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BBC festival features Palestine Strings and condemnation of apartheid to jubilant applause

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palestine strings Chris Christodoulou BBC Nigel Kennedy
Nigel Kennedy on the stage of the Royal Albert Hall with members of the Palestine Strings and his Orchestra of Life.  [photo: Chris Christodoulou, BBC]

On August 8, seventeen young Palestinian musicians put Palestine on the ‘map’ of one of the world’s most prestigious international music festivals, the BBC Proms. Aged twelve to twenty-three years, they are members of the Palestinian Strings, a brainchild of the Edward Said National Conservatory of Music, Palestine’s preeminent music institution.

Their appearance at the Proms was a collaboration with the renowned violinist Nigel Kennedy and several members of his Orchestra of Life. Kennedy, well-known for his musical interests beyond the confines of standard Western practice, first learned of the Palestinian musicians from a Youtube video.

The entire concert was based around Antonio Vivaldi’s ‘Four Seasons’. The works’ programmatic character, combined with the improvisatory tradition of eighteenth century Italy, allowed Kennedy the wide artistic freedom that is his hallmark, and the combined ensemble widened this far beyond anything ever anticipated by the ‘red monk’ of Venice.

Vivaldi always the point of departure, the evening drifted into jazz ‘Seasons’ with Kennedy and his OoL, and micro-tonal Arabic “Seasons” with members of the Palestine Strings on violin, viola, and even voice. The result, as described by the reviewer for The Independent[1], was that “each movement became the framework on which free improvisations would be hung, some comic, some strange, some hauntingly beautiful.”

Mr. Kennedy is the most high-profile classical artist to date to boycott Israel because of its expropriation and ethnic cleansing of Palestine.[2] At last Thursday night’s concert he did something even more courageous: On the stage of London’s Royal Albert Hall, to a capacity audience of about five and a half thousand people, plus as many as two million listening live on BBC Radio 3, he invoked the taboo ‘A’ word—Apartheid—to describe the world where his young on-stage colleagues live. Nor did the BBC, at writing, excise the comment from its week-long online audio of the concert, and the recorded concert will be broadcast on BBC television to a viewership in the millions.[3]

Kennedy’s statement roused the audience like a boy pointing out that the Emperor is naked or that there is a colossal elephant in the room. The hall broke into jubilant applause and a few ‘prommers’ (audience members attending with inexpensive standing room tickets) unfurled Palestinian flags. That was the overwhelming impression from our seats high in the gods; but one reviewer did witness some displeasure[4]:

A petulant voice behind me asked, ‘Why do we have to bring politics into this?’, another barked ‘Right, let’s leave now’. I’m glad its owner was persuaded by his children to stay because I cannot imagine he could have remained untouched by the encore, a performance of the slow movement of Vivaldi’s A minor Double Concerto by Kennedy and 15-year-old Palestinian violinist Mostafa Saad, whose eloquence cast a spell on the hall.

‘Politics’, indeed, is ever-present in the lives of the young Palestinian musicians. They did not ask ‘to bring politics into this’, but rather it is foisted upon every aspect of their lives. As one reviewer wrote:[5]

Watching the students playing around backstage, before performing with utter professionalism before their 6,000-strong audience, it is hard to imagine the difficulties they face when rehearsing in Palestine, and impossible to disentangle the ensemble’s existence from the politics surrounding it.

amira aziza pal flags at proms 600p
Palestinian flags unfurled at the Proms [photo: Amira Aziza]

Kennedy is the protégé of the late Yehudi Menuhin, whose father, the intellectual Moshe Menuhin, was among the most articulate of early anti-Zionists. Moshe’s Decadence of Judaism in Our Time[6] is a meticulously documented exposé of Zionism, written from first-hand experience.

When in 1897 the first Zionist Congress met in Basel, the BBC Proms concert series was already in its third season. Today, as the United States fuels the ‘peace process’ to further extend Israel’s sixty-five year lease on impunity, the Palestine Strings have not only made a refreshing artistic contribution, but their very presence on this high-profile London stage has reminded Britain that they still live and die under the catastrophe it set in motion nearly a century ago.

