Music, peace and a flicker of hope in Israel

Battle of the bands: Does music have the power to soar over politics and conflict? © Getty

Can Eurovision help solve the Israel-Palestine conflict? An absurd suggestion, perhaps. But, this weekend, all eyes are on Tel Aviv as it hosts the world’s biggest, glitziest talent contest.

Another year, another line-up of kitsch pop songs and bizarre folk music: Eurovision is back.

Tomorrow, in Tel Aviv, Australia’s Kate Miller-Heidke will soar through the stars with the operatic pop song, Zero Gravity. The French LGBTQ YouTuber Bilal Hassani will sing an anthem about self-acceptance. Norway’s band KEiiNO will introduce 200 million viewers to the traditional singing style of the Sami people, known as “joik”.

But one band will undoubtedly stand out above the rest: Iceland’s Hatari, an anti-capitalist, BDSM, techno-pop group. The band will perform their song Hatrið mun sigra (or Hatred Will Prevail) in leather and fetish gear.

Eurovision explicitly bans any political songs. But the band argues, “You can’t go to Tel Aviv and perform on that stage without breaking the rules of Eurovision.”

Indeed, the location of this year’s contest has been causing controversy since the moment last year’s winner, Netta, raised the glittery trophy. Why?

To answer that question, we must go back 100 years to the end of the World War One, when Britain took control of Palestine. The area had an Arab majority and Jewish minority.

The Jewish population grew, with many fleeing persecution in Europe. In 1947, after the horrors of the Holocaust, the UN declared that the area should be split into two separate states: one for Jews, and one for Arabs. The Arab side did not agree to the plan.

In 1948, the British Left and Jewish leaders declared Israel an independent Jewish state — triggering a war with Palestinians.

Several wars have followed in the decades since. Today, Palestinians live in Gaza, the West Bank and Eastern Jerusalem. Their movements are heavily restricted and violence regularly flares up. Only this month, 23 people in Gaza and four in Israel were killed in a three-day battle.

Palestinians say they are being held hostage by Israeli occupiers. Israel says it has a right to defend itself from the militant group Hamas.

The conflict colours every part of life in the region — and few have confidence that a peace deal will be agreed any time soon.

Dare to dream?

So where does Eurovision fit into this? Israel is hoping to change international opinion, presenting itself as a tourist destination by highlighting its cosmopolitan cities and beautiful beaches. Eurovision was created to help bring peace to Europe through music. Perhaps it could do the same in Israel?

Probably not, say experts. The conflict has spanned generations, and its roots are even older: both sides claim an ancestral right to the ancient capital city of Jerusalem. Finding a peaceful solution has eluded the world for decades — it will take more than some sequins to get us there.

You Decide

  1. Should we take Eurovision seriously?
  2. Some have called for a boycott of the competition in support of Palestinians. What do you think of this idea?

Activities

  1. Eurovision’s theme this year is “Dare to dream”. In groups, write your own song inspired by those words.
  2. In bullet points, list at least four things that you understand about the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Some People Say...

“In the Middle East, it is clear that peace will never be reached without solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

Ahmed Zewail

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Eurovision has caused controversy from all sides in Israel and Palestine. Some Jews have complained that it is taking place on a Saturday (the Sabbath). It is also being held in the same week as the anniversary of “the Catastrophe”, when 700,000 Palestinians fled or were forced from their homes after Israel declared independence. Palestinians also accuse Israel of using Eurovision to “whitewash” their image.
What do we not know?
Whether there will be any protests at the event itself. Hatari — the band most likely to stage a protest during their performance — have said they will not do so. However, an audience member may decide to make a statement in front of the show’s millions of viewers. (Last year, a protester came on stage during the UK’s performance.)

Word Watch

Kitsch
Art, performance or objects considered tacky or tasteless, that are sometimes appreciated in a knowing or ironic way.
Eurovision
The contest was first held in 1956, a year before the European Economic Community was created. The latter eventually became the EU, and both were conceived as a way to bring peace to Europe. It was thought that an annual song contest would encourage a healthy outlet for nationalism.
200 million viewers
Last year, the grand finale attracted 186 million viewers. Could the controversy affect this year’s ratings?
Sami people
An indigenous people (once known as Laplanders) who live in Northern Europe, including Sweden, Norway, Finland and parts of Russia.
Netta
While holding the trophy, Netta Barzilai spontaneously declared that this year’s contest would be held in Jerusalem (a sensitive subject, as not all countries recognise the city as Israel’s capital).
Holocaust
The murder of six million Jewish people in Europe by Nazi Germany.
Hamas
A Palestinian political and militant organisation. Many countries, including Israel, the US and Britain, class it as a terrorist group.
Jerusalem
An ancient city that is considered holy to Jews, Christians and Muslims alike.

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