David Broza was feeling feisty. It was Wednesday night, several days after the premiere of his documentary, “East Jerusalem/West Jerusalem” at the Woodstock Film Festival, and he was onstage at Jerusalem’s Mishkenot Sha’ananim with the filmmakers, as well as Mira Awad, an Arab singer and friend.
The film, as one might guess, is about all the ways Jews and Arabs from both sides of the city never cross paths.
Broza tried to work on that reality last winter, when he, along with several other Israeli and Arab musicians, holed up in a Sheikh Jarrah studio in East Jerusalem for eight days and nights to record his latest album, of the same name.
Sheikh Jarrah, an East Jerusalem neighborhood, is a short distance from the Ammunition Hill light rail stop where a 3-month-old Israeli baby was killed by a hit-and-run Arab terrorist earlier that evening.
Broza, a long-time peace activist, has been recording at the Sheikh Jarrah studio for many years. The new album and its collective spirit was something he’d thought about doing for a long time. He spent many hours convincing Palestinian musicians to collaborate with him, and nearly gave up several times.
The crowdfunded film was something that came together while Broza organized the album.
It shows Broza spending time in the Shuafat refugee camp with G-Town’s Muhammed Mugrabi, a hip-hop musician who grew up there; recording with the Israeli-Arab Jerusalem YMCA youth choir; and talking with Issa Freij, a Palestinian filmmaker. The film is hopeful, honest and unexpectedly powerful.
There’s the moment when Mugrabi talks about the total lack of trees in Shuafat, and how it affects the kids who grow up there. Or when the youth choir records a cover of Nick Lowe’s “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding, and some of the teens reflect on how the choir helps their reality.
But, asked an Al Jazeera reporter in the audience, is it naive?
That is, is it naive to expect that yet another peace project will change the scope of this situation?
“Let it be naive,” said Broza. “It’s the way I want to live my life.”
He then deferred to his fellow creators, filmmaker Erez Miller and Henrique Cymerman. Miller talked about how he felt that Broza’s guitar somehow protected them in Shuafat, a new experience for him. But it was Mira Awad, a Palestinian singer, actor and songwriter who also sings on the new album, who offered the best answer.
“If we stop doing these things, then they won’t exist,” she said. “It’s hard to keep the faith alive; the story here is personal, and the people here are living this.”
With that, Broza took to the stage, singing selections from the new album, including two songs with Awad. The two are both consummate entertainers, relishing their duet as Broza shook the last chords out of his vibrating acoustic guitar.
It was, however, his finale, “Yihye Tov,” (“Things Will Get Better”), the Broza anthem, that unexpectedly touched the crowd.
Written with poet Yehonatan Geffen on the eve of the 1977 peace negotiations with Egypt, Broza said he has sung the song at nearly every performance of his 37-year career. He also mentioned while strumming that Geffen has written other final stanzas to the song, based on events in Israel’s more recent history.
None of them, however, are as good as the original, he said.
On that note, Broza strummed hard and energetically, as if it was the first time he’d ever sang those words. He shouted, “Yihye tov!”
And you almost believed him.