Teaching Palestinian Children to Love Beethoven, Bizet, and Mozart is a Threat to a Depraved Israeli Society

Rania Elias and husband Suhail Khoury.

The subject box of a mid-March email from Jerusalemite Palestinian author and scholar read: “Simply Reflecting.”

Samia Khoury’s 16/March/2020 message was a concise and tellingly prescient homily on the pathetically worsening universal condition of humanity as well as the depraved banality to which  Israel’s Jewish leaders have descended. The topics included the spread of Covid-19, especially in the occupied territories and Gaza, the reelection of an indicted, racist Israeli Prime Minister, and Donald Trump’s gift to Netanyahu in the form of a sham called the Deal of the Century.

Upon reading Samia’s cogent remarks, I was reminded that in 2018 the Israeli Knesset (Parliament) passed the racist Nation State Jews only Bill granting  “national rights in Israel [to] belong only to the Jewish people.” Hence my references in this column to Israel/Israeli as Jew/Jewish.

Four months later, a 29/July/2020  email from Samia confirmed what I have suspected for years. Israel’s continued attempts to “Cancel” (le mot de jour)  and snuff out Palestinian expressions of cultural and artistic articulations has gone into overdrive.

For most Israeli Jews even the teaching of Palestinian children to love Beethoven, Bizet, Mozart (to name but a few) and Arab musical lore,  and to inculcate them with a devotion, appreciation, and enjoyment of the richness of three centuries of Europe’s crowning  musical lore is a threat to the Garrison state called Israel, the Apartheid Nation State of the Jews.

Because I have found it challenging to paraphrase Samia and her son Suhail’s  words and paint an accurate tableaux of Israel’s assaults on the teaching of classical music to young Palestinian minds starved for knowledge and an appreciation of and for the things that connect and bind us in  high-minded and enlightening human connectivity, I’ve decided to let them tell their compelling stories as per  their 29/July/2020 email missive without adhering to the pro forma standard indentation stylistic rules, but with quotation marks.

From Samia: Statement on Arrests, Harassment and Theft of materials from the Palestinian National Conservatory of Music

“ 7/29 Dear Friends:  Many of you have already heard about the ordeal that my son Suhail and his wife Rania have gone through.  For years, they have been contributing  to the promotion of cultural programs and music in Jerusalem through their organizations: Rania as director of Yabous Cultural Centre and Suhail director of the Jerusalem Society for Music Education (National Conservatory of Music.)  Today the two  organizations issued a joint statement, both in Arabic and in English (see text below)  in the presence of  the head of the European Union and other European Consuls in Jerusalem, refuting all the allegations.  Suhail welcomed the distinguished representatives with the attached appeal.  following words, about the love of Beethoven.  However, after the meeting, Rania was called again by the Police for further interrogation, which lasted for three hours.

We urge you dear friends to raise your voice and support us in redressing this injustice and putting an end to their ordeal, and to all these false allegations so that we will continue to enjoy the fruits of years of  hard  work, commitment  and devotion which made these two cultural centres [sic.] shine in the Jerusalem skies, offering a haven of beauty to our beleaguered [Palestinian} children  and our people as a whole. Samia”

29/7/2020 Statement by Composer Suhail Khoury,  Director of Jerusalem’s “National Conservatory of Music”:

