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A Conversation with David Broza, Israel's Troubadour for Peace

A Conversation with David Broza, Israel's Troubadour for Peace

Israeli singer/songwriter David Broza has elicited comparisons to Bruce Springsteen and called “the Stevie Ray Vaughan of folk rock.”

 In 2013, he embarked on an ambitious project, convincing Israeli and Palestinian musicians to spend eight days together in East Jerusalem to record the album East Jerusalem/West Jerusalem (S-Curve Records). The making of the album is the subject of an inspiring documentary film by the same name, available on Netflix.

Known worldwide for his commitment to humanitarian causes, Broza served as goodwill ambassador for UNICEF, and his song “Together” (co-written with Ramsey McLean) was the theme song of the organization’s 50th anniversary celebration. I caught up with Broza in New York, during a break from his latest world tour. Your grandfather, Wellesley Aron, was a founder of Neve Shalom, an Israeli village where Jews and Muslims live together and run a school for peace. His quest to teach peace, he said, began with a question you asked him when you were a young boy: “Why are there only war colleges and not peace colleges?” How did your grandfather influence your life and work?

David Broza: My grandfather seeded within me the idea of always looking for solutions in life, rather than submitting to the misery of helplessness. He taught me to connect with those I have least in common with, rather than run from those who are “other.”

You lived with your family in Spain from the ages of 12-16. How did that experience shape your thinking?

While living under the Franco dictatorship, I connected with young people who dared to resist the regime. That’s when I came to believe that it is the people who bring about change, not governments.

What sparked your peace activism in Israel, and what role did music play?

When Egyptian President Anwar Sadat arrived in Israel in 1977, there was a need to build grassroots support for the peace process. I was 22 and had just written my first song, Yihieh Tov (“It Will Be Good”) with the poet Yonatan Geffen. That song, which ends, “One hundred years of war, but we have not lost hope,” helped the emerging Peace Now movement bring home its message. It also led to my recording contract with CBS Records and edged me into a career in music instead of my original interest in painting.                                                                         

Why did you feel so strongly about recording East Jerusalem/West Jerusalem in East Jerusalem and not in Tel Aviv?

The Palestinian musicians would never have come to Tel Aviv; they wouldn’t have felt comfortable there. It took months of convincing to bring my musicians to East Jerusalem; to them being in East Jerusalem was like being in a Palestinian territory. But once they got there, some with their wives and children, they saw how hospitable Palestinians are, and they became part of the community we created around the studio.

Each night after the recording sessions, Israeli and Palestinian chefs treated the 40 musicians and film crew, plus 60 guests – some from Nablus and Ramallah – to a banquet. My intention was to create a relaxed environment among the artists so that whatever was being put on tape was natural, not forced – and the experience was absolutely heaven.

The film is punctuated with images of the separation wall dividing Israel and the neighboring Palestinian territory. In one early scene, a young Palestinian man spray paints it with the words “Jerusalem is stronger than the wall.” How do you interpret that graffiti message?

I could have written that, too. It reflects everybody’s idea of Jerusalem. I think the wall is temporary; walls go up, and they come down. I believe the wall will come down eventually, though perhaps not in my lifetime. We need to be patient. Peace is about evolution, time, perseverance. It’s about understanding and empathy.

When so-called “enemies” sit together in a room and embrace each other in conversation, they break down the wall of distrust.  It is what’s in our hearts and minds that ultimately will determine whether or not there is a wall.

The refrain of East Jerusalem/West Jerusalem – “So many places share the same faces, East Jerusalem/West Jerusalem, Shalom, Salaam” sends a simple message, yet it is surprisingly effective.

I know it sounds naïve, innocent, but these words reflect my ideal, my motive. My hope is that what inspires me will inspire others who yearn for the sweetness of peace.

David Broza will be performing at Town Hall in NYC on January 7, 2017.

Aron Hirt-Manheimer is the Union for Reform Judaism's editor-at-large.
Photo credit: Rose Eichenbaum

Aron Hirt-Manheimer
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