Wednesday, July 21, 2010

How Shall we Sing the Lord's Song in a Strange Land?

If there's anywhere that scares Israelis, it's Ramallah.

We have several good reasons not to go to Ramallah, even if we put aside the incident of the year 2000, in which two soldiers who lost their way and wound up here were killed by a mob. That event took place in the height of hostilities, immediately following the death of Mohamed A-Dura in Gaza. Still, it's a precedent, and many people here hate our guts.

So there's one good reason not to visit Ramallah. especially at night. Ramallah is not the capital of streetlights.

A second good reason not to visit Ramallah is that coming here is a criminal offence by Israeli law. No one checks us on the way in but we risk arrest, interrogation and then imprisonment or a heavy fine if caught on the way out. Palestinian police who find us must hand us over to the Istraelis. So that's another good reason not to visit Ramallah, especially if you have a nice Jewish face like mine.

But observe the photo above and you'll find one good reason to visit Ramallah. When was the last time you got served your coke bottle with a straw in it? that is so 1982!

Ramallah retains in it the charm of decades gone by. which is why we just had to come here and attend a Boney M concert. Boney M? You've got to be kidding me! what won't I give to stand with the Palestinian people who've known so much hardship, and sing with them that eternal anthem of oppressed nations:

By the rivers of Ba-ha-bylon (dark tears of Babylon)
Where we sat do-hown (You've got to sing a song)
Yeah-hey we we-hept (sing a song of love)
When we remembered Zi-ha-yon (yeah yeah yeah yeah).

facing all the arguments for not coming was the one decisive argument for coming: Disco!

Boney M were to appear at the open air theatre right outside the Ramallah Cultural Palace.

There were less hijabs to be seen here then on the streets, both because there's something deeply un-Islamic about lines such as "Rasputin, Rasputin, Russia's greatest love machine" and because at least 30% of those present were internationals. I did find a few, though, dyed here by a glam boa scarf that someone waved over my lense.

And boy did we ever wave these glam boa scarves. Today's Boney M features only a single member of the original ensemble, the unbelievably energetic and lovely Maizie Williams. she totally justifies using the famous brand and the rest of her team was terrific as well. They strutted their hits: "Daddy Cool", "Sunny", the very applicable "Belfast"...

As well as Boney M's famous cover version of Marley's "No Woman no Cry".

Then suddenly the lights went out.

It was towards the end of "No Woman no Cry." The microphones died too and the band fell silent, but the audience kept singing: Everything's gonna be alright! Everything's gonna be alright!

It took Williams a second to understand that she was faced with the true spirit of Ramallah. If there's any city in the world that's used to the lights going out and knows that everything's gonna be alright, it's here. She returned to the front of the stage and swayed to the chanting.

When the lights returned. Everyone was in full form. and the rest of the evening simply rocked. We had only one major disappointment: Babylon was not sung. I can only assume that the festival organizers banned it for fear that the word "Zion" (as in "Zionism") would offend the audience. Sometimes deeper meanings are lost on people. The crown chanted "Babylon" harder than it chanted "everything's gonna be alright" but to no avail. A token identification with the local struggle was the best we got.

So we went away with dear Palestinian friends we bumped into, looking for somewhere to sit and weep. The best party in Ramallah these days is a house party. Grandma Aniseh died, and her offspring turned her old home into a popping bar: "Aniseh's House".

No one killed us.

No one arrested us.

It was only paying for our Taybeh beers in Sheqels that reminded us the occupation even exists. We pocketed the change and focused on the extraordinary hospitality of our neighbors, easing the shift between the glittery clothes we saw on stage and the uniforms we would meet at the checkpoint later.


Yaelian said...

You get to go to interesting places.....

Anonymous said...

It totally bugs me that I haven't been to Beit Aniseh. I had to run home after the concert.

Anonymous said...

Boney M, now there's a blast from the past. My own memory of them is a mental scar because when as a kid my younger sister would sing Boney M songs and make up dance routines to them, the whole family were made to watch and sing along.
Just when I thought I'd forgotten it... does this mean I now have to go back to counciling?

Ami Kaufman said...

Fun post! I'm quite jealous, to be honest... wish I could have gone...

Jumana / Ramallah said...

Hi Yuval, thank you for an interesting article. It is important for people in Israel to realize that there is much more to Palestinians than torn clothes and rocks. We love to have a good time, and we love to enjoy the small space that we have in Ramallah, which we are unable to expand due to the expanding settlements around us. There is still much more to see in Ramallah, the acting capital of culture, art, and history. Please lets your friends know of your visit, and urge the Israeli youth to put pressure on thir government to stop building settlements, killing Palestinians, and move forward to ending the occupation.

Yermi said...

Good post. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

It is obvious that the organizers would not allow the Rivers of Babylon song due to the reference to Zion, and the West Bank Muslims' total incapacity to acknowledge the Jewish connection to the Holy Land. Is Muslim hatred of Jews so strong that they cannot even allow a song, that is basically Reggae and disco and hints more to the struggle of the African Diaspora? Is that how infantile Islam has become? In Tel Aviv they show movies like "Paradise" which glorify suicide/homicide bombers, and Judea-Samaria Muslims cannot even allow a song about the Rivers of Babylon by a Caribbean reggae group? As for the post by Jumana - YOU are the ones occupying Judea and Samaria. I feel bad that your leaders have lied to you, told you that Israel is your enemy and not let you return to your real land, which is South Syria or lands east of the Jordan River. The world has lied to you, and not told you that "Palestine" is nothing but the Roman name given to Israel. Look up in any real history book. But please do not ask us to stop defending ourselves from the constant threats and attacks by radicals. No country would put up with what Israel puts up with. I wish for peace between Jews and Muslims, I just don't think it will ever come about, ever. I hope I'm wrong, but right now we have no partner for peace. We only have an "Authority" that teaches its children through cartoons to hate Jews and incites its children to be martyrs.

יובל בן-עמי Yuval Ben-Ami said...

I personally take Joumana's point to heart 100% and find the last comment to be disturbingly full of wishfull thinking. This is the simplistic view we are taught, which saddens me enormously.

Warren said...

Jumana. I don't agree with you. It's again your one sided Muslim view. I think the occupation is of the militant Muslims in Israel. They should leave and stop occupying Israel. You'll find Jews not blowing them up all over Israel. When the Muslims move into England with their weapons it is not called occupation. Let your friends know that if the rockets stop then there will be no need for counter-attacks. Urge them to acknowledge that Muslims cannot have the whole earth. They are fighting on their boarders all over the world. What do you expect us all to think of you. You can make a difference to stop the rockets, stop them occupying Israel and stop the Islamification of Europe.

Anonymous said...

one problem - muhamad a dura was not killed by Israeli soldiers as published everywhere. Typical Arab lie.