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Music, The New York Times and the politics of a Palestinian state

An Israeli leaflet dropped on Lebanon in 2006 depicts Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah as a snake being charmed by the Syrian and Iranian presidents, and the Hamas leader Khaled Meshal. (Zena)

An Israeli leaflet dropped on Lebanon in 2006 depicts Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah as a snake being charmed by the Syrian and Iranian presidents, and the Hamas leader Khaled Meshal. (Zena)

Belén Fernández, The Electronic Intifada, 14 July 2009

On 31 May and 1 June of this year, two articles by culture reporter Daniel J. Wakin appeared on the The New York Times website: “Minuets, Sonatas and Politics in the West Bank,” and “Amid West Bank’s Turmoil, the Pull of Strings.” It is clear before we even begin reading that we are going to be indebted to Wakin for providing us with a romantic filter through which to view an otherwise sobering subject, just as we might be indebted to someone for writing about the athletic pursuits of disabled persons or about clandestine wine tasting groups under the Taliban.

The heroine of the first article is 16-year-old Dalia Moukarker from Beit Jala near Bethlehem, whom Wakin describes as “one of a new generation of Palestinians who have been swept up in a rising tide of interest in Western classical music in the last several years here in the Palestinian territories, but especially the West Bank.” Wakin does not explain why Gaza has been behind the “rising tide,” although it may have something to do with the ban on importing musical instruments.

Three years of flute study have enabled Dalia to “dispatch … the courtly melodies and cascading runs of an 18th-century concerto with surprising self-assurance,” adding to “[t]he sounds of trills and arpeggios, Bach minuets and Beethoven sonatas [that] are rising up amid the economic malaise and restrictions of the Israeli occupation.” The bittersweet landscape is augmented with images of Dalia “sometimes retreating to a bathroom in her crowded apartment [to practice], sometimes skipping meals.” Wakin confirms that, “As with many endeavors in this part of the world, the pursuit of classical music is fraught with tensions and obstacles,” and goes on to explore one example:

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