03.12.2005A German Brass Band in the Middle EastTouring the Orient with a Trumpet and a NotepadRamallah
The craziness of Ramallah continues undiminished the next day. My feelings tell me I am now truly right in the center of the Middle East conflict. In the morning we go the cultural center, a brand new, relatively attractive theater on the edge of town with a view of Ramallah.
On the life-sized photograph, Arafat "has a distinctly bulbous nose, but otherwise looks quite relaxed, friendly, and confident. This might not have been the case in reality" The Japanese sponsored the construction. Everything is spotless and of the very best quality – quite a contrast to the rather run down districts surrounding it.
We are greeted in the entranceway by a life-sized photograph of Arafat in front of the Dome of the Rock. He has a distinctly bulbous nose, but otherwise looks quite relaxed, friendly, and confident. This might not have been the case in reality.
We do a sound check and then rehearse a few songs with a Palestinian singer. Her name is Reem, she is a shade over 40, has three daughters, and sings beautifully. She is an Israeli Palestinian and lives in a village on the West Bank.
Actually, Reem is not allowed to travel to Ramallah. She is here illegally, although she has often sung and taught in the city. Every time she had to be smuggled in at her own risk by the Goethe Institute or the German Embassy.
There is a rumor going around that even Daniel Barenboim had to be smuggled out of Ramallah in the trunk of car after giving a concert here.
Reem tells us of her everyday life and I am once again deeply moved. She says that absolutely no one in Palestine thinks about what will happen next year or can make any sort of plans for the future.
It is all about survival and one has to devote a considerable portion of one's life just to organize getting from one place to another, how to bring your children to school across a checkpoint or how to visit your sick father, who now suddenly lives on the other side of a ten-meter high wall.
We turn on the television that afternoon. Israeli soldiers fired a tank shell into a market place in Gaza, killing 24 people. Half of the dead were children. Al-Jazeera shows nothing else the whole afternoon. Only dead and injured children and their desperate and crying parents.
Switching stations on the hotel TV, RAI Uno is showing a competition to make the world's largest pizza hosted by smiling, seemingly empty-headed beauties. After this television experience I can completely understand the sense of hate expressed by those in the Arab world towards the West.
We consider whether it would be best to call off the concert. We go on with the show, nevertheless. Farid, the director of the Goethe Institute in Ramallah, will give a brief speech dealing with the events in Gaza before the concert.
There is the apprehension that not many people will show up, either out of dismay or fear. Yet, quite a lot of people do come and it is the most memorable, beautiful, and intense concert of the tour.
We change our program and begin with rather contemplative pieces. I am somewhat tense to start out because I don't know how the audience will react. Yet from the first song onwards, they are a very attentive and warm crowd, enthusiastically applauding. It keeps on getting better. Towards the end of the show, everyone is in a real party mood, they dance, and demand an encore.
The audience is obviously grateful for the music. Many come up and approach us afterwards and thank us.
Even some foreigners living in Ramallah are visibly pleased that we had the courage to come here. They asked us to tell everyone at home what life is really like on the West Bank and to help fight against the distorted image promoted by the media.
Upon leaving the venue from the performers' entrance and out in the open, we look down at the city. Shots can be heard repeatedly. Andreas explains that after such incidents as in Gaza today, an unofficial, mandatory national mourning, in other words, a compulsory general strike, is usually called.
Members of militant underground groups, Hamas, and Al-Aqsa Brigade, roam masked through the streets and shoot into the air in order to intimidate the population and to force shop owners to keep their businesses shut. People out on the street are sent home so that no one can have a good time.
And, indeed, we too get caught up in this. We all drive to a nice garden restaurant, sit down, and prepare to order, when a number of armed figures masked in black appear, demanding that the waiters turn off the music and bright lights.
Immediately afterwards, we hear a couple of shots nearby. The air rings with the loud and nasty sound of gunshots. The whole nightmare has soon passed, but the effect remains. The pleasant atmosphere has been trashed. Most of the guests in the garden get up and go home, quietly and disciplined.
For a brief instant I am worried. The situation is stressful and uncomfortable. Then the waiters come by and calm us down. "Don't worry, everything okay!"
Slowly, the shock melts away, normality returns, but the restaurant empties quickly.
Next stop: Tel Aviv (press 9)