Thirty-six years after Ma’a lot

In the month of May many people celebrate Israeli Independence and grieve al Nakba; they lament ongoing violence and fear the next strike.

By Anisa Mehdi (Common Ground)

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Published: Mon 24 May 2010, 9:31 PM

Last updated: Thu 2 Apr 2015, 10:27 AM

In this sense, times have not changed much since the sad spring of 1974 when the 26th anniversary of the founding of Israel was bloodied by attacks on the towns of Kiryat Shmona and Maalot in the north.

I was 17 at the time and had finally been made principal flute in the New York City All City High School Orchestra. As daughter of the city’s best-known Arab, Dr. Mohammad T. Mehdi, champion of Palestinians, I struggled through a lot of prejudice to prove my talent. A ‘blind audition’ secured me the chance to solo in Claude Debussy’s L’aprs-midi d’un faune.’ Every flute player longs for that opportunity. My chance was the night of 16 May 1974. The attacks happened the day before the concert. Israeli teenagers, like us, were taken hostage by the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine. They were killed as Israeli troops came to rescue them.

My teachers, fellow musicians and the conductor already knew my father’s politics. Everyone recognised his voice from myriad television and radio news programs. Back in the day when Arab was the prefix for ‘terrorist’, reporters knew that Dr. Mehdi would provide context to acts of violence. He reminded audiences that Palestinians, an exiled people, still longed for their homeland and that some would resort to fighting to get it back. He did not condone their violent methods: hostage taking and airline hijackings. But, he urged the American people that once the Palestinians demand for a homeland was righted the Israelis would be able to live in peace. Today most people acknowledge that until there is resolution for the Palestinians, the conflict will continue. My father’s message in the 1960s and 1970s was way ahead of its time. Decades ago he was called anti-Semitic and extreme but by the time he died so suddenly in my arms on a cold February day in 1998, he was heralded by many as a moderate who also appreciated the quandary faced by Israeli Jews.

‘The Afternoon of a Faun’ was programmed just after intermission. Nearly 100 musicians sat behind the drawn curtain at Avery Fisher Hall and listened as a representative of the Board of Education came on stage. “Everyone knows about the tragedy that happened yesterday in Israel. I ask all of you to please stand for a moment of silence, out of respect for the 21 children who lost their lives at the hands of Arab terrorists.”

The room rumbled into a thousand people starting to stand as a shout rang out, filling the hall.

‘Golda did it!’

My father meant that he believed the children wouldn’t have died if Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir had not ordered troops onto the scene opening fire. He meant she should have pursued negotiations with the hostage-takers. His spontaneous statement didn’t encompass all the nuances he meant. I, for one, didn’t know exactly what he’d said; I only knew it was his voice and so did everyone on the stage around me. Instantly my heart boomed so loudly I thought it would echo in the timpani. I grabbed for air, scratched for breath. I took my flute and made my way off the stage, desperate for composure. Gabriel Kosakoff, our conductor and a man who abhorred my father’s politics, came to my side.

‘Are you OK?’

‘Give me a minute.’

Out front people were confused. My choir director was crimson. Mom was stoic and my sisters were mortified. The audience settled down. I returned to my chair. Maestro resumed his podium and looked at me: when you’re ready.

I mustered everything I had. I played for my friends who believed in me, for my brave family, for the father I adored and hated right then, for everyone who wanted me to fail, and for those poor, innocent kids who were killed and the people killed in retribution.

Thirty-six years later, as Israel celebrates its 62nd birthday, and Palestinians mark the Nakba or Catastrophe, 1948 continues to count its victims in lives and livelihoods every day. Until we see a just solution, unless voices like my father’s and my own unite together with Jewish voices demanding peace, more Maalots and Gazas are in store. I play my flute and take up my pen, hoping the call of the faun may one day trump its hunters.

Anisa Mehdi is a Fulbright Scholar in Jordan, a journalist and a filmmaker

Distributed by the Common Ground News Service

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