“Loving Beethoven and your country seem to be a dangerous combination. Other than the ongoing daily policies the Israelis are trying to enforce in East Jerusalem, we do not know what triggered the attack on the morning of the 22nd of July, on The Jerusalem Society for Music Education “National Conservatory of Music” and Yabous Cultural Center, two of the most prominent cultural institutions in Jerusalem. The attack was simultaneous with the storming of our apartment and my arrest alongside my wife Rania, who manages Yabous. Bishop Attallah believes it is targeting Christian leadership in the city. Rania and I have considered the possible relationship with the court case underway for our family reunification. The Israeli authorities are trying to deny us living together in Jerusalem even after 22 years of marriage. And there are several other theories, all of which might be true. However, I believe that Beethoven is to blame, and I will tell you why. I have been brought up listening to classical music. At four years of age, my mother tells me that I would stand in front of the gramophone and move my hands with the music as if I was the great Karajan himself conducting Beethoven’s 5th. My addiction to Mozart’s Ein Klein Nacht Music was intense, as she suggests. I was also brought up to love my country and care for its people and their wellbeing. I have dedicated my life trying to instill those two values in young Palestinian generations’ lives. To only love Beethoven does not seem to bother the Israeli authorities. To only love your country also does not seem to bother them. Because if you love your occupied country and do nothing about it, there is no harm in that for them. If you act upon this love violently, Israel has a lot of experience of dehumanizing you and portraying you to the world as a terrorist. But to love your country and act on it by performing Beethoven seems to be dangerous. As the Israeli authorities have no prepared formula for how to deal with this “threat.” Suddenly, you become human in the eyes of the world, and Israel must hate that. How can anyone dehumanize a well educated and talented generation of Palestinians? [Emphasis mine] How can anyone condemn an 80 strong Palestine Youth Orchestra getting a standing ovation from about 2000 Dutch spectators at the famous Concertgebouw in Amsterdam or a 4000 packed Royal Albert Hall in London? In the Israeli police’s statement released the day of the attack, they mentioned that they targeted two institutions that promote Palestinian culture. Guilty as charged. But what we also promote is hope. We teach tolerance, respect of the other, gender equality, freedom of speech, cultural exchange, and fundamental human rights. We teach children to love Beethoven, Mozart, Sibelius, Bizet, Rossini, Albeniz, and all of the great European and world classical composers. [Emphasis mine]  But we also teach the music of Abdul Wahab, Rahbanis, Said Darwish, and all of the great Palestinian and Arab composers of the 20th century. So how can they silence us? They have chosen to attempt to smear our reputation by falsifying evidence of money laundering, an outrageous and baseless accusation. To get an Israeli Judge to grant the police a warrant, they must make it seem dangerous; thus, the money laundering had to be for supporting terrorism. That is why the attack was accompanied by an extremist Israeli media campaign to try to discredit the work of hundreds of artists and the music learning of thousands of children. Although our organizations love their country and have respect for their political parties and their struggle for independence, I can assure you that none of the ten members of the Shafaq network of Art centers in Jerusalem have any affiliation with any political party. The Israeli fanatic media fabricated these links. The amateurish level of this Israeli news invention even failed to distinguish between Suhail Khoury, the Palestinian politician affiliated with the PFLP residing somewhere in the Diaspora, and Suhail Khoury the composer and choral conductor from Jerusalem writing this letter to you. Nevertheless, the aim of this smearing attempt is severe and might lead to shutting us down. That is why we urge all our friends to move promptly and swiftly to safeguard the National Conservatory of Music and our cultural institutions in Jerusalem. Please organize music concerts to raise awareness. [Emphasis mine] You can also lobby your politicians to pressure Israel to take its hands off our music school and Yabous Cultural Center. Sending condemning letters to Israeli diplomats in your respective countries might also help. Your support at this time is crucial so that we can continue teaching the love of Beethoven and the love of our Arabic music. Demand the Israeli authorities lift their foot off our necks so that we can sing in freedom. Yours truly Suhail Khoury General Director National Conservatory of Music”

Statement by Yabous Cultural Centre and the Jerusalem Society for Music Education “the National Conservatory of Music”

“ On Wednesday 22/7/2020 at 8:40 am, a squad of Israeli police and income tax personnel raided the home of the director of the Jerusalem Society for Music Education (National Conservatory of Music), composer, Suhail Khoury and his wife Rania Elias the director of the Yabous Cultural Centre. Their children were ordered to stay put in a room while the police searched their bedroom and confiscated their passports, their documents, their computers, phone and car, after which they led Rania to the Yabous Centre and Suheil to the interrogation center in Jabal Abu Ghneim. Concurrently a squad of Israeli police and income tax personnel raided the Conservatory and Yabous premises and the home of the Daoud Al Ghoul, the ex-director of Shafaq- network of cultural organizations in Jerusalem, where they confiscated documents, files computers and CCTV equipment. Rania was then taken to the interrogation center at Abu Ghneim where she and Suhail remained under interrogation until 8:40 in the evening after which they were released on bail. Daoud Al Ghoul, was detained. The Boards of the two organizations denounce the police statement on Wednesday 22/7/2020 which falsely charges the two directors and attempts to blemish the reputation of those two outstanding cultural organizations which are overseen by reputed volunteers, executive boards and are manned by capable directors and staff members. The integrity and commitment of the directors and staff members to the mission of promoting culture and offering the public productions of high quality for decades, have earned them the confidence of the community. The Boards also denounce the confiscation of documents and computers and the manner in which the home of the Khoury’s was raided which terrorized their children. Both Cultural organizations refute completely all those charges and allegations under the pretext of an “Experiment” according to the statement of the Israeli ministry of Justice. Especially that their financial accounts are audited by the renowned international auditing firms PricewaterhouseCoopers PwC and Deloitte. Both Yabous and the National Conservatory of Music, call on all Human Rights Organizations and UNESCO as well as the European Union and Representatives of Consulates and Diplomats to support these organizations in Jerusalem and to hold to account the occupying forces for their daily violations of the rights of the Palestinians and their organizations and to stop all attacks on scholars , artists and musicians and those involved in the cultural life. The Yabous Cultural Centre is considered the main and the largest in the city that holds cultural events and artistic activies including music, dance, theatre, poetry and literature as well as cinema, and serves various age groups and mainly youth. As for the National Conservatory of Music is a prominent music school that teaches classical music to children and organize concerts around the year. The school manages choirs, music ensembles and orchestras. End of statement 28th July 2020. بيان صادر عن مركز يبوس الثقاف”

