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Musicians Without Borders has been working in Palestine since 2021. Our Bara’em Ghirass program provides urgently needed life-affirming opportunities for young Palestinians and their carers, by providing psycho-therapeutic support through creativity, play, and community. Since the war in Gaza escalated late last year, our team in the West Bank have continued to work whenever they can, in whatever capacity they can, and continued to provide support to young Palestinians.

This blog, written by our director Laura Hassler, reflects on the conflict in Palestine.

“Miss, when will the war end?”

A 9-year-old girl, who loves to play the oud, asks the conductor of Musicians Without Borders’ children’s orchestra in Bethlehem, Palestine, halfway through their weekly rehearsal. 

We are bombarded (I use this word intentionally) with news from Gaza, of unbearable levels of destruction, heartbreaking photos of dead children, women and men, shocking images of the total decimation of civilian infrastructure – from hospitals to homes to offices to universities to… everything. No 21st-century war has produced such levels of destruction of civilian life. 

But it is this simple question of a trusting 9-year-old that perhaps best makes the reality of this horror personal and relatable.

Although I don’t feel ‘old’, the years tell another story. I grew up post WWII, a child of peace activists, knowing about Dresden, Hiroshima, the Holocaust– and the need to resist war, stand in solidarity with the oppressed, work for peace. I came of age during the US war in Vietnam, and at least 7 years of my young life were focused on opposing this war, as a student activist, community organizer, and musician. There were so many of us: we marched and demonstrated and performed protest songs, refused and got arrested, draft-counselled, petitioned, held teach-ins, built coalitions, took risks, went to prison—some even risked, and gave, their lives. Later, I joined Thich Nhat Hanh and the gentle, persistent Vietnamese Buddhist movement, that worked tirelessly for an end to the bloodshed, and for caring for the victims.

And yet, it might have been that one photograph of a young girl, hit and burned by US napalm, running naked, clearly in terror and agony, that shifted world public opinion, perhaps more than all our efforts. Compassion sparked by empathy with a single child, suffering from what war does to children, suffering the results of adult depravity. 

“Miss, when will the war end?” 

I have seen many places where war has done its dirty work, and have met so many brave and beautiful people struggling to survive its devastation and to use war’s horrible lessons to create other, better ways of living together. 

Today, with daily social media witness to the ongoing genocide in Gaza— the evil follies of imperialism, colonialism and arrogant military power–  I am thrown back to those early years, and the feelings of total helplessness to stop the horror—and at the same time, the moral imperative to try to do so, against all odds.

For more than 15 years, Musicians Without Borders has brought music to marginalized Palestinian children in programs that offer connection, creativity, and community. A chance to discover your talent in a safe place, even if only for a few hours each week, a chance to be part of something larger, to make something beautiful, to add to the sound of a whole orchestra, making your family and community proud.

This is life-changing for these children, who get to play an instrument, sing in a choir, perform in an orchestra, feel proud of themselves, their friends and their culture. And then, halfway through the rehearsal, 

“Miss, when will the war end?” 

Through all these years, I have learned that, in the most horrific of times, we still have agency. We can still do something. Musicians Without Borders is still engaging children, youth and adults in life-changing programs around the world, training young leaders, partnering with local activists, building our global musicians’ network, creating alternatives to a culture of war through the power of music. 

Sharing music empowers, strengthens empathy, helps to shift consciousness so that people can see that one child, hear her simple question, understand the broader meaning, and act.

“Miss, when will the war end?” 

Her quiet voice asks this of us all.

Laura Hassler

February 2024

*All images were taken in 2021

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