Saturday, August 05, 2006

Ziggy Marley brings message of peace to war-torn Israel

By Jo-Ann Mort
Special to the Tribune
Published July 31, 2006

RA'ANNA, Israel -- Ziggy Marley's bus arrived at a Tel Aviv hotel, but few people recognized the Jamaican reggae star. Scores of people milled around the lobby in the hotel, where practically every guest is an Israeli fleeing the country's north.

Entire families are crammed in rooms for long stays.

Shai and Orit Erera and their 8-month-old daughter, from Haifa's suburbs in northern Israel, are there for 10 days, subsidized by Shai's company, IBM. Unfamiliar with Marley's music, Shai said he is glad nonetheless that night life continues. "When you pass the Haifa line, it's like going abroad."

Marley, whose wife is Israeli, is in the country to perform a weekend concert originally scheduled for Achziv Beach -- within shooting range of the Lebanese border -- and a second concert in a Tel Aviv nightclub. But after the Katushya rockets fired by Hezbollah from Lebanon landed in Israel's northern cities, organizers moved the concert further south, collapsing two nights into one.

They decided on a beach on the Sea of Galilee -- until Katushya rockets hit nearby Tiberias, so they moved even farther south, to Ra'anna, an upscale, suburban-style city of 70,000 about half an hour from Tel Aviv.

A week earlier, Ra'anna saw starkly different gatherings: two large funerals took place in the military cemetery for local soldiers killed in Lebanon.

Crowds are sparse

Last Thursday, 7,000 people filled the park. In Israel, Thursday nights mark the beginning of the weekend, and often, conscript soldiers, most of whom are in their late teens and early 20s, get leave to let off steam. But now, few soldiers are among the crowd of mostly high school and university students, Baby Boomers and young families with children.

Summer is time for outdoor concerts and festivals in Israel. But cultural performances are sparsely attended these days, even in safe spots such as Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, and they are canceled in the north.

Marley's concert appears to be an exception. It's overflowing. Israelis want to encourage foreign talent to appear here, especially during difficult times.

And rock music provides a lifeline and an escape.

"It's important for us to feel part of the bigger agenda of the world. It brings a lot of energy," says Hanan Pomagrin, a 39-year-old architect from Tel Aviv who's not upset by the change of venue or worried by the rocket attacks. "In the Middle East, you can't make plans for maybe more than two hours ahead."

Eldad Elazar, 26, a film student from Sderot, where Qassam rockets, lobbed by Palestinian militants in Gaza, keep falling, says he's ready to fight if Israel calls up more reserve soldiers. Elazar, who wants to be the "Spike Lee of Israel," is of Ethiopian descent. A number of Israeli Jews from Ethiopia are in the crowd.

Amit Dadun is here with two childhood friends. He lives near Afula, where the Katushyas have hit. "It's a little weird being here, but we need to continue." He adds: "We came here to forget about the war and now you come and remind us."

But it's Marley who reminds the crowd, with an extremely political set. He sings about the war in Israel, Gaza and Lebanon.

In a song called "Shalom, Salaam," he asks, "Who will take the blame for my children dying from tanks and suicide bombers?" referring both to Israeli tanks in Gaza and Palestinian suicide bombers in Israel.

Adina Kruger, a religious university student from Be'er Sheva, is here in spite of the message. "I don't like people from outside making peace for Israel. I came for music, not to talk to him," she says, referring to Marley.

Feelings of guilt

She has several family members and friends serving now in Gaza and Lebanon, including her brother-in-law.

"He planned to come to the concert. I feel guilty by being here because I know so many soldiers who are out there."

But Rotem, who wouldn't give her last name, a female soldier on weekend leave from her duties in a northern bomb shelter, thinks otherwise.

"It sounds like a cliche, but it's nice to be at an event for peace," she says with a sigh.

The colors of the Jamaican flag flash on the stage; Marley comes back for an encore. He introduces the song his father, Bob, made famous by dedicating "something special to Israel and for Lebanon, too," to "all the mothers, women, sisters who lost children in this terrible war."

Thousands of Israelis join in for "No Mother, No Cry," as they leave the war in their region -- at least in song -- for the shantytowns of Jamaica.


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