Postscript/Edward Said:

The Palestinian National Conservatory of Music in Jerusalem is one of five music  centers established in Palestine to honor the late Edward Said. Said was a talented musician and music critic; he helped raise funds for the five music center. When he was not teaching or writing at Columbia University, Said was perhaps the most eloquent spokesman for Palestinians, their tragedy, and diaspora. In the pantheon of learned circles of the late 20th century, Said was considered to be a giant among giants. Said was the NYT’s whipping boy, a terrorist posing as a Columbia U. scholar. Like-minded news outlets and apologists for Israel took their cues from the Mother of All Hasbaras. My hunch is that this dastardly act of aggression is as much an assault on Edward Said’s legacy as it is on the heroic Rania, Suhail, and Daoud Al Ghoul. Edward Said, the celebrated scholar, professor, prolific author, critic, and musician is an international icon, par excellence, of Palestinian intellectual prowess. Israel’s continued cowardly assaults to smear and asphyxiate Palestinian cultural expressions is merely an implementation of the rabidly Zionist stratagem for a Palestinian Final Solution.

If this is not 1939 Nazi Germany Gestapo tactic, then what is it? Where is the outcry and condemnation from the so-called free world?

Special Plea To My Jewish Cousins:

The recent Peter Beinart “awakening” to Zionist/Israeli Jewish and racist hasbara should be a wake-up call to all fair minded Jews around the world. The rich Talmudic admonishments to live justly, to defend and speak out on behalf of the weak and oppressed, to treat strangers kindly and humanely, and to promote  peace are standards that have been trampled and abused by most of your co-religionists in Israel as well as Israel’s apologists, the NYT, AIPAC, and Defamation League.

I urge you to shout, loudly and clearly, your indignation at these cowardly actions. As well, I want to extend my deep gratitude to the many Jewish Voices of Conscience in Israel and around the world. No one but you has the will and power to bring about justice and peace to a region plagued with hatred.

Special Plea to Non-Jewish Readers:

1) Forward this column to as many people as you can, especially musicians, teachers, church choir directors, etc. 2) Write or email the Israeli Embassy to express your outrage: Embassy of Israel,  3514 International Drive, NW Washington, D.C. 20008, United States, TELEPHONE +1 202-364-5500.   3) Write a letter to the editor. 4) Even though 95% of Congress-people have prostituted their souls and principles to campaign donations, it wouldn’t hurt to prick their consciences (what little they possess). 5) Should you have the time do so, I urge you to write the directors of these cultural centers as well as to send donations so that, in the words Samia Khouri  “Israeli authorities  lift their foot off our necks so we can sing in freedom … and continue teaching the love of Beethoven and the love of Arabic music.” For those wishing to do so, tax deductible contributions to the conservatory can be made in the US through the Washington, DC-based ANERA (American Near East Refugee Aid) or through the UPA (the United Palestinian Appeal): ANERA@anera.org: 1111  14th St. NW, Suite 400,  Washington, DC 20005         202.266.9700

Some 2000 years ago a Palestinian Jew admonished his followers to follow the example of the Good Samaritan. He also told them: “Blessed are the peacemakers.” To the Christians, and especially Evangelicals, reread the Beatitudes and see how far off the mark you’ve travelled.


Raouf J. Halaby is a Professor Emeritus of English and Art. He is a writer, photographer, sculptor, an avid gardener, and a peace activist. halabys7181@outlook.com