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Harfoush’s concert at the European Commission brings peace amidst dark Christmas

Harfoush’s concert at the European Commission brings peace amidst dark Christmas

“Tis the season to be merry,” but not in the Land of Israel, which is plagued by war and bloodshed. However, Harfoush’s concert at the European Commission brings peace amidst a dark Christmas in the Middle East.     

As Americans prepare to celebrate Christmas, they aspire to live in a world enjoying peace and harmony. “Tis the season to be merry,” people say. But sadly, for the peoples in the Middle East, peace and harmony is a distant dream, far away from the reality that they experience, as far too many peoples homes have been reduced to rubble in that part of the world, forcing the local inhabitants to flee for their lives. In fact, here in the Holy Land, we are not merry. We are very depressed and feel that this is a dark holiday.    

Israel has been at war since the October 7 massacre, which slaughtered over 1,600. On that horrific day, Hamas raped women en masse, mutilated babies, and committed crimes against humanity at the Rave Music Festival and other nearby kibbutzim, which many refer to as Israel’s September 11. In a recent display by the Israeli mission to the United Nations, the New York Times reported that Yael Richert, a chief superintendent with the Israel Police, noted: Everything was an apocalypse of corpses. Girls without any clothes on. Without tops. Without underwear. People cut in half. Butchered. Some were beheaded. There were girls with a broken pelvis due to repetitive rapes. Their legs were spread wide apart, in a split.” Another survivor of the Rave Massacre noted that a Hamas terrorist cut off a woman’s breast, threw it on the road and played with it. 

They also took over 260 Israelis hostages, including women, children and the elderly. Many of the hostages are now celebrating the holidays in total darkness in Gaza. Indeed, Newsweek compared what Hamas did on October 7 to ISIS, declaring that there was footage of “women abducted with their babies, grandmothers taken hostage and paraded down the streets of Gaza. There’s a video of a teenage Israeli woman being pulled by terrorists from the back of a vehicle in Gaza. In the video, she is barefoot, wearing sweatpants and a tee-shirt, and as she turns, you can see the back of her sweatpants are covered in blood that came from between her legs.”

We now know the name of the victim is Naama Levy, she is 19 years old and is still being held hostage in Gaza to date. Her mother recently published a plea for her release in the Times of Israel: “You have seen the video of my daughter Naama Levy.  Everyone has. You have seen her dragged by her long brown hair from the back of a jeep at gunpoint, somewhere in Gaza, her gray sweatpants covered in blood. You may have perhaps noticed that her ankles are cut, that’s she’s barefoot and limping.  She is seriously injured. She is frightened. And I, her mother, am helpless in these moments of horror.” She was only one of many victims.  

The few hostages that have been released are completely traumatized. As one of the doctors who examined released hostages told CBS, “There is not a single person who came back that didn’t have a significant physical injury or medical problem. On top of that, some of them were getting medication to look better than they actually were. We definitely saw signs of being handcuffed. We did hear and see evidence of sexual abuse in a significant part of the people we have treated. We also heard evidence and that was one of the hardest parts of abuse against those who are still there, both physical and sexual.”

Since the October 7 massacre, the people in the entire region have been suffering from a war that feels as if it has no end in sight. All of Israel, from Eilat in the South to Rosh Ha-Nikra in the North, is under rocket fire. For a great period of the last semester, most children had zoom classes and were not in school. Although school has now resumed, many services that existed for children before the war do not exist now. The situation is so bad here that only foreign journalists, diplomats, politicians, olim and Israelis are flying to the Jewish state these days for the most part. As a result of the security situation, most foreign airlines refuse to fly into Ben-Gurion Airport. 

Similarly, a great part of Gaza has been reduced to rubble and people are literally starving there, as 1.9 million Gazans have been displaced from their homes because of the war and Hamas is stealing the limited humanitarian aid that is let through.  As the country becomes colder, many people in Gaza are forced to live in tents instead of proper homes, as their homes were destroyed in the war and Hamas unlike Israel does not provide their refugees with hotel rooms. 

I have a good friend who was forced to flee her home because of intensive rocket fire from Lebanon. Her beautiful home with a swimming pool was literally transformed overnight into a war zone, unsafe for her, her husband and their four small children to live in. The Israeli government offered her a hotel room in Tiberius, but she chose to flee to Switzerland instead, for she feared this war had no end in sight. I got another friend whose cousin was murdered on October 7. All day long, she is crying over her loss, her beloved relative who went to work and did not come home, leaving behind a widow in her twenties and small children. All of the people here around the holiday season feel the lack of peace and security.

