Israeli youth (and in the summers with Tunisian youth), this is where I encounter it the most. It is not just the loud and terrifying violent events that intrude our lives – for some occasionally and others daily, but rather the quiet and disturbing presence of the conflict in so many aspects of life here, stifling creativity, imagination, and critical thinking. The longer I am here, the more convinced I am of how incredibly deep its influence is in all sectors of society and everyday life from the mundane to the psychosocial. Though Israelis and Palestinians are both resilient “in defiance of and because of” (Gaye, 2014) the conflict, this then still does not leave much energy or room to confront the socialization of the conflict, trauma, and the conflict in general in ways that explore, as Greene says, beyond the dualities (1995) of what is. If the conflict and occupation relentlessly forces us into submission through its cyclical routine, domination, and impossibility as it oppresses both Palestinians and Israelis in differing ways, then we must be disruptive with equal force and possibility. Perhaps this is simply nonviolence, which can also be described as “positive force.” Perhaps in transformational educational spaces, this is where we can find and re-find,  see and hear our true selves, discovering our power to overcome and co-create beyond what is, as individuals and then maybe as a society. 

“All depends upon a breaking free, a leap, and then a question. I would like to claim that this is how learning happens and that the educative task is to create situations in which the young are moved to begin to ask, in all the tones of voice there are, “Why?” – Maxine Greene, p. 6, Releasing the Imagination 

Like Maxine Greene says, we must be moved to ask “why” in all of “the tones of voices there are” (Greene, p.6, 1995). In a protracted conflict, asking “why” can feel dangerous. Any part of life, whether nationalistic ambitions, religious understanding, methods of resistance, which cannot be questioned, simply become dogmatic – an “ism.” Suppressing and not teaching the act of questioning of society and oneself enables old, oppressive structures to remain in place. Often I tell my students, “If there is nothing to question, there is nothing to learn. And there is always more to learn, therefore there is always more to question.” Enabling these oppressive structures to stay in place by those who benefit from them is its own kind of “banking concept” (1970) as Paulo Freire speaks of, where there are “attempts to control thinking and action,” which then “inhibits their [women and men’s] creative power” (Freire, p.77, 1970). I ask my students questions, such as: “How do we break free, as Greene speaks of, from the given, the taken-for-granted, the ordinary? What feelings are involved in breaking away? What is “wide-awakeness” in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or to you? If we are all “becoming,” then what are you “becoming?” Answering these questions requires critical thinking, self-reflection, and raising of critical consciousness. It requires the possibility to imagine what you are not yet. These questions are not only fitting to those involved in a place of protracted conflict. These questions are relevant for everyone, everywhere, while challenging Whiteness, patriarchy, colonialism, self-depreciation, education reform and capitalism in its many harmful forms, and the lack of youth voices in society. And yet this is not only an intellectual exercise, but also an emotional one. The heart is exposed when speaking of identity, narrative, and belonging. Israeli and Palestinian youth speak about how this can feel terrifying, frustrating, confusing, painful, and unsettling, and yet also gratifying, interesting, exciting, comforting, and freeing. To ignore the emotional needs, irregardless of whether Israeli or Palestinian, is equally irresponsible and negligent of the educator when seeking to do everything in her power to reach a young person while she is navigating the socialization of the conflict and trauma. We cannot shut down the heart, whether our own or our students. As hooks says, “When we love, we can let our hearts speak” (hooks, p. xi, 2000).

The call for transformative educational spaces with a critical pedagogy, anti-oppressive competences, and locations of possibility (hooks, 1994) sustained through an “ethic of care”  (Holloway & Krensky, 2001) and attention, from the origins of the word “to hold,” of the participants’ emotional needs could not be greater. In fact as socialization of the conflict is multifaceted, it must also be challenged through an intersectional (Crenshaw, 1989) approach by considering all of the mechanisms of power across class, race, ethnicity, ability, language, religion, and gender. There is so much marginalization of many different groups in this conflict, within and beyond just the two pillars of Israeli and Palestinian. Perhaps by including educational competences about feminism, human rights education, the language of feelings and compassionate communication, in addition to values-based education and learning about each others’ narratives and realities, solidarity can grow. As a musician, I strongly believe as well that we awaken when we experience the arts, musicking (Small, 1995), and co-creation, where we can therefore internalize and continuously renew these topics by actively examining, digesting, putting into practice, processing, self-reflecting, and questioning the many realities and truths co-created within an equalizing process and ultimately, equally a part of each of us. Seeking structural changes in the education systems here from formal to nonformal education are also desperately needed. Often these days I wonder (beyond curriculum and educational process) what this could look like on the level of student/participant, educator/facilitator, organization/NGO, and policy/school system.

