As war grips the Middle East, and inequalities, violence and divisions tear across communities in Europe, a group of young Israeli and Palestinian musicians are banding together to defy stereotypes, document the difficulties of life amid conflict, and promote their message of equality and hope.
They call themselves Heartbeat and they bring young people from across Israel-Palestine together to make music, build understanding and promote peaceful social change. Through powerful live performances, they hope to create dialogue and change through music.
For young musician Muhammad, Heartbeat’s programmes have had a big impact on his life.
Muhammad grew up in a Palestinian refugee camp in East Jerusalem. It was a world of checkpoints, police intimidation, discrimination. He struggled to understand all this. Then he joined Heartbeat – and met Israeli Jews. “I’m from a refugee camp,” he says. “I’d never met an Israeli before. I thought all Israelis were soldiers like the ones in the camp.”
He went to weekly groups where he could express his anger and find some answers. He realised that some Israelis could be his allies and friends. Each week he felt less angry. He started to write songs about the injustices he saw and the frustrations he felt.
When violence erupted in his neighbourhood in 2013, his friend was killed. Muhammad could have sought revenge. Instead he started performing his anti-war songs live in Jerusalem and helping at Heartbeat sessions. He wants more young Israelis and Palestinians to learn to trust the people they grew up hating, so that together they can stop the conflict.
Other musicians report a similar sense of empowerment, and understanding. Dana, a young Israeli female, was taught not to look a Palestinian man in the eye if they passed on the street, for fear he may harm her. After a few months in Heartbeat, she was no longer afraid to make eye contact, sit next to a Palestinian man on a bus, or even extend a greeting, thinking: “maybe he is my friend Samira’s father.”
Heartbeat aims to help the next generation of Israelis and Palestinians to understand and respect each other, harnessing the power of music to bring them together. Since 2007 when they were founded, over 100 youth musicians have participated in Heartbeat workshops, retreats and overseas exchanges and have toured around the world.
Elevated by the support from Eddie Vedder, Pearl Jam and Neil Young, The Huffington Post described Heartbeat to be “positively empowering the next generation of Israeli and Palestinian leaders.”
Now, building on their successful 2015 US tour which saw them play at the State Department, US Congress and celebrated universities and music venues, Heartbeat are coming to Europe to play Womad festival (28-31 July) and a one-night-only performance in London (3 August) at Cecil Sharp House, sharing their music and messages with audiences around the country.
In a world where divides, violence and attacks are increasingly marking international headlines, we should take inspiration from those working to promote meaningful social change in one of the most deeply divided conflicts in the world.
The Heartbeat message inspires people of all backgrounds to work together and promote equality, empathy, and nonviolent action. It is time more examples of grassroots action were amplified on the world stage, along with their stories of hope. Music is one powerful way to achieve this.
Get tickets for ‘A Change is Gonna Come’, live concert with Heartbeat and special guests on 3 August at Cecil Sharp House via Eventbrite: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/a-change-is-gonna-come-tickets-26195751197
Join the event on Facebook.
Update on 2 August. Change to line up: Tom Hyatt will now take the stage as special guest act. Tom Hyatt is a London based singer/songwriter whose lyrical folk music is backed by dynamic vocals and acoustic guitar, and draws inspiration from artists like Van Morrison.