SUAREZ palestine flags at proms palestine strings
Kennedy, Palestine Strings, and Orchestra of Life, Royal Albert Hall. [photo: T Suarez]

1. Michael Church, Prom 34 – Kennedy, Palestine Strings, Orchestra of Life, The Independent, August 9, 2013.

2. Kennedy stated this on-the-record as early as 2007. See e.g., Noam Ben Zeev, Punk rebel with a classical cause, Haaretz, July 24, 2007.

3. According to the BBC, the Proms are heard on the radio by as many as two million people, on television by as many as fifteen million.

4. Helen Wallace, Proms Diary: Nigel Kennedy and the Orchestra of Life, in, the official website of BBC Music Magazine, August 9, 2013.

5. Gemma Champ, Palestine Strings strike a political chord at London Proms, in The National, August 11, 2013

6. Yehudi Menuhin’s father, Moshe Menuhin, attended the nationalistic Hebrew Gymnasia Herzlia in Jaffa as a youth, and lived through the rise of Zionism and the establishment of the Israeli state. There are two editions of his Decadence of Judaism in Our Time: the first was in 1965, published by Exposition Press; the second, which includes a new section on the 1967 war, was published in 1969 by The Institute for Palestine Studies.

Tom Suarez

Tom Suarez is the author, most recently, of "Writings on the Wall", an annotated collection of Palestinian Oral Histories collected by the Arab Educational Institute in Bethlehem (2019)

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36 Responses

  1. MHughes976 on August 11, 2013, 12:51 pm

    I look forward to the televised version on the 23rd. Things are changing.

  2. Krauss on August 11, 2013, 12:55 pm

    This article is a bit sloppy. Where is the actual statement?
    And any video(or at the very least audio) of the reaction? Those are the two most important things and they’re left out.

  3. MRW on August 11, 2013, 1:18 pm

    You can hear it here, but you better be swift about it because it doesn’t remain available for long, if you can get it it all:

    • annie on August 11, 2013, 5:33 pm

      this is fantastic, i am listening now..around 40 minutes in…it is wonderful.

      and thank you tom, huge shout out!

      [edit: kennedy speaks of apartheid @ 1:20 in the recording, then an incredible solo..]

      • bintbiba on August 11, 2013, 6:54 pm

        annie, You can watch on Youtube a 2minute segment of the concert live when the 13 year old plays his solo. Go ‘Royal Albert Hall / Proms 34 with Nigel Kennedy.’
        Hopefully after the TV Broadcast on BBC4,on the 23rd at 7:30 pm London Time,we may be so lucky as to have the whole concert posted on Youtube.

      • MRW on August 12, 2013, 8:53 am

        That kid is great.

      • MRW on August 12, 2013, 9:04 am

        Annie’s mention starts at 1:20:00 not 1:20. ;-) Here’s one youtube link:

      • annie on August 12, 2013, 12:04 pm

        ha! whoops..yes it starts an hr and 20 minutes in.

      • annie on August 12, 2013, 12:09 pm

        wonderful, thank you bintbiba!

        does anyone know the name of this 13 yr old?

      • bintbiba on August 12, 2013, 2:55 pm

        I’m not sure if it is Mustafa Saad or his brother(Ghandi,I think). They are 3 brothers in the concert with ‘ our Nige’ !! 2 violins and one viola. They are wonderful kids. To have the nerve to perform in front of 4500 people in the Hall, omg what guts!!I guess where and what they come from ,the guts come with the territory!!!!Keep a sharp lookout on Youtube after August 23rd, the whole event could get posted.

      • bintbiba on August 12, 2013, 3:00 pm

        And all 3 Saad brothers get to play solo .

      • kamanja on August 12, 2013, 3:44 pm

        It’s 15 year-old Mustafa.

      • Susan A on August 12, 2013, 5:08 pm

        @Annie and Bintbiba: Mustafa is 15 years old and plays the duet with Kennedy in the final encore at the end because Nigel mentions him by name and says we’ll hear that name, Mustafa Saad, in the future. This must be Gandhi, especially because someone actually writes ,”Go gandhi!” in the comments on the you tube video clip. What a family! And all the players are clearly very accomplished musicians despite their age and despite the endless difficulties they encounter in being able to rehearse and play together.

      • MRW on August 12, 2013, 9:09 am

        I know. Isn’t it great. Wish I could have heard it live.