Imagine what it is like to celebrate Christmas without a Christmas tree. This year in Bethlehem, there are no Christmas trees put up in public displays, according to a Palestinian source that I know. Imagine what it is like to celebrate Christmas without the children going out to see the play “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens. This year in Netanya, the city where I live, the municipality canceled all of the Hanukkah plays because of the war. 

Unfortunately, people who live in Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and other parts of the Middle East are also suffering around Christmas this year. In Syria alone, the Civil War that began in 2011 has resulted in over 400,000 deaths and millions of others have been displaced from their homes, and do not know if they will ever be able to return. The situation in the Cedar state is also not good. Lebanon has lost tens of thousands of lives over the years as well. The people of Yemen are literally starving to death, as the civil war there devastated that country. Literally, anywhere where Iran’s proxies took over, from Gaza to Syria and Lebanon to Yemen, the people are suffering gravely.

It is in this spirit that the European Commission in Brussels decided to host a concert titled “Save a Life, You Save Humanity.” Omar Harfouch, who is the Honorary President of the Organization for Dialogue and Diversity, a pianist and composer, who has been active in peace-building efforts in the Middle East, decided to perform this song in the European Commission in order to highlight the value of preserving human life in a region dominated by war, heartache and sorrow. The song “Save a Life, You Save Humanity” was inspired by the Quran and the Talmud, who both have a phrase declaring “you save a life, you save the world entire.” 

The concert took place in the main hall of the European Commission, during a musical evening organized on the eve of the European summit which brings together all European leaders, including French President Emmanuel Macron, to make crucial decisions concerning the future of Ukraine and the situation in the Middle East. During his performance, Omar Harfouch read Surah Al-Ma’idah 32: “The Almighty says: and he who saves a life, it is as if he had saved all humanity”, in front of European officials and decision-makers, all under the sponsorship of European Commissioner Oliviér Várhelyi. 

During the reading of this surah, the audience had a surprised face as they heard the Holy Quran, which for the first time was read inside the European Commission building. Very involved in his fight for peace, Omar Harfouch asked political leaders to promise him one thing: that they would each save a life after hearing his music, composed for the occasion. The composer’s new musical work was composed of two parts symbolizing the divisions of today’s world: the first, which tells of a full and happy life, filled with love and tolerance. The second, which describes a life of sadness, destruction, fear, loss of security and hope. And which poses a crucial question: which world do we want to live in: the first or the second?

From the end of the first part, played on the piano with the orchestra, the audience warmly applauded the musicians. At the end of the second part, the audience was on its feet, some people in the audience unable to contain a few tears. The success was such that Omar Harfouch and his orchestra were immediately asked by the ambassadors present in the room to play this composition in all European cities.

Note that during this concert, Omar Harfouch was accompanied by his official violinist, the Ukrainian Anna Bondarenko, and an orchestra of fifteen musicians from different nationalities: French, Belgian, Syrian, Ukrainian and Macedonian.  It was also the first time that a classical music concert took place in an official building of the European Commission in Brussels.  His song calling for tolerance was so moving that here in the Holy Land, I dream of the day when he can also come here to perform his song in a call for peace and harmony, so that this dark Christmas can be transformed into a beautiful bright one, where peoples around the world live in peace and prosperity with each other. 



Rachel Avraham

Rachel Avraham is the CEO of the Dona Gracia Center for Diplomacy and the editor of the Economic Peace Center, which was established by Ayoob Kara, who served as Israel's Communication, Cyber and Satellite Minister. For close to a decade, she has been an Israel-based journalist, specializing in radical Islam, abuses of human rights and minority rights, counter-terrorism, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Azerbaijan, Syria, Iran, and other issues of importance. Avraham is the author of “Women and Jihad: Debating Palestinian Female Suicide Bombings in the American, Israeli and Arab Media," a ground-breaking book endorsed by Former Israel Consul General Yitzchak Ben Gad and Israeli Communications Minister Ayoob Kara that discusses how the media exploits the life stories of Palestinian female terrorists in order to justify wanton acts of violence. Avraham has an MA in Middle Eastern Studies from Ben-Gurion University. She received her BA in Government and Politics with minors in Jewish Studies and Middle Eastern Studies from the University of Maryland at College Park.