Jewish-Arab duo fights prejudice to sing for peace

March 21st, 2009 - 11:21 am ICT by IANS  

By Sara Lemel
Tel Aviv, March 21 (DPA) It could all be so easy in the Middle East. That, in short, is the message by songstresses Noa and Mira Awad, Israel’s entry for the annual Eurovision Song Contest in May.

“What is possible between two people must be possible between two peoples,” remarked Noa Tuesday in Tel Aviv. A descendant of Yemenite Jews, she has been collaborating artistically for eight years with Awad, a Christian Arab who has become a close friend. “We want complete peace between Israelis and Palestinians,” Noa said.

Noa’s looks - she is a lively woman and much darker than Awad - come closer to the stereotyped image of an Oriental than those of her 33-year-old partner in song, who has a Bulgarian mother and Palestinian father.

“My condition for taking part in Eurovision was that Mira come with me,” said Noa, an internationally known singer for years. Though to Western ears the two’s message of peace sounds only logical, and nearly trite, it causes them problems in their homeland. “Both of us have paid a price for our views,” said Noa, born in Tel Aviv in 1969. Her given name is Achinoam Nini.

Awad said there were even Internet hate forums directed at them - in both Hebrew and Arabic. The pretty singer, dressed in bright red for the duo’s interview, is accused of being a fig leaf for the occupying power Israel. “My brother is worried about me,” she said, and shrugged.

Awad added, however, that not for a second did she regret her decision to perform together with Noa, saying she wanted to be the master of her own fate and “not hunker down”.

As an Israeli Jew, Noa has to contend with reservations by right-wing countrymen. “The absurdest criticism was that Israel is sending two Arabs to Eurovision,” she said, with a dismissive smile, alluding to her Yemenite ancestry. But support from Israelis and Arab fans “gives us strength”.

Both women are very excited about the Eurovision final, which takes place this year May 16 in Moscow. “We still don’t have anything to wear!” they said in chorus.

Their song, titled “There Must Be Another Way”, was chosen as Israel’s entry last month. It tells of all the pain in the region and the longing for peace. The lyrics are in English, Hebrew and Arabic, and the women are accompanied by jazz guitarist Gil Dor.

“So far, we’ve gone a long way, a very difficult way, hand in hand. And the tears fall, pour in vain. A pain with no name. We wait only for the next day to come. There must be another way,” the song goes. “Your eyes say all fear will disappear. And when I cry, I cry for both of us.”

“We want to be an alternative voice from the region,” declared Awad, who is also a successful actress in Israel. “We know that the reality is bad and aren’t naive.”

Though optimists, they said they sometimes lost hope amid the recurring bloodshed. “And we quarrel often, naturally. We’re only human,” conceded Noa, and both laughed. “We don’t have all the answers either.”

Noa said that in times of crisis each of them reflexively identified with her own national camp at first. “But we talk again afterwards and always come to the same conclusion: Violence is not the right way.”

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