  4. just on August 11, 2013, 1:38 pm

    “Nigel Kennedy on the stage of the Royal Albert Hall with members of the Palestine Strings and his Orchestra of Life.”

    Thank you Tom, for bringing this shout-out to life and justice to light……

    (Goosebumps and joy!!!)

    “There was plenty of applause to salute the courage and the mere presence of the young Palestinians, all of them present and past members of the Edward Said National Conservatory of Music, their keffiyehs resplendently draped over their shoulders. Before they’d even played a note, they were cheered as heroes in a pep-rally moment at the start. Later, each one of their solo contributions was met with huge enthusiasm.

    That warmth, that trust in the sincerity of Kennedy’s motives were only jarred once, by a loud, single-word interjection by a solitary heckler, when Kennedy in his closing remarks dared to mention the word “apartheid” in his praise for the young Palestinians. With that one exception, this was a good, appreciative Proms audience. It gave rapt concentration in the quieter moments, and in the “correct” classical music places, the right jazz moments and the political junctures it showed its appreciation and lifted the occasion. When you’re happy and you know it, that’s what you do.”


  5. Kathleen on August 11, 2013, 1:49 pm

    How exciting. Kennedy artfully put another crack in the wall of silence.
    “jubilant applause” wonderful
    Thanks for this post

  6. Cliff on August 11, 2013, 2:52 pm


  7. Citizen on August 11, 2013, 3:10 pm

    Balfour legacy lives on in Palestinian misery. So does little man Truman’s.

  8. DICKERSON3870 on August 11, 2013, 3:56 pm

    RE: “Decadence of Judaism in Our Time[6] is a meticulously documented exposé of Zionism…” ~ Tom Suarez

    SHLOMO SAND: “Zionism was not at all the continuation of Judaism but rather its negation.” ~ from page 256 of The Invention of the Land of Israel

  9. on August 11, 2013, 5:43 pm

    How can a situation be even remotely called Apartheid when Arab judge sentenses former Jewish President of Israel to 7 years in prison for sexual misbahavior? It the thirdd time I post this question but it does not get past the “moderator”. What do you moderate? The truth?
    I also asked how can I undrer Apartheid at Weizmann Institute teach Arab high school teachers advanced physics in a program funded by Rotschild foundation? Hello, moderator, what is to moderate in this question? The truth?

    How can Apartheid country have three Arab parties in Knesset with their representatives often blasting government and Zionists parties using words and expressions which will make many writes on this pages envious. And one of them even participated in the Gaza flotilla.

    • annie on August 11, 2013, 6:05 pm

      How can a situation be even remotely called Apartheid when Arab judge sentenses former Jewish President of Israel

      you’re not taking into consideration the millions of people under military rule by the same government, that’s how. the former Jewish President of Israel was tried in a civilian court was he not? that is not afforded to millions of people living under Israel’s oppressive apartheid government’s military rule. don’t be daft.

      • on August 12, 2013, 8:44 am

        Please make your definitions straight. Yes, there is a military rule but not Apartheid. This is a contradiction in terms. Was military rule of US, UK, France and USSR of Germany an Apartheid? US in Japan?

        But the military rule must have an end. How? This territory was put under Israel military rule in 1967 as a result of a war with Jordan which lost the war. As in all military conflicts in the past a military rule must end with a peace agreement. As the war ended, on June 19, 1967, the National Unity Government of Israel voted unanimously to return the Sinai to Egypt and the Golan Heights to Syria in return for peace agreements. The government also resolved to open negotiations with King Hussein of Jordan regarding the Eastern border. Remember at that time Ariel was not there, Maale Adumim was not there, not a single settlement. Just open negotiations and please, please, please make peace with us.

        BUT..,.. Jordan refused as did Egypt and Syria, they all followed the infamous Khartoum resolution with its three No’s. Do you know them? I quote – PLEASE READ CAREFULLY and THINK of THEIR MEANING-

        “no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with it.”

        NO NEGOTIATIONS!!!!! How can Israel end military rule without negotiations. Just withdraw and start all over again? Another war? What?

        It took 9 more years and another war until Egypt came to its senses and NEGOTIATED. And got all back. ALL!!! Israel dismantled two towns which it built meanwhile – Ofira and Yamit and 16 more settlements. Some evacuation was done forcefully in some instances, such as the evacuation of Yamit. All for JUST a piece of paper.

