Israel Needs to Promote Harmony in Pianos and Politics
Statement from Paul Larudee
For more than 40 years, I have visited the geographic region of the Middle East known as Palestine, part of which became Israel in 1948, and the remainder coming under Israeli military occupation in 1967.
I confess that I am in love with the place and have dear friends both Israeli and Palestinian, numbering possibly in the hundreds. During my last visit in 2004 I stayed with a friend who worked at the Ramallah Cultural Palace, an events center built with Japanese funding.
Being a piano technician by trade for the last 15 years, I was asked to help find a concert instrument for the center, an assignment that revealed the absence of any piano technician among the millions of Palestinians living in the West Bank.
My visit, however, was not about pianos. I am also a very active volunteer with the International Solidarity Movement a Palestinian led group dedicated to non-violent resistance against the Israeli occupation, the confiscation of Palestinian land, the replacement of indigenous Palestinian populations with Jewish immigrants, and other violations of Palestinian rights.
For its efforts the ISM has been vilified by its detractors as a protector and supporter of terrorism, and ISM volunteers have been denied entry, arrested, expelled, beaten, shot, and, (in the cases of American Rachel Corrie and Briton Tom Hurndell,) even killed by Israeli soldiers. What happens to us, however, pales by comparison with the thousands of mostly unarmed Palestinians killed and tens of thousands disabled and imprisoned.
Despite the accusations however, no charges have ever been brought against the ISM and we are not an outlawed group under Israeli law. Although we engage in civil disobedience, our violations of Israeli law do not go beyond that and we consider ourselves proud successors to the Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, Cesar Chavez and other human rights champions who were also vilified in their own time, however much we revere them today. We have been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for the Nobel Prize multiple times in our five-year existence.
Several months ago I decided my next visit should combine my love of pianos, Palestinians and Israelis, as well as participation in the ISM. This would mean establishing a branch of my piano business in the west bank and spending up to three months there each year. After months of planning and long days of sorting tools and supplies I prepared to make this dream come true.
Sadly, the Israeli immigration authorities chose to turn me away this time for reasons that have not yet been revealed to me. As I write from a detention facility near the airport, my lawyer is appealing the decision in Israeli court. At best, I can possibly hope for a resolution that restricts my activities to piano work. At worst, I may join millions of Palestinians living in exile who may never again see the land they love. This would be a missed minor opportunity among many major ones for Israel to show compassion and promote constructive solutions and Israel needs to be generous and to take risks if it ever hopes to achieve peace and reconciliation.
In this small instance at least some Palestinian pianos will know harmony after a long period of discord. Israel should also welcome non-violent resistance groups even if it disagrees with them and suffers inconvenience as a result of their efforts. It is part of being a free and tolerant society and it promotes alternatives to armed struggle.
More important, Israel should try releasing Palestinian funds, restoring Palestinian land and property rights, welcoming Palestinian exiles to return, releasing Palestinian political prisoners, and correcting a host of other violations of Palestinian rights. Palestinians will view any of these as an act of good will, so that Palestinian and Israeli people, and not merely their pianos, may also know harmony after a long history of discord. Dr. Paul Larudee is a former Fulbright-Hayes lecturer in Lebanon, and contracted as US advisor to Saudi Arabia who was among seven unarmed ISM volunteers wounded by Israeli military gunfire during a nonviolent protest in the West Bank on April 1, 2002. He lives in El Cerrito, California.