Delving deeper into these questions is the responsibility of the educator, the student, the individual, and the society – both Palestinians and Israeli Jews. It is a matter of the heart, mind, and soul. It is a decision to not be complicit in the old, oppressive structures, while also activating possibilities of philosophical and emotional regeneration, of what could be – to ask why?

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APA Citation: Gottesman, S. (2017, June 7). Disruptions and Reflections: On Asking “Why?” Here and Now. Retrieved from: https://musicintervention.wordpress.com/2017/06/07/disruptions-and-reflections-on-asking-why-here-and-now/

REFERENCES

Crenshaw, K. (1989). Demarginalizing the intersection of race and sex: A black feminist critique of antidiscrimination doctrine, feminist theory and antiracist politics. U. Chi. Legal F., 139.

Freire, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the Oppressed, trans. Myra Bergman Ramos. New York, NY: Continuum.

Gay, R. (2014). Bad feminist. Hachette UK.

Greene, M. (1995). Releasing the imagination: Essays on education, the arts, and social change. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Holloway, D. L., & Krensky, B. (2001). Introduction: The arts, urban education, and social change.

Hooks, B. (2014). Teaching to transgress. Routledge.

Hooks, B. (2000). All about love: New visions. William Morrow.

Small, C. (1995). Musicking: A ritual in social space. A lecture at the University of Melbourne June 6.

When Music Becomes a Place of Subjugation

This article was extracted from a 972 Magazine article: When Music Becomes a Place of Subjugation 


In our ever-growing jungle of protracted conflict and systemic injustice, there is an unquestionable need for inter-group reconciliation encounters between Israelis, Palestinians, and Palestinian-Israelis constructed with peacebuilding and human rights education. What is often missed is that peacebuilding and reconciliation are not simply the answer. They must and can only be a solution when applied through a critical praxis that addresses systemic injustice and inter-group power dynamics even within peacebuilding and reconciliation endeavors.

As a musician-activist educator, and member of this extended peacebuilding and reconciliation community, it is my responsibility and the responsibility of my colleagues to speak out when this crucial aspect of our work has been violated. I experienced that violation a number of weeks ago when attending one of the only openly public “peace” events that seem to exist in Jerusalem. To my shock and dismay, we just don’t get it.

As widespread violence continued to blanket this divided city, there was a pocket of hope: this year’s first in a series of open and free-to-the-public musical “peace” events.  Several years ago, this idea was birthed with the purpose of uniting Israelis and Palestinians through song and dialogue. Israeli and Palestinian communities would come together for a night of bilingual singing and teaching of each others’ narrative songs, break bread together, and engage in dialogue. I had attended one of these events in Jerusalem in 2011. To my understanding at that time, it upheld many of the values it committed to as an equalizing, joint Israeli-Palestinian peacebuilding and reconciliation encounter.

Over the years, dozens of peacebuilding and reconciliation organizations have sprouted, focusing on many mediums such as sports, dialogue, and the expressive arts as a means and end to transforming conflict. While the aspirations of these organizations are noble and well-meaning, they often cloud overall peacebuilding and reconciliation efforts. More often than not, they do not address, whether through unwillingness or ignorance, the direct power dynamics and inequality that continue the patterns of systemic injustice and conflict, rather than producing new patterns based upon building equal social relationships that can challenge inequality, lack of freedoms, separation, segregation, and mistrust. These patterns of systemic injustice and conflict, which are intertwined into the socialization of society through educational, ideological, and political systems, will continue unless critically challenged.

Now several years later in 2014, with two more “casual” wars behind us, apartheid-like, silencing legislation in our midst, and greater lack of trust and understanding, I still wasn’t expecting this musical “peace” event to be particularly critical of the occupation. I wasn’t expecting something revolutionary that pushed the boundaries of society here that feel, often on both sides, entrenched in decades of scars, fear, and pain. Yet, what I saw and heard was nothing like what the event had been in 2011, and was hardly an acceptable event to unite Israelis and Palestinians. It achieved “whitewashing” at best.