        That did not what unfortunately happen in the West Bank. Jordan did not negotiate and actually in July 31, 1988, Jordan ceded its claims to the West Bank. Oslo followed soon and Israel started to withdraw. But it was clear that the main problem is insurmountable (still is) – Palestinians did not give up on a claim of the right of return of some 6 to 8 mln refugees to the territory of Israel. That was tantamount to the destruction of Israel. So – we were duped by Arafat who then invented the suicide bombings. Every few days live bombs exploded in a bus or a discotheque or a pizza parlor or school killing more civilians, men, women, children than Israel lost in a any war apart of Yom Kippur’s. Then IDF went back into the West Bank with the Operation Defensive Shield and road blocks were established and then the barrier wall was built which really finally put the end to the bombings. And since then it is like what it is. Very sad. Military rule but not Apartheid.

      • annie on August 12, 2013, 12:01 pm

        How can Israel end military rule without negotiations. Just withdraw and start all over again? Another war? What?

        yes, withdraw. israel initiated the ’67 war, so go bark up their tree if you think they can’t stop itching for conflict to justify their expansion.

        This territory was put under Israel military rule in 1967 as a result of a war with Jordan which lost the war.

        oh is that how it works. israel starts a war and then claims they have a right to control the territory when they win? i don’t think so.

      • yrn on August 12, 2013, 1:40 pm


        You love to quote wikipedia
        so here it is who started the war Jordan or Israel.

        “Jordan was reluctant to enter the war. Nasser used the obscurity of the first hours of the conflict to convince King Hussein that he was victorious; he claimed as evidence a radar sighting of a squadron of Israeli aircraft returning from bombing raids in Egypt which he said was an Egyptian aircraft en route to attacking Israel.[126] One of the Jordanian brigades stationed in the West Bank was sent to the Hebron area in order to link with the Egyptians. Hussein decided to attack.”

        Hussien fell into the trap of Egypt he was sure Egypt is in Tel Aviv already.
        (I remember they claiming that on their Radio……)
        Or you don’t believe in wikipedia anymore……………….

      • Parity on August 12, 2013, 9:00 pm

        When I first heard of Israel’s June 19, 1967, “peace offer,” I was surprised I had not heard of it before, so I did some research. I looked in Mark Tessler’s 906-page tome, A History of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict (1994), and couldn’t find any June 19 peace offer. I looked in The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Middle East Conflict (1999), authored by Mitchell Bard, a former AIPAC employee who gives the Zionist spin on every facet of Israeli history. I couldn’t find it there either. I finally found something in Avi Shlaim’s The Iron Wall (2001), pp 253-254. Shlaim relataes Abba Eban’s effusive account of the meeting between him and Dean Rusk on June 21 in which Eban transmitted the June 19 cabinet decision, and quotes Eban as writing, in his autobiography, “A few days later replies came back through Washington stating that Egypt and Syria completely rejected the Israeli proposal.” Shlaim goes on to say, “The American record of the meeting confirms that Rusk considered the Israeli terms as not ungenerous, but it makes no mention of a request by Eban to transmit these terms to Egypt and Syria. Nor is there confirmation from Egyptian or Syrian sources that they received a conditional Israeli offer of withdrawal through the State Department in late June 1967. One is left with the impression that Eban was more interested in using the cabinet decision of 19 June to impress the Americans than to engage the governments of Egypt and Syria in substantive negotiations.” According to Shlaim, the cabinet decision of June 19 was “a closely guarded secret in Israel. Even the chief of staff was not told about it. Rabin only learned about the proposal from his American colleagues after he had taken off his uniform and become ambassador to Washington. Moreover, the ministers who made the decision soon had second thoughts. They quickly concluded that the offer to withdraw to the international border had been too rash and too generous and that a higher price should be exacted from Egypt and Syria for their aggression. . . . As early as mid-July the politicians started approving plans for the building of Jewish settlements on the Golan Heights. . . . The decision of 19 June became a dead letter even before its formal cancellation in October.”

        Without proof that the Egyptians and Syrians received the “peace offer,”how can we say that the Arabs “rejected” it?

    • Tom Suarez on August 11, 2013, 6:11 pm

      Nor are Jewish and non-Jewish citizens of Israel remotely equal.

