That a heavy metal band and a belly dancer perform together is unusual enough. When the band is Israeli and the dancer Lebanese, the performance raises quite a few eyebrows. But when the performers choose to brandish their respective countries' flags side by side on stage, you have all the ingredients for a potentially volatile mix.
On Sunday, June 19, Israeli heavy metal band Orphaned Land performed alongside Franco-Lebanese belly dancer Johanna Fakhri at the Hellfest music festival in the western French town of Clisson. Cooperating with belly dancers has become a trademark for the band, which makes a point of using its music to bring Israelis and Arabs closer together. But this was the first time the group shared a stage with a Lebanese artist.
The gesture is far from inconsequential. Lebanon and Israel remain technically at war. The Jewish state is considered an enemy and any dealing with Israelis is considered criminal under Lebanese law. Orphaned Land lead singer Kobi Fahri told Israeli website Ynetnews that it was Fakhri who had insisted on bringing the flags onstage, despite his concerns that she would be criticized in her homeland. Unsurprisingly, online videos of the performance have sparked a wave of comments, ranging from admiration to shock and anger.
Video posted on YouTube by Churchillson.
"What Johanna Fakhry and Orphaned Land did is an example of moral courage"
Roi Ben Yehuda is a New York-based Israeli writer and blogger. He published Johanna Fakhry’s response to the dozens of angry messages she received after the performance on his blog.
I think the people angry at this joint performance fall into two camps: The first are those who reject anything positive associated with an “enemy” country or its people. To them Israel/Lebanon is the epitome of evil and one does not dance/play with evil. The second are those who reject any type of activity deemed as “normalization”; which is based on the principle that as long as Israel is an occupying power there should be no contact [between Israelis and others] that expresses a sense of sympathy, symmetry and solidarity.
I disagree with both of these camps. First of all I think that what Johanna Fakhry (and Orphaned Land) did is an example of moral courage – standing up for your values despite all the people (across the world) who would want you to sit down. They should be commended for that. Second, as someone who studies conflict resolution, I’m convinced there is no better way of positively transforming the conflict between Israel and its neighbors without first (or at least concomitantly) transforming the minds and hearts of the people. This, needless to say, is not likely to be achieved through separation. Finally, such artistic collaborations show people there is another way to respond to all the violence and suffering: a way that is at once respectful of identity yet universal.
That being said, a flag is a symbolic address. By brandishing a flag both Fakhry and Orphaned Land can be interpreted as speaking for more than themselves. Naturally, people who don’t agree with them will resent them for doing so.
I think art can influence politics in a positive direction – although it may not have instant and visible success. Non-political music, like Orphaned Land, does so by creating a space for an inclusive salient identity that circumvents the divisive discourse of the conflict. At the end of the day, if a song rocks, it rocks equally in Tel-Aviv, Beirut, or Ankara: fans in those cities will have formed some kind of ties – based on shared values – with each other."
Video posted on YouTube by ed3nrock.
"I can’t see how anything good could come from this"
Ziad Feghali is a Lebanese video game designer. He lives in Juniyah, north of Beirut.
I find this kind of initiative totally absurd. Clearly the dancer involved has no idea what it is like to live in Lebanon today [Johanna Fakhry is based in Paris]. We hear the drums of beating from Israel every day. It is pointless to fly our flags together, that only adds fuel to a constantly burning fire.
Under Lebanese law, it is illegal for a Lebanese citizen to have any form of public dealing with Israelis, because we are technically still at war. If Fakhry were a higher-profile dancer or lived in Lebanon, she would probably get into trouble with authorities. And she would certainly get into trouble with her neighbours – the vast majority of Lebanese feel angered and betrayed by her kind of behaviour.
I don’t see how anything good could come from this. There is a path for peace, but this is not a step in the right direction. Real, useful steps would be Israeli leaders around the negotiating table willing to acknowledge – and compensate for – all the lives lost, the human suffering, the damage done.”
Video posted on YouTube by nico711980.
Post written with FRANCE 24 journalist Lorena Galliot.