Mellanöstern och Nordafrika Tidningen
Published On: Sun, Apr 12th, 2015

For Wast El Tarik, music is the common language

It’s impossible to be still during Wast El Tarik’s performances. A combination of vocals, accordion, lute, flute and percussion that interprets both traditional folk music and new songs make the entire place swing and even the most reluctant will want to dance. For many bands, this is the only goal. But Wast El Tarik is not like any band. 

Marwan Shaheen, who plays the lute, says that the name translates into English as “Midway”, a concept very appropriate to describe the band. The idea of the band members is to get people from Israel and Palestine – and not least from West and East Jerusalem – to meet half-way.

The four band members, two Israeli Jews and two Palestinians, have been playing together for three years. It all began when Marwan met the Israeli woman Daniella in Tel Aviv. They realized that they were both interested in music and to try to reduce the tensions between the people in the area they decided to start a band. Yet another two friends, one Palestinian and the other Israeli, joined in and Wast El Tarik became reality.

Some songs are in Arabic while others are in Hebrew, and yet some are a mixture of both. Marwan has written a few of them, but some are old, traditional ones. Marwan speaks both Arabic and Hebrew and the two Israeli band members are doing their best to learn Arabic. A lot of people who attend the performances speak either Arabic or Hebrew, but rarely both; some can not communicate with each other even though they might live in the same city. Instead, the music is the common language that unites them.


Photographer: A Karlsson

Marwan says that during the gigs the songs are mixed along with a monologue about the purpose of the band. This is confirmed to me as I attend one of the band’s performances at a café in West Jerusalem.

– We are people from different places who use music as a common language. We are here to get people to meet and learn about the different realities existing in one city. Arabs and Jews can, and should, live as brothers in this country, the band members explain.

Marwan describes himself as very open to other people and cultures and says that he has never had any problem with having Israeli friends. He hopes that the band can help more people become aware that it is indeed possible to live in peace with “the other side”.

– We play for peace. Our message to the people of this country – and the world – is that we can live together without problems. We want to change the way Israelis think about the Palestinians and the way Palestinians think about Israelis.

The group meets a few times every month to practice. The separation barrier that separates the West Bank from Jerusalem and Israel does, however, cause major problems for the band. Although the village of Abu Dis, where Marwan lives, is located just a few kilometers from the city center of Jerusalem most villagers have not been able to visit the city since the barrier was built. For the Palestinians, it is difficult, and sometimes even impossible, to get the permission to cross the border into Jerusalem. Previously, Marwan and the other Palestinian band member had to apply for permission every time they wanted to cross the border for a performance or to practice. The application process was lengthy and sometimes it was rejected. Now they have a permit that allows them to go to Israel as often as they like. It is valid for three months. Marwan says that he hopes the permit will be extended, but that one can never know.

Fotograf A Karlsson

Photographer: A Karlsson

Another aggravating fact is that Israeli citizens are not allowed to visit parts of Palestine. Marwan says that despite this, the band sometimes meets to practice in his house in Abu Dis and that they have had several performances in Palestine. It’s something that he respects the two Israeli band members for.

– There are not many Israelis who dare to come here, he says.

Initiatives that build bridges between Palestinians and Israelis have become increasingly significant following the construction of the separation barrier. Marwan says that the barrier has resulted in decreased opportunities for cultural exchange between Israelis and Palestinians.

– Before the wall, many Palestinians used to work in Israel and we met each other on a daily basis. Today it’s much more difficult to cross the border which means that the Palestinian labor force in Israel, and thus the cultural exchange between the two peoples, has been reduced.

Nevertheless, he is optimistic, and says that he believes it is heading in the right direction.

– It’s actually much better now than it was a decade ago during the second Intifada. Now people are more open to one another and to each other’s cultures.

– It’s not about individuals, it’s about the system.

Fotograf A Karlsson

Photographer: A Karlsson

Marwan repeats this several times during the interview. He explains that although there are major divergences and disagreements between Israeli Jews and Palestinians, the basic problem is not the people.

– I don’t blame the people, but the system that surrounds them. In Israel there are deep-rooted prejudices against Palestinians. Since they were kids, they’ve been told that we are bad people. Through the music I want to show them that the majority of Palestinians are not terrorists.


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