Thursday, 15 December 2011

Gaza's only music school rises again from the ashes of war

A teacher works through musical notation with a child at a music school in Gaza. (AFP Photo/Mahmud Hams)

A room in Gaza's only music school fills with the sound of the qanun, a traditional Middle Eastern instrument, transporting listeners far from the impoverished territory.

Seven-year-old Zeina Al-Hamamra confidently picks out a melody on the instrument, a kind of zither, leaning forward to pluck the farthest strings with tiny fingers strapped with silver picks.

She smiles triumphantly as she finishes the piece, showing the fruits of the year of lessons she has taken at the Gaza Music School.

Here, the sounds of the bustling city outside give way to a different cacophony, where trumpet blasts compete with the low drone of a bow being drawn across the strings of a cello.

It's a far cry from Gaza's usual sonic landscape of car horns and vendors' cries, the sudden crack as Israeli jets break the sound barrier, or the shattering crash of an air strike.

The school is the brainchild of Ibrahim Al-Najjar, a 64-year-old musician who sits down to join them, strumming the oud, or the Arabic lute, as Hamamra and another girl play the qanun, and a young boy beats out a rhythm on the traditional drum or tabla.

"Music is the centre of civilization, and we want these children to have access to that," he says, seated in his small office as the sound of a violin lesson next door trickles in.

Najjar, a Gaza-native, studied music in Cairo in the late 1960s, and taught in Kuwait and Romania before returning home in 1997, when he began working with Gaza's education ministry to train music teachers.

During his 10 years with the ministry, he trained 37 teachers and developed a curriculum for teaching music, before leaving to set up his own music school for children in 2007.

But the venture was short-lived because he ran out of money.

A year later, he was approached by the AM Qattan Foundation, a London-based charity active in the Palestinian territories, which offered to fund a new music school, paying for lessons and instruments.

When it opened in October 2008, the school was an instant success, attracting 300 applicants for the 35 places then available.

No music in Gaza

But less than three months later, the school was leveled when Israel launched a devastating 22-day operation in Gaza, which destroyed much of the enclave's infrastructure and killed more than 1,400 Palestinians.

"I was in my office when the war started. I was nearly killed because I was inside, alone," he says quietly. "All the instruments were destroyed, the entire building was destroyed in the war." more

Israeli forces enter Gaza near Erez crossing, bulldozers destroy farmland while soldiers open fire

GAZA CITY (Ma'an) -- Israeli forces entered northern Gaza near Erez crossing on Thursday morning, witnesses and the army said.

Locals told Ma'an bulldozers dug up land and opened fire but no injuries were reported.

An Israeli military spokesman said soldiers were conducting "routine activity" in the area but said he was not familiar with any shooting.

On Wednesday, Israeli forces shot a man east of Gaza City. more