      • Susan A on August 12, 2013, 1:18 pm

        And though there may be “Arab” political parties in the Knesset, they have never EVER been invited to join a coalition meaning that they have absolutely no power to influence.
        I heard the Prom on the radio as I’d had an eye operation that day so couldn’t go. It was brilliant. Nigel Kennedy had been on BBC Radio 4 the previous Saturday morning and there too referred to apartheid: it couldn’t be edited because it was live. I wonder if they’ll leave his comment in for the TV broadcast? Can’t wait to find out. Thanks for the article Tom.

    • eGuard on August 11, 2013, 7:36 pm

      fnlevit: How can a situation be […] Apartheid when [an] Arab judge sentenses [a] former Jewish President of Israel to 7 years in prison for sexual misbahavior?

      Yes, how could that be. Sleep well.

    • Djinn on August 11, 2013, 10:32 pm

      Please explain, with reference to the actual definition of the crime of Apartheid, how the existence of Arab parties & an Arab judge, demonstrates that apartheid is *not* practiced by the GOI.

      Also ease up on the persecution complex, lots of posts fall down the mod hole. Sometimes because the content but sometimes no doubt due to a high volume of posts & the mods having lives outside of MW.

      • annie on August 12, 2013, 11:48 am

        here’s the crime’s definition.

        For the purpose of the present Convention, the term ‘the crime of apartheid’, which shall include similar policies and practices of racial segregation and discrimination as practiced in southern Africa, shall apply to the following inhumane acts committed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group of persons over any other racial group of persons and systematically oppressing them:……….

        and the applicable definition of ‘racial group’ also provided

        he term “racial discrimination” shall mean any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other field of public life.[12]

        i know you already know this. i am just pre-empting hasbrats evading the crime in favor of some other definition that is irrelevant.

      • Ecru on August 12, 2013, 4:25 pm

        One of the thing I love about hasbarites is their complete pedantry when it comes to the charge of apartheid contrasted with their wildly elastic definition of antisemitism. It’s so obvious it’s painful.

  10. annie on August 11, 2013, 5:46 pm

    here’s a great video of the palestine strings performing. really awesome!

  11. on August 12, 2013, 1:42 pm

    But Annie Robbins you did not finish copying from the link. Do you read what you are quoting? So let me do it for you. Here

    South African Judge Richard Goldstone, head of the Report of the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict, also known as the Goldstone Report, writing in The New York Times in October 2011, said that “in Israel, there is no apartheid. Nothing there comes close to the definition of apartheid under the 1998 Rome Statute.” Goldstone noted that Arab citizens of Israel are allowed to vote, have political parties, and hold seats in the Knesset and other positions, including one on the Israeli Supreme Court. Goldstone wrote that the situation in the West Bank was more complex, but that there is no attempt to maintain “an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group”, and claimed that the seemingly oppressive measures taken by Israel were taken to protect its own citizens from attacks by Palestinian militants.[18]

    • annie on August 14, 2013, 2:24 pm

      Do you read what you are quoting? So let me do it for you.

      levit, i noticed on the other thread you tried to engage readers asking who had been to israel, who not etc etc. since you are new to this forum it occurred to me it might behoove you to familiarize yourself a little with the site and the posters here before diving in so enthusiastically. for example, your comment about goldstone, it is well documented here how he kowtowed to pressure from the jewish community and tried to walk back his own findings. not too courageous in this regard unfortunately.

      i didn’t include the rest of the link because it was thoroughly covered here as was his report. in fact, a book, the goldstone report was edited by phil, adam,and lizzy ratner.

      if you click on a commenters name you can read their archives. so try poking around a little and finding out more about the site and the individuals. including the comment policy, especially as it pertains to #2 nakba denial. So let me do it for you:

      if you continue to deny the existence of palestinians (as you have done several times on now deleted comments) and deny the causes of this conflict, i will wholeheartedly recommend you be banned. i don’t have the power to ban you but i do know how to raise a stink. that’s just from me to you, a little personal heads up.

  12. yrn on August 12, 2013, 1:52 pm

    Lebanon offers Palestinians fleeing death in Syria
    What happened to them is an outrage, and who knows how many others met similar treatment on the Syrian-Lebanon border last week? On that day at any rate, 8/6/2013, it seemed very much that most Palestinians were being forced back into Syria……

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