The important thing to know about Heartbeat is that it is an educational instrument for changing the dynamic between Israeli and Palestinian inequality using creative communication, its vehicle being music. By choosing music — an art form that is, hands down, the most widely distributed, universal, and addictive of cultural art forms — the lessons propagated through Heartbeat’s curriculum lead its Israeli and Palestinian youth participants on a path that diverges from socially conditioned confrontation to creative partnership by demanding equality toward fellow musicians and devotion to making music.
Partnerships between Israelis and Palestinians for any endeavors are rare, and many attract criticism. In the case of Heartbeat, the criticism comes from unexpected places like the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement concerned that Heartbeat’s mission to engage Israeli and Palestinian young people in creative collaboration lends equity to Israel’s propaganda motives, while more predictably, right wing Israelis accuse Heartbeat of being too pro-Palestinian. Although Heartbeat makes efforts to avoid partisan positions, it instead provides space for its participants to freely engage in dialogue that positively influences the musicians and their music. It is a kind of equality that expresses itself constructively and creatively to “dismantle the systems of segregation which fuel the suffering of both the Palestinian and Israeli people.”
Working mostly in Jerusalem and Haifa, Heartbeat staff and alumni visit high schools and make presentations to students. The students are exposed to examples of Heartbeat’s music along with what the organization does, how they develop music, and the philosophy behind the creative collaborative experience. Those interested are auditioned and interviewed to find individuals willing and enthusiastic to team up with students who might otherwise be adversaries, and they must prove accomplishment in musicianship to contribute to the musical expectations Heartbeat strives to promote. Heartbeat leaders make every effort to include equal numbers of Palestinian and Israeli students, young men and women, and to add to the challenge, a variety of musical disciplines. Accepted participants must commit for the duration of their school year.
As evidenced by decades of failed negotiations through political means, establishing relations between these war-frought people is either a task too challenging for politics, or the representing politicians are no longer interested stopping deadly conflict. Engaging in dialogues on the political level for mutual peace and prosperity largely do not exist, and if they do, they are almost always coerced through international effort.
My own observations about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are first, Israeli and Palestinian leaders use micro-events as distractions to camouflage motives of destructive agendas and overall stubbornness at the expense of human life (that’s not an original thesis, I admit, and this topic is widely discussed in Middle East discourse, but it needs to be mentioned to build the overall idea). Second, world governments, especially the United States, rarely if ever speak about or act to resolve core issues of the conflict and the need to stop erosion of the Palestinian territories or how Palestinians are treated. Third, individuals and NGOs outside of Israel-Palestine, like BDS, Jewish Voice for Peace, Electronic Intafada, Whoppi Goldberg, and Jon Stewart have, because of their disconnection to politics and politically-tainted money, the courage to call out the issues of the conflict in the boldest terms.
And finally, fourth, inside Israel-Palestine, when it comes to action that drives positive change — the heavy lifting is performed outside of the political bandwidth by the artist-class, and that is why Heartbeat takes the hits it does and the reason why its work is so important.
It is easy to forget that Heartbeat is an educational effort, because its product is performance. It is at once an institution with a creative development process that confronts destructive social and political relationships while at the same time seen by the international public as performance defying the very society from where it is created. To its youth participants, it is an educational process of reverse-educating of cultural, ethnic and religious bias; for us, it is an education in the power of the musical experience and impotency of the politics in which it dwells.
I am taken that Heartbeat’s team draws upon philosophy from a who’s-who list of progressive socially-driven theorists with Brazilian educator-leader, Paulo Freire, at the center. Freire’s ideas, known for promoting mass-education with the purpose of overturning oppression and colonialism, explain and connect Heartbeat’s mission of educating not only Palestinians and Israelis, but also those of us who see the impossibility of resolution as portrayed by politics and media.
Thankfully, despite the criticism, Heartbeat musicians still gather to learn how to make music together. No matter how unequal the circumstances of its participants, there is equality in their creative contribution, and when the music they create is performed, it is an important learning experience for us as to the power of voices, guitars, ouds, violins, and drums when confronting hate, bombs, checkpoints, tanks and politics.
Note: Opinions expressed herein are those of the author only, and are not necessarily held by the individuals, groups, or producers of media featured in this article.