How could it be at a musical “peace” event between Israelis and Palestinians that there was practically no music played or sung in Arabic, unless sung by Israelis? The event’s MCs, who happened to be one Israeli and one Palestinian from Shuafat, said that this event was not about “Kumbaya.” We were told that attending was a hard thing to do, and that we would undergo a challenging experience. There was also some mention that it was difficult, if not practically impossible, for anybody to attend from Shuafat Refugee Camp that night because the Israeli authorities had closed off the camp in the wake of more cyclical violence in the streets of Jerusalem. Mostly people continued to smoke and drink their beer. The Israeli announcer controlled the conversation. The Palestinian announcer seemed to be looking for space — any space.

After the announcers and two singers, both surprisingly Israeli who were supposed to teach the audience songs in Hebrew and Arabic, finished their bit, the main act began. I expected from this famous globetrotting Israeli artist something strong and meaningful as part of the main act, shared with a Palestinian-Israeli singer.  I thought he could be a voice speaking out against the sickening violence, and inequality enveloping us. I thought he could be the amplification for activism and solidarity at this musical “peace” event. I wanted him to recognize, to be of witness of what is happening here that affects both Israelis and Palestinians, even if in disproportionate ways. Nothing. All the while, the crowd continued to drink and smoke, while a few individuals slipped through the crowd passing around little stickers promoting an upcoming event against racism in Jerusalem.

As I stood with a Palestinian member of the Israeli-Palestinian youth organization I work for — from Shuafat Refugee Camp — who had suggested attending this event in the first place, I couldn’t help but wonder how he felt and what he thought. I personally felt embarrassed. What kind of event was this anyway? A party to celebrate Mizrahi-ness as a translation for Palestinian-ness? To find the “Arab” in each and every one of us? To party like it’s “haflah-time”? I tried to read his face. I tried to see how comfortable or uncomfortable he felt with each passing faux pas. All I could think of, from my “critical pedagogy in education” lens, was how this event, meant to be liberating in the wake of violence, separation, racism, only continued to subjugate him. We hadn’t entered a public space of freedom; it was the same space as practically everywhere else here for Palestinians, just masked and packaged differently.

I am not lambasting this particular event to condemn it from happening again, or to say that those who organized it don’t mean well. I also recognize that the growing strength of the BDS hinders Palestinian participation even in the most critical programs that address the inequality, violence, segregation, racism and occupation. This is also why these types of events are so crucial to tackle the multiple forces on both sides that divest from building a safe, equitable future for all. In all seriousness though, if we who consider ourselves to be “peacemakers” or who work for or with peacebuilding and reconciliation organizations cannot uncover the continuation of power dynamics within our own programs and events, if we cannot think critically of our words and actions, then what we are doing at the end of the day does more harm than good for peace, justice, and those most marginalized in this relationship: Palestinians.

If this is what exists, then it’s not enough. If we in this field do not engage in praxis[1]nor familiarize ourselves with the teachings of Paulo Freire, Johan Galtung, Ann Berlak, Zvi Bekerman, Monisha Bajaja, and Amin Maalouf among others, our programs will further the patterns of systemic injustice and conflict rather than liberate. We ask ourselves why there isn’t peace? Well certainly peace and justice won’t come if we continue to work this way. If even we can’t name the inequality, then who will?

This goes to say: we, in the field of peacebuilding and reconciliation, must look at our programs and events that bring together Israelis and Palestinians through a much more critical lens. Essentially, we must re-educate society to witness the power dynamics that exist here and learn to challenge them, in addition to building trust and mutual understanding. We must be open to being the stranger, thoughtfully and critically addressing the systemic injustice even we may contribute to, despite our best intentions and hopeful hearts.

*B.G. Silver is the pseudonym of a musician-activist educator living in Jerusalem. Her current jam includes Janelle Monae, Brahms, Bustan Abraham, Alicia Keys, Yo-Yo Ma, Gil Shaham, John Legend, Amy Winehouse, Dvorak, Umm Kalthoum, and Beyonce. The author asked not to use her real name in order to protect the organizations she works for and the increasingly sensitive work they do.

[1] “reflection and action upon the world in order to transform it” (Freire, 1970, p.34)