Wednesday 8 November 2023

Gaza's Piano


Our strategy should be not only to confront empire, but to lay siege to it. To deprive it of oxygen, to shame it. To mock it. With our art, our literature, our music our stubborness, our joy, our brilliance, our sheer relentlessness – and our ability to tell our own stories. Arundhati Roy

What has happened to Gaza’s grand piano? It is 2012 and Anas Alnajar is playing an instrument with a remarkable history. “I’m so lucky to have the chance to play it. Playing the piano makes me feel comfortable and relaxed,” Alnajar tells this speaking from the Edward Said National Conservatory of Music in Gaza. The music teacher sits before rows of plastic chairs. Sunshine seeps into the room through cracks between heavy red and grey curtains.“We are so proud to have the piano here” says Alnajar. 

Not for much longer. It was rendered unplayable by a missile strike during an Israeli bombardment until a restorer arrived from France. “When my eyes got used to the gloom” said Claire Bertrand, “I gasped at the scale of the destruction. A tangle of cables, twisted metal and broken lamps hung down like spilled entrails from the shattered ceiling. A rocket had landed a few metres away during the 2018 Israeli bombardment. ‘Then, in the middle of the wreckage, I got my first glimpse of a greater treasure that, almost miraculously, had survived unscathed. On the cracked marble of the stage, dusty but intact, stood a concert grand piano.” She tapped - or, rather, crunched - a few keys and listened to the grating notes. "This is not a piano!" she muttered. "Everything is dead.".

Today the music school, music itself, that grand piano, are all dead, all lie under rubble along with the people. As I write this the total killed under Israeli bombardment is in excess of 10,000. 

This might not seem the appropriate time to talk about music, and especially since the Hamas government tried to  ban public music even before the current genocide. But taking my cue from Arundhati Roy, I have the ability to tell my own story in our struggle against the current barbarism. At the same time as that grand piano was delivered to Gaza, we took possession of four donated grand pianos at the Pavarotti Music Centre in Mostar, Bosnia Herzegovina. Those pianos were just one part of the music we helped bring back to that country. It followed the music workshops I helped organise in the cellars of besieged Sarajevo and then in Mostar. The people needed food and, as War Child, we brought a mobile bakery into town, but the young people in particular needed both food for the stomach and food for their souls – music.

I am reaching out to all those who, twenty years ago, helped with our music projects in Bosnia and all those who are as appalled as I am by the present genocide and have the ability to help. I am old, but my anger a t what is happening to the Palestinians means I have no choice than to retrieve my contacts and skills to fight with the only weapon I have – music. Will you help?

I have a possible music contact in Gaza who I am hoping will advice on what we can do – if anything. As a first step, and if you are a musician, writer or artist, would you be willing to add your name to the following:

We are appalled by the genocide presently taking place in Gaza and other parts of occupied Palestine. Israel’s bombardment has killed thousands of Palestinians and displaced over 1 million. We agree with Daniel Barenboim, co-founder of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra that “there can only be one solution to this conflict: one based on humanism, justice and equality, and without armed force and occupation. We believe in our shared humanity. Music is one way to bring us closer together.’ 

I wish to add my name in agreement to the above and in solidarity with all victims of this barbarity.”

send your name to:

When calamity strikes we play music to soothe the soul” Ahmed Mukhtar, musician and oud player