David Broza Bridges the Arab-Israeli Divide

Mar 11, 2014 Published under Israel, Middle East, Palestine


Kol hakavod to David Broza on his wonderful work to bridge the divide between Palestinians and Israelis! Read the full New York Times piece after the jump.




Seeking to Bridge the Arab-Jewish Divide With Music

The Saturday Profile


JERUSALEM — TRILINGUAL since he was a teenager, the Israeli singer-songwriter David Broza has for nearly four decades performed in Hebrew, Spanish and English. But his latest project, in the forlorn Shuafat Refugee Camp here, employs a more universal language: boys banging on things.

Mr. Broza, 58, and a dozen Palestinians ages 5 to 15, spent a recent Friday afternoon drumming fingers on their skulls, thwacking palms against their ribs, tapping toes on the floor and, finally, whacking plastic buckets with sticks. To a beat, of course. Few words were necessary beyond “one, two, three and four” in Arabic as the members of the group made music also with their mouths: “eeeh, aaaah, oooh, ohhh;” “chika-chika-chika-chika-chee;” “bizz-bizz, fatah-fatah-ah.”

Few Israeli Jews visit Shuafat, a garbage-laden, outrage-filled, crowded outpost in the northeast corner of Jerusalem with 35,000 residents, most from families displaced around Israel’s establishment in 1948. That Friday, the metal gates of the complex where the boys were banging had to be shuttered against stones thrown from the street, likely an objection to the fraternization with Israelis that many Palestinians denounce as dangerous “normalization.”

Mr. Broza first came to Shuafat more than a year ago, in the wee hours, with G-Town, a hip-hop duo from the camp that recorded a song on his latest album, “East Jerusalem/West Jerusalem.” For the past eight months, he and an Israeli body-percussionist have returned regularly for workshops, one little — if loud — effort at bridging the Arab-Jewish divide.

“It’s better than talking,” he said. “A lot of people dream and say, ‘I want to do, I want to do, I want to do.’ The interesting thing is to do and stop talking.

“We’re being tested also,” he added. “It’s jungle life here. They don’t know if they can trust me. Why am I coming, why didn’t I come before? Coming one time, two times, three times is still iffy. But when you start coming seven times, eight times, you build the trust.”

The album itself, released Jan. 14, was something of a barrier-breaking experiment, recorded less than two years after the killing of the half-Jewish, half-Arab founder of the Freedom Theater in Jenin, which had been a center of so-called cultural resistance against the Israeli occupation of the West Bank.

It is a compilation of coexistence anthems by Israeli, Palestinian and American musicians, including Wyclef Jean, who wrote the title track with Mr. Broza. The eight-day production last January, featuring late-night feasts by local chefs from both cultures, is the subject of a documentary in progress. For the album cover, Mr. Broza enlisted Israeli and Palestinian artists, blindfolded, to paint on a single canvas.

Sometimes likened to Paul Simon or James Taylor, Mr. Broza, who splits his time between Tel Aviv and TriBeCa, has an ardent if not enormous following among Israelis and Jewish-Americans of a certain age. They belt out every word of his sometimes-sappy ballads at a predawn show at the foot of the fortress Masada every summer on the Israeli Valentine’s Day, Tu B’av, and each Christmas Eve at the 92nd Street Y in Manhattan. He used to do a free Dec. 31 show at a gas station in the desert town of Arad, but this year, he had a few dozen friends over to his Tel Aviv bungalow, where he pan-fried steak, then broke out the guitar after midnight and strummed until 3 a.m.

“He can play in Tel Aviv with 3,000 people and he can play in Kiryat Shmona, when they had bombs, with three people,” said Yoav Kutner, a music critic and disc jockey on Israel’s Army Radio. “Every performance — and I saw him many, many times — is like his last performance in life. He plays with all his heart, with all his body.”

Most Israelis “don’t like his political views, they don’t approve of his meeting with Palestinians,” Mr. Kutner said. Still, he noted, “nobody calls to boycott him,” perhaps because of a down-to-earth familiarity, after more than two dozen albums.

The biggest hit was “Haisha She’iti“ — “The Woman by My Side” — a 1983 collaboration with the Israeli poet Yehonatan Geffen, which translated Spanish songs into Hebrew. It sold 250,000 copies and started a world music-rock fusion wave in Israel. There have been albums for children, live albums, covers and best-ofs as Mr. Broza, who lists Jackson Browne, Otis Redding, Johnny Cash and Joni Mitchell among his influences, put American and Spanish poems to music and wrote some of his own.

A grandson of one of the founders of Neve Shalom, Israel’s joint Arab-Jewish kibbutz, Mr. Broza’s first song, “Yehiye Tov,” or “It Will Be All Right,” was based on Mr. Geffen’s poem about the historic 1977 visit to Israel by President Anwar el-Sadat, and became a signature of Peace Now rallies.

The lyrics — People live in stress / searching for a reason to breathe / and somewhere between hate and killing / still talk about peace — can be spirit-crushing, given the lack of progress all these years later. But not to Mr. Broza. “It was really a song of hope,” he said. “I still sing it every night.”

Mr. Broza, who lived for 17 years in New Jersey, made a pilgrimage in 1997 to the Spanish village of Broza, and he became convinced that his ancestors fled from there during the Inquisition because the two-headed eagle on its insignia matched a family emblem. (That romantic myth died when his father told him that a friend had picked up their Broza crest at a flea market.)

A divorced father of three grown children, in 2011 he married the Israeli-American fashion designer Nili Lotan.

THE roots of “East Jerusalem/West Jerusalem” date to 1999, when Mr. Broza began jamming with Said Murad, founder of the renowned Palestinian band Sabreen, in Mr. Murad’s studio. They became close friends and occasional collaborators, though Mr. Murad declined to perform on the new album even though it was recorded in his space.

“Actually it’s a headache to work with Israelis, because of the normalization movement, the boycotts,” Mr. Murad said. “Even if you talk to Israelis now, you’re suspicious.” But Mr. Broza “is stubborn, he puts an idea in his head and he just goes for it,” Mr. Murad added. “He keeps contacting Palestinians and Arabs everywhere and tries to find any way to get his work done.”

For the Shuafat project, Mr. Broza has teamed up with Muhammad Mugrabi, 27, half of the G-Town duo, and Tomer Aloni, a longtime performer with Myumana, the Israeli drumming-and-dancing troupe. He is seeking foundation financing to turn a former day care center into a music school.

For now, it’s a few boys banging for a few hours on a Friday afternoon.

“The first thing you learn is the psychology of shway, shway,” Mr. Broza said, using the Arabic for “slowly, slowly” one day at the Ambassador Hotel in East Jerusalem. “I’ve been coming to this part of town for 14 years now,” he said. “Nobody’s sending me, nobody’s paying me. It’s my choosing to sit in that chair and feeling that it’s a comfortable one, not a dangerous one.”

Later, in the refugee camp, Mr. Broza, in black loafers and jeans, with a gray scarf, stood in the circle among the boys, following Mr. Aloni’s beat. When it was his turn to solo, Mr. Broza whaled on the guitar and whirled around, tongue-clicking as the youngsters turned cartwheels and back rolls and otherwise went wild.

“There has to be a generation that will plant the seeds, and there will be those that will sit in the shade, and those that will eat the fruit,” he had said in an earlier interview, invoking a Talmudic tale that became a classic children’s book. “But there’s definitely nobody who’s going to sit in the shade or eat the fruit if somebody doesn’t plant the seeds.”

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