Using the Arts for Peace in the Middle East

Headphone MarketingA new Washington, D.C.- based initiative, Peacebuilding Connections,  channels positive energy and  resources toward opening dialogue  between Israelis and Palestinians via the arts.  The group advocates through cross-cultural interactions that peace can be obtained between  people in all regions of the world.

On Sunday, November 10, an eclectic group of musicians will present “Amplified Voices,” a concert at Georgetown University, offering common artistic ground between Israelis and Palestinians.  Believing that “music is indeed the universal language,” artists across a wide musical spectrum will perform.

The group of performers include the legendary Peter Yarrow, one of the singers of the folk group Peter, Paul and Mary, who still offers his voice and time to causes of peace. Three groups of young performers will also be on hand, including  Heartbeat,  Jerusalem Youth Chorus, and the Jaffa Voices of Peace.

Nudging, prodding, and pushing the movement is Peace Corps veteran Bob Schlehuber. Schlehuber forges his own path to change the world through collaboration and plain old shoe leather. Schlehuber, who recently graduated from American University in Washington, D.C. with a Master’s degree in peace studies,  supports a two-state solution in the Middle East.  He volunteers with other  advocacy groups including the Middle East Peace Working Group to open dialogue in the United States about peace options:

“This conflict started long before me,” says Schlehuber. “The people of Gaza and the occupied territories have no sovereign rights, no security or army, no free movement in and out of their area.”

Though not a person of faith, Schlehuber is grounded by the principles of the Bible.  Schlehuber uses the universal forum of the arts to join those who generally have beliefs  at odds with one another.  By using politics and culture, Schlehuber believes people’s minds will open to the shared humanity beyond art.

Musical legend Yarrow has given a voice to the movement by appearing at events as well as allowing the group to use his iconic “Weave Me A Dream” in videos.

Schlehuber first met Yarrow during his Peace Corps service in the Ukraine. The young man learned how Yarrow used folk music to involve children in conversation about bullying.  Through the U.S. Embassy, Schlehuber received a grant to bring Yarrow to the Ukraine, and start  an anti-bullying program in schools.  This initial exposure  got Schlehuber pondering if  mixing the arts and  cultures could bring about broader social change.

Transformed by the experience, Schlehuber believes the power of music brings people together through shared experiences:

“When you don’t know ‘the other’ and you are forced to come into contact with someone who is foreign to you, it can be very scary.  Often we turn fearful or even violent.”

Schlehuber is determined  to foster change, one song at a time. His group, Peace Building Connections, is traveling the country to gain signatures to a “Declaration of Interdependence.”  Schlehuber and filmmaker Jesse Medalia Strauss recently filmed Sunday afternoon Mall walkers signing the petition in Washington D.C.

Schlehuber hopes individuals of all faith and political traditions will attend the November 10th concert. An  array of groups will be available after the concert, groups that focus on helping citizens of the Middle East, including WRAP, a group that advances water resources in the Middle East:

“By bringing a diverse crowd together to enjoy music, we can gather cross culturally,” Schlehuber says. “Americans have a great responsibility to do everything we can to make sure others have access to education, water, and those basics we want and have for ourselves.”

Other performers of note  at the November concert include:

  • Virtuoso Farah Siraj, who has performed at the United Nations, Nobel Prize Hall, and the World Economic Forum.
  • Originally from Afghanistan, Humayun Khan and his family fled to the U.S. after the Soviet invasion in 1980.  Khan performs Indian classical music, and is noted for his integration of the sitar style into the voice.
  • Bethany & Rufus, an American cello and voice duo, use their unique harmonies to explore all kinds of American music, from rock to folk.
  • Raised in Israel, Spain and England, Israeli musical superstar David Broza, fuses guitar, percussion and vocals for a rock sound.

Amy McVay Abbott is an independent journalist from the Midwest, who focuses on health and rehabilitation issues.  She is also the author of two books, both available on Amazon.com, A Piece of Her Mind (2013) and The Luxury of Daydreams (2011).  These books are collections from her popular newspaper column, The Raven Lunatic.  Follow her on Twitter @ravenonhealth or visit her website at amyabbottwrites.

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